ATF Review: Strapping Young Lad – City

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Extreme/Industrial Metal
Released: January 27, 1997
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

For those who are passionate about music, there are certain bands that either enable you to feel certain emotions, or further exaggerate the ones you’re already feeling. Anathema is one of those bands; their music has a melancholic, real-world feel that can make an impact on your mood. Strapping Young Lad, meanwhile, created music tailored for those who are absolutely pissed off. Whereas Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing is the landscape for raw anger and Alien is the soundtrack for a mental disorderCity is the soundtrack of the hopeless cynic that is frustrated with everything that is wrong with the world.

There are a couple of tracks that aren’t spectacular, and that stops this album from getting a solid 5. “AAA” and the Cop Shoot Cop cover of “Room 429” both have the makings of filler tracks on this album. Both tracks would have worked better on Devin Townsend’s solo albums (especially Physicist) and are somewhat uneven on here, but both songs lyrically fit the “confused/hopeless cynic” theme that I interpret from this album. “Oh My Fucking God,” meanwhile, is completely over the top in its anger and sheer noise. While it fits the overall tone of the album’s sound, I consider it to be a tad overkill. “Shitstorm” from Alien is similar to this, but is done in a more captivating and listenable way.

The rest of the tracks are utterly stellar. “Velvet Kevorkian” set the standard for short album introductions and continues to hold that standard seventeen years later, with its marching expletive-laced rant to the listener. It flows perfectly into “All Hail The New Flesh,” which is the most complete Strapping Young Lad track from all five of their albums.* The wall of sound that graces nearly all of Devin Townsend’s albums is in full effect; the first 30 seconds in particular are extremely heavy, and the rest of the track has some incredible riffs and fantastic screaming vocals all over the place. And the lyrics are outrageous:

Hey man, I’m going to fuck this shit up/
No fear, no compromise; I want it all/
I will never be afraid/
I’ll die for what I believe

All of you assholes can stay rotting here/
I do not care; I will not be there/
I have got to save myself/
Don’t tell me there’s no one else

It’s worth noting that Townsend has said, several times, that the lyrics to City were “therapeutic” and a way to blow off some steam. But it still represents the desire to escape and leave everything behind to pursue your own ambitions. Or something like that; take from these lyrics what you will. “Detox” is similarly heavy and is a perfect example of how someone can sing and scream at the same time. The bridge section is a nice change of pace from the rest of the track’s thrashing industrial riffage.

“Home Nucleonics” is easily the shortest track (the opener notwithstanding), but packs a lot of punch into 150 seconds. There’s even some interesting falsetto vocals and is basically a foretelling of the Terminator movies with its lyrical premise of technology rising up and killing everyone. “Underneath The Waves,” meanwhile, is what “Oh My Fucking God” could have been: Similarly heavy, but better-executed. Are you tired of waiting for fucking nothing and sick of trying? Then you may like this track.

The dark horse track in this album is “Spirituality,” which may actually be even heavier than any other track on here. It packs more of a doom march feel to it, and just like every other track, the lyrics are above and beyond the conventional norm and is basically the theme song of the pissed-off agnostic who is just trying to live their own life without the overlord specter of religion (or for that matter, militant atheists).

In spite of the numerous expletives and half-joking goings-on contained on City, it’s still a lyrical tour de force and a fantastic offering of heavy music for those who enjoy heavy music,

Overall: Are you listening? Are you!? …guess what the next two words are. 

Rating: 4.5*

Additional thoughts: My other choices for most complete Strapping Young Lad tracks may surprise people; if I had to pick one from each album other than City, I would go with “Critic,” “Bring On The Young,” “Zen,” and “Hope.” 

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