Thursday, 7 November 2013

Strapping Young Lad - The New Black (2006)

I grew up in the town of Shipston-on-Stour which had, I would guess, a population of around 4,000 of whom 3,996 were all massive fans of Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, Dio, Tygers of Pan Tang, Judas Priest, Saxon, and er... Meatloaf. This left the four of us who weren't quite so keen on heavy metal feeling at times a little self-conscious and subject to a degree of name-calling, also some grunting and pointing - not wearing a shitty denim jacket with misspelt band names scrawled on the back in biro being apparently indicative of raging homosexuality. This experience has not left me so well-disposed as I might be towards the genre once dubbed the village idiot of the music business; although with that said, I thought Iron Maiden and AC/DC were okay.

Metal isn't really something I've been keeping tabs on - unless you count Nine Inch Nails, which personally I don't - so it's mystifying to see how much it's progressed over the last few decades. Strapping Young Lad caught my ear, so to speak, because it's a great name, and I accidentally stumbled across the video for Love? and found myself fascinated by this prematurely balding man growling over a tune apparently written on a cement mixer. I'm no stranger to noise, and it's interesting to note how bands like Venom and Whitehouse no longer seem divided by quite such an aesthetic gulf as was once the case, but still - there's something about grown men pulling faces and singing odes to the man downstairs in the voice of Cookie Monster that's just a bit too stupid to take seriously. For my tastes, metal either succeeds or fails by how seriously it takes itself in relation to how scary it's trying to be, and Strapping Young Lad at least seem aware of the absurdities of the genre, even to the point of taking the piss out of them; unless they're being serious.

I still can't quite figure this one out. The New Black makes for fascinatingly peculiar listening material, although that's not quite the same as saying that I like it. Devin Townsend, upon whom this entire circus tent is pitched, is clearly a talent who knows how to throw a tune together, and this really doesn't sound like anything I've heard before, and yet...

The guitars chug away with ticker tape energy, bass pedals going at machine gun pace, Townsend grunting, howling, or going operatic and all pinned onto some sort of screwy prog rock template with all manner of unexpected shit thrown in, moments of distorted seventies glam, a horn section, high-pitched voices and all sorts. Townsend has apparently cited J.G. Thirlwell as an influence which makes a lot of sense. Strapping Young Lad are probably Foetus with Led Zeppelin rather than big band swing as cultural foundation; but, as I say, I'm still not sure what to make of any of it. I'm too divorced from the entire genre to understand what the hell is going on with songs like Far Beyond Metal addressing some otherwise unidentified ironic pop-rock fuck, or the generally excellent Fucker in which we're all fired up and we're ready to go, to give it all up at the metal show - it could be a protest song or he could be taking the piss. I have no idea and no way of telling. On top of inscrutable sentiments, The New Black is also a little more relentless than anything to which I'm accustomed, crushing and yet sounding somehow obsessively clean and digitised, and I can't tell if the contradiction works or not. It's probably just me. This is certainly one of the strangest things I've listened to in a while, and it's probably what the stuff I once listened to sounded like to all those metal types back when I was growing up.

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