Record Swap – McNulty V Deuce
Welcome back to Record Swap, an occasional feature in which two writers each pick one of their favorite records and foist it upon the other. Will they find true love or will it be a battlefield? Today Ron Deuce and Jimmy McNulty are jamming out on Strapping Young Lad and For The Love Of.
Ron’s Assignment: Strapping Young Lad – Alien
I consider this album to be in the top 10 recordings of all heavy metal, but I know that he has never proclaimed to be a SYL fan. This, to me, is essential listening; music that I hope would blow the mind of a first-time listener, 12 years after its release. –Jimmy McNulty
Full Disclosure: I’m very much aware of Strapping Young Lad and the brains behind the whole operation that is Devin Townsend. How could I not know? He’s been covered on this space and is beloved by a great many if the Discus comments are to be believed. Detective McNulty was struggling with coming up with a rec and we settled on this one despite having to be all Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles about it all. In all fairness, I had not heard a single note of anything from Townsend’s library since SYL’s City and this felt like a good opportunity to check in and see how things were going with him.
Before divulging into the record, I feel it would be enlightening to share with our audience the one time I saw Strapping Young Lad live. They played a whole two songs, but that was not their fault. You see, SYL was on tour with Testament and Stuck Mojo (this incarnation of Stuck Mojo had an African American vocalist and not a broken brained yo-yo handling the mic). The crux of the whole thing has more to do with the venue then anything else. Back in the 90’s there was a club in Randolph, NJ by the name of Obsessions and by all accounts the owner was a huge already bald dick. Having been in a band myself during this time, my band mates and I used to play this club and had to sell tickets for this bald dick. For purposes of this demonstration, this bald dick looked like Coach Lubbock from 80’s sitcom Growing Pains spinoff Just The Ten Of Us. The main character of the show was not really a bald dick and as youngin, when two things look alike, you just assign a nickname based on your life and cultural experiences. So we called this bald dick Coach Lubbock because as far as I can remember, that show sucked and so did he as a human. Keep in mind that this has more to do with the guy being a dick than it does being bald. He just happens to be a dick.
Pictured – Bald Dick Night Club Owner of Obsessions in Randolph, NJ
On this night when SYL played Obsessions, one of the bald dick’s bouncers got into a spat with someone from Stuck Mojo during SYL’s set. From the moment SYL started playing, Devin Townsend launched into a tirade calling out the bald dick owner of Obsessions. It was glorious and every word out of his mouth was simultaneously pointed and hilarious. SYL’s set abruptly ended because of the bouncer/Stuck Mojo thing, Chuck Billy popped out, grabbed a mic and basically said that the rumors were true, this guy was a huge bald dick and we are not going to play here. Bald dick had to give everyone that bought a ticket their money back.
Now onto this Alien record, if you want to call Ridley Scott’s Alien films a bald dick, the cat’s out of the bag now so go ahead and have fun with that, but we’re here for the music. I thought it would be fun to put this one in Flush It Friday fashion and go into the good, the bad and the ugly on this one. We’ll omit ugly because there’s actually nothing of the sort going on here. Let’s get the criticisms out of the way first.
The Bad: This is only my personal assessment and my personal assessment will most likely differ from your personal assessment. Alien clocks in at almost an hour and I have by all accounts a short attention span. This plagues me both professionally and personally. It seems like the back half of this album doesn’t match up to the front half. In particular, “Two Weeks” and “Thalamus” are guilty of dragging this whole thing down. They are this album’s filler and it caused me to tune out because the tracks that proceeded them had me locked in for what appeared to be quite the roller coaster ride. And the closer “Info Dump” is one of those “why bother?” tracks that sits at the very end of an album for precisely that reason. This should be no shocker coming from me, I harp on stuff like this all the time. After repeated listens, those tracks failed to grab me in any way, shape or form. Plenty of albums are guilty of this and at end of the day you just skip them with the intent of never hearing them again.
The Good: So the bad is not that bad when you consider I’m only harping on three tracks out of eleven on Alien. For real, this is the album Fear Factory’s Demanufacture wishes it could be. “Skesis” is an absolute standout and I love it. The bridge into the chorus in particular is nothing short of brilliant in the way that the vocals are layered and then covertly sneaks in those xylophones for flavor. It’s one of those weird turns that works really well and brings everything together. And the death metal riff that they bust into after that is another element that further flattens you as you’ve already been proverbially steamrolled. And who doesn’t love a good “Shitstorm”? Maybe industrial thrash should be a thing. This one volleys between thrashy verses and grindy choruses then breaks down slower in the middle with another helping of some whacky vocal stylings that sound almost like a chorus of children. If there happened to be four or five bands that can get on this level, I would enjoy hearing more. Rhythmically, SYL execute with surgeon-like precision on all fronts.The rhythm guitar playing has that cutting deep into the strings aspect to it that would make James Hetfield or Jeff Hanneman blush. Everything strikes at once. The chorus to “Love?” has an 80’s hair metal vibe to it and I just look at it as dysfunctional. Because it’s dysfunctional, you enjoy the spectacle of it all. Keyboards are also in abundance in this album. Instead of having moments where they stick out or solo, they provide atmosphere as they hang around mostly in the background. I’d also add that some of the vocal stylings have an almost opera allure about them. If this were some sort of concept album where a story is being told, you could certainly envision it as a rock opera production or symphony in a live setting. I would get a ticket for something like that just to see some old dude conductor wave a branch around like a mad man in an attempt to get this whole thing under control.
Verdict: I enjoyed this album way more than I thought I would. Devin Townsend is a very talented song writer with a signature voice that stands out. Alien succeeds in straddling between being melodic and heavy without hanging out too often in either side of the spectrum. The production and musicianship are stellar. Alien takes a lot of chances that might be considered awkward turns, but most of the experiments walk out of the lab fully functioning. 5/7 would listen to again.
Jimmy McNulty’s Assignment: For The Love Of – In Consequence
Consider this edition of Record Swap an experiment. I’m by no means trying to get our resident ace detective to adopt an attire of flat brim hats and basketball shorts with the selection of For The Love Of’s 1999 EP, In Consequence. I was curious to see if his sleuthy ears could pick up the Death influence from the Human/Symbolic era and if he’d actually enjoy it. For The Love Of is beloved in my home state of NJ and this EP is by far their best work. They are not your stereotypical hardcore band. The musicianship alone should connect with most metalheads because this does not carry itself as some sort of tough guy meathead bro core, which I despise by the way. The crossroads where hardcore and metal meet are the types of bands that I have come to really enjoy as well as come to an understanding that the two aren’t so different. This selection is an example of that. Hope you enjoy Jimmy! If you shit on it, that’s cool too because not everybody can be expected to like everything. –Ron Deuce
As you may know, hardcore’s not my thing… Meshuggah is, however. In Consequence is the 1999 EP from For the Love Of which seems to combine a few elements of hardcore with elements of Meshuggah’s older material. It’s an interesting assignment from a band of which I had never heard, and it turned out to be a great choice!
The music contained on this EP doesn’t have a lot of inertia, or force driving it forwards. Each song runs at a deliberate, mid-speed pace, ideal for moshing; and that is what turns me away from the genre. But it’s the coldly calculated riffs and occasional speed increases (to thrash-like levels) which maintain my interest throughout the runtime. Oh, and the songs are quite interesting in their own structure: each a twisting journey that ebbs and flows among different tempos such that you can’t bob your head consistently for too long before it changes speed. This unpredictability works to the album’s favor in how captivating it will be to the attentive listener. Paying close attention to the riffs pays off in dividends.
Meanwhile the whole affair borrows generously the guitar and bass tone of controlled chaoticians Meshuggah, specifically their weird thrash debut Contradictions Collapse. The bass guitar strings are loose and heavy, in what I can best describe as “steamroller bass”. Guitar notes are quick and periodic, even flirting with a style more popular in modern death metal: the skronk! These mid-paced guitar acrobatics, ever evolving throughout the five-ish minute long songs, transition incredibly well into mosh-worthy breakdowns. Yes I said breakdowns, bur don’t leave me now: these are of the authentic hardcore variety, not taken from what we might consider to be modern metalcore. I believe this can be called post-hardcore (?).
In Consequence is a quick but efficient recording, its classification as an EP definitely helps in keeping a listener like myself interested. To this casual hardcore listener’s ears, the band has presented enough ideas and riffs to accomplish their goals in this short amount of time. I enjoyed each song on its own merits rather than what I intrinsically enjoy on a daily basis. The live setting would be ideal for a band of this caliber, as I could easily handing my glasses off to a friend and getting into the pit to wreak some serious havoc. But it could also be called “the thinking man’s hardcore” with its complicated song structures similar to that of Meshuggah. Overall it’s a great listen, so thanks for the assignment Ron!