Strapping Young Lad – City
Released February 11th, 1997 on Century Media
Devin Townsend is fully aware of how completely ridiculous many of the tropes in metal are. Think about it for a second. They are. There’s a reason that the genre is most popular among 14 year old boys – it’s because those are the people most willing to swallow absurdity in the face of pure, naked aggression (see also Trump supporters). Townsend knows how ridiculous the tropes are because he lived them; before forming Strapping Young Lad, the Vancouver musician was best known for providing the vocals to Steve Vai’s uneven 1993 album Sex And Religion. His experience with record labels and the music business led him to his awakening: metal is absurd, the business is absurd, so you may as well have some fun with it. A little burned out and feeling like a “musical whore” for working his muse at the command of other people, he recorded Heavy As A Heavy Thing, an album lost on it’s contemporary listeners, even in 1995. People sat up and took notice when City came out, however, and it marks the beginning of the metal community’s embrace of Strapping Young Lad and their balls-out, “twist-the-dial-back-and-forth-until-it-snaps” version of extreme metal.
City is a solid trash metal album buried carefully in a really stellar industrial noise album. For every moment of straight-ahead pummeling (like the beginning of “Home Nucleonics”, or the massive breakdown in “AAA”) there are layers of digital textures and those Townsend vocals that sound like they were lifted whole and breathing off of dank, bloody German industrial records. The influence isn’t particularly surprising – Vancouver is, after all, the home of Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, and a bajillion other industrial acts – but Townsend’s mixing of it with his obvious mastery of metal forms is what puts City over the edge into being a bona-fide classic.