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Every Strapping Young Lad Album Ranked Worst to Best

Strapping Young Lad might be the weirdest metal band from Canada that ever caught any mainstream attention. Originally founded by vocalist and guitarist Devin Townsend as a solo project, he’d later be joined by a pair of fellow Canadians, guitarist Jed Simon and bassist Byron Stroud, as well as American drummer Gene Hoglan. (Quick side note: Hoglan improves every band he’s in. He’s that good.) SYL’s sound—a combination of thrash metal, death metal, and industrial with dense production, often paired with a goofy temperament—set them apart from their peers, because who the fuck would combine those? Speaking of “fuck”—that’s probably Townsend’s favorite word. He uses it more than Tarantino. Sample lyric: “You’re a fucker / You’re all fuckers / And I don’t fucking care.” Sadly, the band had a short life span, releasing just five albums between 1994 and 2007. But we’re here to celebrate them, so check your skullet in the mirror and let’s headbang.

5. Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing (1995)

Strapping Young Lad’s debut is more of a fascinating mess than Fiorentino’s “Madonna and Child with Cherubs.” The jumbled collage of hastily stitched together songs is a document of Townsend, mostly by himself with a drum machine, searching for SYL’s sound in real-time. The album’s more focused lyrically, though, with the main theme being a flailing temper tantrum aimed at the music industry: “Then, hell, I’ll stand aside, and with your plans I’ll never tamper / I’ll sit and write you songs and be a happy, happy camper.” Given that he’d sharpen SYL’s songwriting on later records, the importance of “Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing,” then, lies more in its promise than its execution.

Play it again: “S.Y.L.,” which proved early on that Townsend could write a catchy chorus when properly motivated
Skip it: Yeah, probably, unless you’re determined to set fire to forty minutes

4. City (1997)

Consider this their true debut. Here, SYL are an actual band, one that’s coming into focus and making denser and heavier music than before. In other words: “City” is what “Heavy” shoulda been. Devy and Co. are still finding the balance between death, thrash, and industrial, mostly leaning into the latter two. The result is good but not great. Meanwhile, the album’s supposed lyrical theme is Los Angeles. If that’s the case, then “Hating, burning, waiting, falling / Fucking, twisting, human cancer / Fuck your bullshit America” sums up L.A. (and existence) about as well as anything.

Play it again: “All Hail the New Flesh,” “Detox,” and “Underneath the Waves”
Skip it: their awkward cover of Cop Shoot Cop’s “Room 429” and the plodding “Spirituality”

3. Self-Titled (2003)

This is their most death metal-est album. The quartet pushes the thrash and industrial elements into the background, favoring raw production and aggressive musicianship for a more feral sound. The songwriting is sharper, but the overall presentation isn’t quite cohesive. Townsend, meanwhile, matches the music’s tone with his angriest writing on an SYL record, casting aside the silliness. The throughline is the fear and paranoia in a post-9/11 world, so you get acerbities like “Born son of righteousness / Holy water holding back the storm” and “Machines, they pay for war / Bring on the hate, my god.” While a bit unfocused, “Strapping” is the band inching closer to greatness.

Play it again: “Relentless” and “Aftermath”
Skip it: “Bring on the Young”

2. The New Black (2006)

SYL’s final record is their thrashiest and most streamlined, with the death metal and industrial components relegated more than Norwich City FC. “The New Black” is almost sarcastically melodic and catchy, with lyrics about popularity (“You and your band, you fucking suck / Hell yeah, you fucking suck”) and selling out (“I am the anti-product, rotten to the core / Sell me, the anti-product, rock me to the bone”) so facetious that Devy’s tongue probably went through his cheek. Coincidence or not, this is their “Black Album.” Take that how you will.

Play it again: “You Suck,” “Wrong Side,” and “Far Beyond Metal”
Skip it: “Polyphony,” mostly because it’s an unnecessary intro for the next song

1. Alien (2005)

Turns out, fourth time’s the charm. Devy and Co. finally find the right blend of thrash, death, and industrial. “Alien” is easily SYL’s best-played and most fully-realized record. And because of the progressive songwriting, it’s also their most self-indulgent. (To wit: The closer is 12 minutes of droning noise that offers the level of patience-testing usually reserved for the DMV.) Thankfully, the band’s humor returns to counteract that. The theme this time seems to be an alien’s anthropological study of humans. Thus, you get absurdist observations like “Love, the paradox of needing / Oh, love, make way for breeding” and “And being human / Is fucked as it is / With all these questions / Of faith and of kids.” “Alien” is the perfect title for an SYL album because they’re weird and they’re fucking proud of it.

Play it again: “Skeksis,” “Love,” and ”Zen”
Skip it: “Two Weeks,” which is pretty but doesn’t fit, and the noise track “Info Dump”