Released: 2006, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
In fifteen months, Devin Townsend has spawned a brilliantly dynamic solo album (SYNCHESTRA), Strapping Young Lad’s heaviest album to date (ALIEN), produced the upcoming record by GWAR and his latest output is ANOTHER Strapping Young Lad CD entitled, THE NEW BLACK. On top of that, he’s got a Little Devy on the way in the fall. To say Townsend is busy is an understatement and what makes it even more impressive is that all of the aforementioned material is top-drawer metal. ALIEN was a “grower,” an album that took several listens to really digest, before the clouds parted and the ferocity became clear. On its follow-up, the clouds are less dense and THE NEW BLACK is a far more accessible, melodic and easier to digest batch of SYL tunes. Even the wall of sound that has famously carried the band’s sonic assault is toned down here (Mike Fraser handled the mix) with fewer samples and a more laid-back production that is not quite as stripped-down as the self-titled album but certainly more organic and warm-sounding than ALIEN or CITY. Also notable is the greater focus on Townsend’s singing, rather than the howling and snarling of ALIEN. The clean, crooning vocals found on his solo material are everywhere here and the controlled rage is not a bad thing. There are few “Oh My Fucking God” or “Shitstorm” moments of unparalleled insanity here but the intensity is still turned to eleven, so could THE NEW BLACK be an attempt to win over a broader fanbase and maintain the old-timers, especially with a stint on the second stage of this summer’s Ozzfest? Well, maybe the rage that once fuelled Strapping Young Lad is beginning to lose its edge but there is clearly a more melodic side to the band emerging on THE NEW BLACK that will leave many fans upset but no doubt open the door to many new ones.
“Decimator” attacks with all the intensity of a classic SYL track. Gene Hoglan’s battery of drums and the seven-string riffing of Townsend and Jed Simon pummel the listener right from the get-go. “U Suck” continues to devastate with a speedy pace (listen to Hoglan unleashing the double bass throughout) without sacrificing SYL’s tongue-in-cheek humor (“You and your band you fucking suck/Hell yeah you fucking suck/I don't give a fuck you fucking fuck”) and is sure to be a favorite on the live front. The guitar solo is dizzying, like an angry killer bee baited into fury and let loose to do damage. By the third track, “Antiproduct,” things slow down and the swinging brass section (think “Bad Devil”) is an interesting touch but the catchy chorus is the beginning of an immediate trend on THE NEW BLACK. Hoglan shines with military-like cadence on “Monument” and the cheesiness of lines like “Because we love you/We return to rock you” is testament to the fact that SYL’s self-effacing humor is not lost. “Wrong Side” is a typically frenzied SYL track and the complex riffing and shredding solo sees Townsend continue to evolve into a solid guitarist in his own right. “Hope” is a thinly-veiled commentary by Townsend against his detractors (“Every night, every day/Every action in every way/I am everything that you want me to be…Because I am what I am/I have respect”) and the chorus’ vocal style alone will surely send SYL fans seeking the bottled-up rage of the band’s heavier tracks fleeing, but a patient listener who sticks around for the chaotic, ear-shattering climax will be pleased. After eight years, the band saw fit to record a proper studio version of NO SLEEP ‘TIL BEDTIME’s “Far Beyond Metal” and along for the ride is GWAR’s Oderus Urungus (was Drew not available?!) portraying The Maggot Master--his line was lifted from the GWAR song, "Maggots"--after a sweetly harmonized guitar lead unheard before on an SYL album. The line “We fucking own you” has been an SYL mantra for years and the band has jiggered the lyrics of the original version to set the record straight for anyone in doubt. Despite its less-than-commercially-friendly title, “Fucker” is ripe for a hit with a killer mid-tempo groove and one of the best choruses ever written by the band. The female vocal from Vancouver’s own tattooed punk/alt-rock princess, Bif Naked, adds a sassy angle to the song, too. Like ALIEN’s “Two Weeks,” “Almost Again” provides the listener with a breather as the final third kicks in. Progressively-leaning, “Almost Again” could be lifted from SYNCHESTRA with its cleanly-sung chorus and rich labyrinth of keyboards contributing to a soothing listen.
THE NEW BLACK raises questions as to whether the title is a reference to Metallica’s commercially-focused BLACK ALBUM because the songs here are shorter, more diverse, less complex and open to wider acceptance than previous Strapping Young Lad releases. The band is sure to endure criticism from people who think the album is an attempt to breakout/”sell-out” but at its core, the songs on THE NEW BLACK are still rooted in seething rage, only with a bit more polish to them. The vitriolic lyrics are still there, Hoglan assaults his minions like a Catholic priest and Townsend screams like a banshee but the evolution of Strapping Young Lad over its last three albums has been logical. As much as fans may want it, there will never be another CITY and one can only rage for so long. THE NEW BLACK may see Strapping Young Lad’s aggression caged but there is still plenty of fury under the creeping melodies and it is still a long ways away before we’ll be hearing “Oh, you ironic pop-rock fuck/Don't you fuck with metal!” dotting the airwaves.
KILLER KUTS: “Decimator,” “U Suck,” “Antiproduct,” “Monument,” “Far Beyond Metal,” “Fucker,” “Almost Again”