The creative force behind STRAPPING YOUNG LAD (hereafter SYL), Devin Townsend, is a guy that should be well known throughout the Metal community. At an early stage of his career he played on at least one Steve Vai record. Not that I think Steve Vai is capable of making good music and that may be the reason Devin left and decided to start making the music himself. SYL released their debut album, “Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing”, in 1995. To be honest I find that record rather weak and therefore it didn't raise that many eyebrows. When "City" came in 1997, it just didn't raise people’s eyebrows, it violated all their senses at the same time.
Perfected chaos, that's what "City" is. The record starts out with the beeping sounds that sound familiar to those that traffic lights make. Another great record started this way, MESHUGGAH's "Destroy, Erase, Improve". Another Swedish link is the fact that Daniel Bergstrand has engineered (whatever that is) the album, the other recording tasks are handled by Mr. Townsend himself. The sound quality ensures that this multilayered piece of art shines in all its glory. It starts rather sluggish with "Velvet Kevorkian", heavy guitars along with different types of sound that's Devin Townsend own and nobody else’s. Without a warning "All Hail The New Flesh" kicks in and from now on we are in for a seriously intense ride. "Oh My Fucking God" raises the bare of intensity, the way Devin uses his vocals is just pure genius. And unlike many other Metal bands out there, the lyrics are also worth reading. Because there are so many things happening on this record, it would be wise not to throw it away if the first listen didn't satisfy.
While I'm in praising mode I would also like to mention the drummer, Gene Hoglan. This man has one of the heaviest sounding drum sounds of all time. Not only is the sound great, his abilities are even better, quite a fucking monster. If you have heard SYL's "No Sleep Till Bedtime" you know that he is capable of doing the same in a live setting, which makes it even more impressive. Just listen to him on "Home Nucleonics", some of the most intense piece of drumming I've ever heard. If you want further proof that Gene is a demi-god drummer, listen to "Individual Thoughts Pattern" and "Symbolic" by DEATH. If memory serves me, Gene Hoglan is the only drummer that contributed on two DEATH albums.
After four songs of chaos, it all slows down with “AAA”. Slowing down without losing one bit of their heaviness, in fact even though it's slow, there are things happening all the time, making it an exciting listen over and over again (That counts for the whole record). The last blast of this album is "Underneath The Waves", a really chaotic song with lyrics that fits perfectly. When you read the lyrics you understand why "City" is as chaotic as it is. When we arrive at "Room 429" we find SYL doing a COP KILLS COP (who the hell are they) cover, but SYL possesses so much personality that the song becomes their own. Compared to the rest of the material on "City", this must be considered as a ballad. The last song, "Spirituality", sounds like noise the first time you hear it. After a couple of listen (or at once if you are quicker than me, hehe) you will hear that there is a song underneath the noise. I think this is the weakest song on "City" but it doesn't affect my rating, because it's good and the rest of the songs are extremely good, so therefore it deserves every point it gets.
I want to end my review with these words. If you are looking for a more psyched out and intense version of FEAR FACTORY, SYL's "City" should be right up your alley. Devin Townsend is a talented vocalist in every way he decides to use his voice, in opposition to Burton C. Bell, which I think lacks something in his clean vocals department. It must also be mentioned that I think "City" is far superior to any other records SYL have released so far. This is one moment of genius and everyone into so called Extreme Metal have to check this one out, it's mandatory. (Online June 29, 2005)