Review: Strapping Young Lad – The New Black

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Groove Metal, Hard Rock
Released: July 11, 2006
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Imperiumi: Is the the gap between SYL and your solo material becoming closer?

Devin: “It feels like I’m less and less angry all the time. Even THE DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND will put out softer stuff in the future, so the SYL material feels even harder now compared to my solo material. My next recordings will probably be something like this (points out the beautiful nature of Finland’s Provinssirock festival), something [representing] beautiful scenery. Beautiful things. I don’t have to be hard/tough (heavy) anymore. I’m 34 years old, I’m already old.”

This is actually pretty mild in comparison to some of the other things that Devin said about Strapping Young Lad in this interview with Finnish publication Imperiumi; he further explains that he no longer has the motivation or emotion that Strapping Young Lad relied upon to continue the project, and that he no longer had anything to say through this band.

Contractually obligated to release a fifth SYL album, The New Black was released during a time when Devin was reevaluating his priorities after his wife became pregnant with their first child. As a result, this album sounds little like the albums that SYL was known for, namely City and Alien.

But that raises the question: Did Strapping Young Lad’s fan base really want to see Devin try to top those two albums? If they did, they’re delusional. Alien is the kind of album that can only happen in the most extreme mental conditions (going off one’s bipolar disorder medication, for example), which proved to be very unhealthy for Devin. City, meanwhile, fits the mold of his other solo albums in that it perfectly captured his mood at the time: Pissed off and existential.

The New Black fits the latter condition; as he was no longer massively pissed off, Devin’s material began shifting into a more positive direction that would culminate in 2012’s Epicloud release. This release feels like the wedge in between Synchestra, which was released six months before this album, and Addicted, released in 2009. While there are some explosive moments, they are overshadowed by excursions into utter silliness.

That silliness is best captured on the track “You Suck,” a self-deprecating number in which Devin yells “Hell yeah, we fuckin’ suck!” while also saying that your band, girlfriend, and a number of other people just fucking suck. It’s utter nonsense, and it’s hilarious, but it’s hard to take this album seriously with tracks like that and “Far Beyond Metal,” a long-time live staple that was adapted into a studio recording. The lyrics to this track are basically “The Metal” by Tenacious D with a nonsensical chorus that doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the song. It also features a fun cameo appearance from Oderus Urungus (GWAR). Then there’s “Fucker,” a bouncy pop-rock type of track that has a fun instrumental that was later released on Devin Townsend’s “Contain Us” box set but doesn’t have much else going for it.

Those three tracks are on one extreme; on the other end are some of Strapping Young Lad’s best songs, most notably “Almost Again,” a song that showcases the band’s dynamic range in a flawless fashion. The closing two tracks, “Polyphony” and the title track, combine to form a marching metal anthem that works on a far better level than “Far Beyond Metal.” The former track, in particular, feels quite emotional while building into “The New Black,” which maintains its intensity throughout and commands you to turn up the volume. But it eventually collapses on itself towards the end.

Meanwhile, “Wrong Side,” released as the album’s lead single, is probably the closest to being a traditional Strapping Young Lad song in terms of its heaviness and boasts some remarkable high clean notes from Devin in the chorus.

The rest of the songs are even more inconsistent than the highlights and lowlights of this release. “Hope,” for instance, starts as a slow and uninteresting plodder that morphs into a chaotic blaster, a la “Critic” from Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing. That section is utterly fantastic, and there’s nothing else like it on this album, but I’ll stick with “Critic,” which is strong from start to finish.

I can’t help but think that the lyrics to “Monument” were at least partially inspired by Weezer’s pop-rock gem, “My Name Is Jonas.” Unlike that song, however, “Monument” doesn’t really go anywhere. “Decimator” is decent enough but pales in comparison to every single Strapping Young Lad album opener by a considerable margin. And then there’s “Antiproduct,” a song that fancies itself as something more interesting than it is by featuring spoken word samples and a brass interlude to cover up repetitive lyrics.

The short version of this review is that there’s some good material on here, but it’s inconsistent and generally just average. What confounds my feelings about this album even more is the existence of the C:enter:### EP which contains two amazing songs: The title track instrumental that slots in with their best tracks, and a fucking perfect cover of The Melvins’ “Zodiac.” This EP was recorded at around the same time as The New Black, and it beats down anything on the actual album.

To call this album bad would be an overreaction, but it’s uneven and lacks the elements that comprise the best Strapping Young Lad releases (pure, unadulterated rage) and Devin Townsend’s best solo work (cohesiveness and auditory aesthetics). One could also argue that this album is among his most important works; what looks like a throwaway release on the surface helped spawn better releases down the line.

Overall: The New Black is to Devin’s solo work as Physicist is to Strapping Young Lad. Make of that what you will.

Rating: 2.0*

Buy the album here.

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