The Nine Circles ov… Strapping Young Lad


Let’s give it up for The Lad! Obviously, you are all aware of how much we talk about Devin Townsend on this blog. He’s one of our favorites out there, so we tend to cover him on a regular basis. That said, what we don’t revisit nearly enough is the Devin Townsend- fronted Strapping Young Lad. I am fully aware that this project came to an end almost a full decade ago, but even today it’s still a project worth revisiting from time to time. And that’s basically all it took to bring us here. So let’s take a look at some of my personal favorites from SYL.

…After just a bit more introduction, of course. I didn’t discover the glory that is Strapping Young Lad until Ozzfest… well, one of the last Ozzfests. I can’t remember what year. And being the relative rookie I was at the time — still breaking into the extreme side of metal in my high school days — all I saw on stage was angry dude that was somehow bald with long hair berating the crowd. I later learned the name of such a hairstyle is a ‘skullet’. Oh how young I was. Well, time went on, SYL ceased to be a thing, and then I decided the timing was right to pick up The New Black. Well, the rest is history. Let us (finally) begin.

“Monument” (from The New Black, 2006)

No, this list won’t be in any sort of order. Deal with it. This is the first of three tracks from the final SYL album. I wanted to include “Monument” for a number of reasons. I remember when I first heard this album, I thought it was a bit out of place. It was compact, upbeat, and just more positive than the rest of the album (relative to “You Suck” and “Fucker”). But over time I really grew to appreciate its simplicity and clean vocals. “Beeee-cause we looooove you.”

“Shine” (from Alien, 2005)

Perhaps The New Black was SYL’s best album. I wouldn’t be able to argue that. However my personal favorite album was Alien. The angst and aggression is just incredible. I wanted to include “Shine” on this list over some of the others just because of how unrelenting it is from the very beginning. But one of the best features is Devin’s relatively underrated vocal performance on this track. Moving his voice up and down throughout the song, fluidly changing from barks to singing, and just the emphasis he puts into each word is worth recognition.

“S.Y.L.” (from Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, 1995)

The next track is going all the way back in the Strapping Young Lad discography. Actually, “S.Y.L.” is the opening track from this debut album. While Devin may considered this album a basic collection of demo tracks that he has more of less dismissed, I personally think there is plenty worth discovering here. This track is one of them. Incredibly straightforward aggression within the verses translates brilliantly to some of SYL’s signature melodic choruses. Insanity and beauty. And the lyrical message is about as good as it gets for an opening track on an opening album.

“Detox” (from City, 1997)

City is probably the one album that deserves more time for me. Perhaps the self-titled album as well. Regardless, “Detox” is still one of the best SYL songs out there. The diversity is impressive, alternating between melody and raw intensity as they have always done so well. But the way the vocals are elongated and layered over the ridiculously unwavering rhythms (guitars and drums) in the choruses is just brilliant. And I dare you not to chant along with “Hey! You mo’!” by the time you’ve reached your third time through the track.

“Wrong Side” (from The New Black, 2006)

Sweeps. Falsetto. Falsetto… and sweeps. Need I say more? Not really, but I still will. The second of three tracks from The New Black might be the most impressive from a composition and technical standpoint. The guitar solos in the middle of the track are fantastic… and the interlude(?) that follows them up is even better. Just intoxicating stuff. The anger of the verses is jarring on a whole new level, which become something we are forced to relate to in their purity. But Dustin’s manipulation of both his voice and guitar has never been more impressive.

“Relentless” (from Strapping Young Lad, 2003)

I almost left the self-titled album off this list entirely before remembering this particular track. The depth of the introductory cadence (which is an absolute blitz) is something you simply can’t avoid tapping your foot to… quickly. Devin kills it on vocals of course, but serious credit needs to be given to Gene Hoglan on drums. His pace is absolutely insane and there really isn’t much letting up at any point. It’s an element that drives home this song’s massive feel, making it something that resonates with a listener long after it has concluded.

“Love?” (from Alien, 2005)

“There’s no external way to tell when a woman is ready to receive.” THAT is how you kick off an SYL love song. Perhaps the best song for single people to play on Valentine’s Day, it would be unwise to lose sight of why this song is really memorable. And that would be the grit of the verses coupled with the explosiveness of the pre-chorus… and of course the melodic chorus doesn’t hurt things either. Neither does The Evil Dead tribute in the music video. It’s all amazing. Hopefully you’re picking up on that at this point. This is a no-brainer on any Strapping Young Lad list.

“Far Beyond Metal” (from The New Black, 2006)

There isn’t a thing about this song I don’t like. The snarky lyrics, the galloping cadence, the melodic elements of the chorus… it’s all just put together so well. Oh. And the constant reinforcement of being “metal” is amazing in a way that only Strapping Young Lad can deliver. Between the solos, breakdowns, and all the varying instrumental patterns, SYL may cram more into these four and a half minutes than they do on any other track. It’s freaking awesome. And it was basically my anthem in college. “When I was just a boyyyyyy… METAL!!!”

“In The Rainy Season” (from Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, 1995)

But my favorite Strapping Young Lad song goes all the back to the beginning. It was really the first song I got into by SYL, even if The New Black was the first album I purchased. What I appreciated about this song is its pure chaos. The rhythms behind the early suppressed vocals (that evolve quickly into full-fledged growls) is incredibly repetitive but in the best way possible. For over three minutes this song just does not let up. But then… it all stops. The concluding minute and a half of steady head banging and melody give this song just a little bit of everything. Plus, there’s this awesome live clip from forever ago (2006) that I still laugh at…

“My name’s Devin. Welcome to A&W Burgers! Can we take your stinking order!?” …And there you have it!. Songs are linked in the headers because I was too lazy to put together a playlist. So you’re on your own there. Have fun! Hopefully you aren’t too disappointed. Or maybe I hope you are. Who knows?

“Ein Bier… bitte.”
– Corey

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