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Strapping Young Lad - "The New Black" (CD)

Strapping Young Lad - "The New Black" CD cover image

"The New Black" track listing:

1. Decimator
2. You Suck
3. Antiproduct
4. Monument
5. Wrong Side
6. Hope
7. Far Beyond Metal
8. Fucker
9. Almost Again
10. Polyphony
11. New Black

Reviewed by on June 27, 2006

"The New Black is a natural progression from last years Alien."

Reader be forewarned, no mere words will do this album any justice. Strapping Young Lad is among the rarest pedigree of metal bands, brandishing a style so visceral and unique that categorization is utterly futile. Industrial-thrash metal scratches the surface, but even that description seems hollow and misleading. Singer/guitarist Devin Townsend has made a career of breaking every known rule in the metal handbook and subsequently improving upon them. Having said that, The New Black is a natural progression from last years Alien. The music is densely layered, and disarmingly multifaceted. The lyrics range from deadly serious to lighthearted and comical, sometimes within the same song. Perhaps most impressive, SYL manage to be experimental without sacrificing their intensity or their credibility.

Galloping drums and thrashy guitars launch opening number “Decimator”. Lyrically and vocally the song comes across as a battle for possession of Townsend’s soul. One might call it the struggle of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde put to metal. Jekyll is played by the good natured Townsend known for his melodic solo albums and lush Devin Townsend Band records. Hyde is the maniacal counterpart summoned on previous SYL albums. Soaring and plaintive vocals give way to screams and roars as The Strapping Young Lad side of Townsend’s duality bubbles to the surface. With the transformation complete, the unchained demon and his band stomp gleefully toward the next track. “You Suck” proves to be one of the albums heaviest numbers while being purposefully humorous. The guitars grind at inhuman speeds, the kick drums fire off like gatling guns and synths shrill like a choir of angels being dragged into hell. “Monument” finds the band marching rather than achieving escape velocity. The song foregoes -some- of the bands aggression and boasts a sing along chorus. “Wrong Side” may be the albums most chaotic highlight. Townsend screeches and bellows vehemently amid the barraging rhythms and zig zagging guitar solos. Bursts of clean vocals briefly surface only to be swallowed by the instrumental violence around them. “Almost Again” begins with a sound reminiscent of Accelerated Evolution-era Devin Townsend Band. Sorrowful, harmonized crooning and rainy day atmospherics become a torrential downpour of blast beats, blistering screams and wailing keys.

As an album, The New Black is an impressive continuation of the SYL saga. The band’s signature sound is as lively as ever and Townsend’s ambitious treks into experimental territory consistently bear fruit. Previously, Townsend unleashed his SYL persona as if it were a hyperactive devil-child, loose in a school yard without playground monitors. This album finds Townsend relishing the conflict of his humanist side and the demon within. Said stylistic progress foreshadows a greater sonic palette for Townsend to paint with in future albums. This is also the bands most instrumentally diverse offering to date. “Anti-product” and “Wrongside” find Townsend using synthetic classical and big band instruments to jaw dropping effect. Strapping may be Townsend’s brain child but he owes a great deal to his band mates on The New Black. Drummer Gene Hoglan still pushes the boundaries of what is humanly possible with a drum kit and four limbs. Jed Simon continues to be a great foil to Townsend’s guitar dynamism and bassist Byron Stroud’s rhythms remain a head banging force to contend with. SYL’s second album City, and more recently last year’s Alien are considered essential listening in the metal community. The New Black will most assuredly carry on this legacy.

Highs: Top notch production and instrumental performances. Townsend’s injection of melodic vocals is balanced by an even greater number and variety of shrieks, roars, screams and shouted gang vocals.

Lows: Some “serious to a fault” metal fans may have to adjust to Townsend’s use of humor, particularly in “Fucker”.

Bottom line: The New Black is a mechanized assault on the senses.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)