The Noob’s Guide to Devin Townsend, Part 1
A couple of you turds aren’t big Devin Townsend fans because you either A) aren’t familiar with much of his material or B) aren’t big on it because you haven’t heard enough of his material. I wanted to do a Career Analysis of this musical genius, but I couldn’t do it alone… So for this multi-part analysis, I have chosen a great partner (you might say the greatest) and we are going to hold hands and jump into the deep end of the Toilet to explore the career of DEVIN TOWNSEND!
For the first part, I am going to dissect his work with Strapping Young Lad by my lonesome, for George Lynch was still busy with Dokken and Lynch Mob during the years this band was active. Plus, SYL is an immensely important band for this Baltimore Detective, as it was 25% of the reason that I made the decision to flush nu-metal and hard rock down the world’s filthiest toilet and venture into the world of legitimate heavy metal. I was a junior in college (circa 2001) and somebody mentioned that Strapping Young Lad was the “heaviest, most violent, and pissed-off” band in existence. I was curious, as Fear Factory was the heaviest thing I had heard prior, and I instantly fell in love. Now most of you know that I’m not a pissed-off individual. Yet, I cannot explain why this music appealed to me. Perhaps it’s because I secretly knew that nu-metal sucked. The band’s sophomore effort City would become one of the most-played albums in my entire life (a burnt CD-R courtesy of Napster and a 2X CD-RW drive).
(1995) Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing
I started with City, but years later found this in a record store for $6 (notice on the original cover they hadn’t developed the signature font yet)! This is the work of a furious yet sarcastic musician making his first album. There is an industrial tinge to all the songs, perhaps maybe a little TOO reliant on the samples and programmed drumming. But, there are still some face-slapping riffs, most notably in the tracks “In the Rainy Season” and “Critic“. In the live setting they would typically include the first track “S.Y.L.“, and though it featured Devy’s signature heavy-as-fvck-yet-melodic hooks, it’s not THAT great (keep in mind, this was before the Killswitch Engage good-cop/bad-cop fiasco that sadly lasts to this day). This album has a few heavy and thrashy tracks but also a few stinkers. DT definitely brought the LOLZ here, as most evidenced by “Happy Camper” and “Satan’s Ice Cream Truck“; it’s just not a serious heavy metal album.
This will always remain in my top five metal albums of all time, no matter what may come in the future. The first track I heard, “Detox“, changed everything. This is the most important gateway album OF ALL TIME to me; it’s the reason why I’m here. The riffs are furious and unrelenting. The vocals must come from a power plant that can run an entire city for a week. The drumming (“Gene Hoglan, who’s that?”) changed the way I view music. The samples are used more efficiently, best exemplified on “Oh My Fucking God“. And finally, the album has production values that stand to this day! Would you like to hear the greatest metal song ever composed? It contains both the band’s fastest breakneck riffs and Devin’s ridiculously catchy hooks. Here you go:
Soon after this release, the band would go into “indefinite hiatus.” That made me a positively sad McNulty.
(2003) Strapping Young Lad
Is five years a long time to have a hiatus? Not these days, as bands like Gorguts and Carcass have proven; but it was a lot to me at the time. Devin had made an announcement sometime in 2002 that he was “pissed off again due to the 9/11 bombings” and would be reuniting Strapping Young Lad. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard at this point in my life. I skipped Physics 201 to drive to F.Y.E. and pick up the album, and I teared up listening to it for the first time. They’re back!!! Now, over time, this album doesn’t hold up as nicely. It brings the aggression, but that’s about it. Most of the samples – along with the sense of humor – are gone. The production is like a brick wall, as every instrument is competing for your earholes. There are good riffs here and there, but it’s mostly just meh; there just isn’t much creativity present in this release. Even the progressive “Aftermath” (weighing in at 6:46) – while a good track – doesn’t really bring the juice. It’s a decent album but definitely the black sheep of SYL’s discography. I guess “Force Fed” is the standout track on this album and contains the most Devy-like melodic choruses.
Did they… did they hear me talk shit on Strapping Young Lad? Because 2005’s Alien not only rectifies any [semi]missteps of the previous album but also solidifies them as the greatest heavy metal band on the planet! This album is BETTER than City in every way: the riffs are crazier, everyone is angrier, the samples are awesome-er, the drum fills are more interesting, and the songwriting is more creative. The album includes GUITAR SOLOS (a first for the band), and the production is simply perfect. Yes, City was important for this heavy metal n00b, but Alien blew my mind in a way that I could not think possible. To this day, I’m not sure I’ve heard an album that has affected me in the same magnitude! There are just a FEW small faults with the album (repetitive choruses on “Shine” and “Possessions”) but they aren’t enough to derail the thing. It is simply perfect. Here is the second YouTube embed that I need to share: “Shitstorm”, a track that somehow takes everything great about SYL’s best song “Underneath the Waves” and manages to top it:
(2007) The New Black
I guess this is a Star Trek movie thing: the odd-numbered releases just don’t hold up. The New Black includes a few spectacular songs but we all could tell it was the beginning of the end. Most of the songs have guitar solos now, and one track is even a re-imaging of a song from their live EP No Sleep Till Bedtime (“Far Beyond Metal“). Unfortunately, it’s just too polished and non-aggressive. This album became the definitive transition of Strapping Young Lad into solo Devin Townsend material, and the best evidence I can provide is in the track “Almost Again” (definitely click the link, it’s an utterly fantastic song – just not SYL material). It’s plainly obvious to the casual listener that, aggressive or not, our dear Devin was headed towards a more melodic approach to music. Sure, we have one stalwart SYL track in “Wrong Side” (fuck it, I’ll include a third YouTube link), but it’s the exception and not the rule on The New Black:
And this is the point at which George Lynch and I combine forces for a career analysis of Devin Townsend’s solo efforts. From here on out, things get less aggressive but the creativity and grandiosity are boosted by at least 200%. Stay tuned, turds.