Published Jan 01, 2006The barking old men, thrashing guitars and machine gun blast beats of the metal scene aren't exactly known for therapeutic value and visibly vulnerable performers. That makes the progressive approach and unapologetic soul-baring of Strapping Young Lad mad scientist Devin Townsend an idiosyncrasy in this typically macho and contrived world. SYL is designed as a project to bend cochlear perception and elicit a psychological reaction, part of Townsend's repeated musical reinventions in the name of true and limitless self-expression.
"Strapping is one of those weird energies musically that has always been on the outside of whatever scene is going on," Townsend says. "I think for me it's not as much making the music, it's a sonic thing that illustrates a vibe that puts you in a certain frame of mind. I love manipulating my environment with the sonics. Sometimes after the fact I don't want to listen to it, [but] it's cathartic to make it."
Alien, SYL's fifth release since its inception over a decade ago, purges a number of new demons for Townsend, but continues to mine the same reclusive and inventive vein as the band's previous work. "The fear and the screaming on this record I wanted to get the impression of a short circuit, too much information. That paranoia, that introverted character is still present in this record the same way as on [1997's] City, but the difference is that it's coming from a 32-year-old. There's no bravado. We're making a living off being this way." His blunt honesty is a defining characteristic of SYL's lyrics; Gene Hoglan's precise beats, Jed Simon's relentless riffing and Byron Stroud's thunderous bass lines round out a bombastic and peculiar sound. When it comes to the inspirational force and ingenuity of this particular project, Townsend says, "It's not meant to be a proclamation, it's meant to be a catharsis."
Few artists can claim to have covered the amount of territory or conjured the variety of sonic moods Townsend has in his career. In addition to the monstrous Strapping Young Lad output, he has released projects ranging from the ambivalent Ocean Machine to the modern, progressive pop-rock of the Devin Townsend Band, to the abrasive and mocking Punky Bruster. While these are only a few of his many thematic projects, they all share in the complex exploration of Townsend's artistic drive to vent everyday affectivity through a boundless personal outlet and SYL serves a specific purpose for Townsend. "I've always considered Strapping to be a reflection of a really sensitive person's views of a ruthless age." He recognises this vulnerable character can be alienating for certain listeners. "Because I put so much emotion into my music, people connect to it or don't connect to it on some level that's intimate."
Townsend is also spending a lot of time applying his imagination to other projects, currently working on the newest Darkest Hour to add to his list of production credits (Soilwork, December, Lamb of God). This line of work provides some much needed rest from exhaustive self-scrutiny. "[Producing] is a really good way for me to keep busy without constantly being confronted with myself. I like working with bands and making things happen. All I want to do is make weird noises and be creative."
True to the erratic nature of his personality and musical career, Strapping Young Lad's future hangs in the balance, depending completely on Townsend's capricious musical drive. With each project relying so heavily on the colours of his catharsis it's anyone's guess what the next project will entail.