The Reluctant Return of Strapping Young Lad

The Reluctant Return of <b>Strapping Young Lad</b>
"I wouldn't have made another Strapping Young Lad record if it was just for fans but Jed [Simon, guitars], Byron [Stroud, bass] and Gene [Hoglan, drums] really wanted to do it," says singer Devin Townsend on Strapping Young Lad's overdue return. "I dragged them through so much of my psychosis that when September 11 hit, when my priorities shifted, I was like, 'They're my buddies and they've put up with a lot of shit, so let's do the record.'"

In 1993, Devin Townsend debuted as the vocalist for guitar hero Steve Vai, but it wasn't until the release of Strapping Young Lad's Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing on Century Media in 1995 that the metallic underground stared in concussed wonder at the brutal and unexpected sucker-punch it had received from the then 23-year-old Vancouver native. Devin followed this impressive feat by adding legendary thrash drummer Gene Hoglan and unleashing 1997's City, an even more punishing album that built upon the sonic density of Heavy, becoming more frenetic but still showcasing Devin's vocal gymnastics. But after releasing the live No Sleep Till Bedtime in 1998 and positioning themselves as burgeoning powerhouses, Strapping Young Lad disappeared.

Devin was far from quiet, with a string of solo records, running his own label and a number of producing credits, but everyone who had their head handed to them by SYL in their heyday wondered if they would resurface. After some sporadic touring - and the events of 9/11 serving as an impetus - SYL returns with SYL, their third album of incredibly brutal thrash tainted with industrial, black and death influences, all driven by Devin's tortured operatics. As it turns out, what makes Strapping so frenetic and powerful also makes it difficult to sustain.

"I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I just wasn't prepared for the music industry," Devin says. "I think my ego was like, 'Let's hang in because I really want to be in the industry, in the magazines, in all this shit.' There was an internal compromise I had to make, learning to shelve this homebody part of my personality and learn to suffer a bit. To a certain extent that's where that emotional intensity comes from, because the music I do with SYL isn't necessarily what I live and breathe for, as much as a by-product of experiences."

Contributing to SYL's elongated hiatus and reluctant return were numerous and very public problems between Devin and SYL's label, Century Media, which deteriorated into mud-slinging during his diagnosis and subsequent battles with bipolar disorder.

"What happened? I signed a shitty deal, but luckily it was non-exclusive. I got tired of doing Strapping so I said, 'I can't do it anymore.' Then I freaked out and went into a hospital. My lawyer said that I was under mental duress when I signed the contract so the contract is void. At that point it was like, 'I just won't do another Strapping record.' Yeah, I went down saying 'CM was the shittiest label ever.' And they went down as saying that I was 'a complete, arrogant psychopath.'"

So, what changed? "Just my mind," Devin says. "I said to CM, 'Why don't we just renegotiate and make everybody happy?' So we did."

But after all his battles with himself, SYL's label and the music they create, is Devin now prepared to once again deal with the adversities that come with SYL? "I'm only prepared now because I'm in denial," he laughs. "Am I prepared? Not at all. I'm hoping for the best and expecting the worst."

Is this a fresh start or the final nail in SYL coffin? "I'll take the fifth," comments Devin. "Nothing I say is constant."