Strapping Young Lad

Lots of folks get into a band, make it "big" -- on one level or another -- and then start side projects to keep themselves interested. Others start off dabbling in a bunch of different things and end up pursuing whatever ball stays in the air the longest. Vancouver-based Devin Townsend (a.k.a. Heavy Devy) has, however, done neither of these things. Instead, since "bursting" onto the scene of rock stardom as Steve Vai's first (and only?) vocalist, Townsend has built an overlapping mosaic of musical selves, linking side project to side project to side project.

Perhaps the most frequently visited, most likely the best known, certainly the heaviest and probably the most accessible of these many incarnations is Strapping Young Lad, Devy's most overtly metallic face. To say it's big in Japan is a gross understatement regarding SYL (which also has a fairly healthy following in Europe); each album, tour and news snippet is eagerly devoured in the Land of the Rising Sun. The numbers may not be as significant in the States, but to gauge the band's impact, just ask one of the Devy/SYL devotees a seemingly innocent question about his hero, sit back and prepare yourself for an impassioned filibuster of Strom Thurmond proportions.

Mind, this is not your father's heavy metal, nor maybe even your older brother's. Overtly complex time signatures abound, and the ears are bombarded by a sound alternately chaotic and complex, precise yet primal. And then, just when you least expect it, an actual hook jumps out of the woodwork, pokes its head around long enough for you to get your legs back and just as quickly drowns again in the maelstrom.

Some consider Townsend an extreme music neo-Zappa; others, a self-indulgent wanker. (There were those who considered the original Zappa a self-indulgent wanker too, but that's another story.) Either way, the Strapping Young Lad live spectacle is something to behold, and given the on-again/off-again nature of any of Townsend's incarnations (the Devin Townsend Band, Ocean Machine and Infinity, to name just three of the most prominent), you should catch this project while it happens to be around.

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Chris Smith