Devin Townsend understands extreme. The irrepressible frontman for Strapping Young Lad knows that true sonic extremity means being willing to push music into territory so bombastic that listeners teeter between moshing wildly and staring in open-mouthed wonder at the sheer outrageousness of it all. The guy, after all, got his start playing with Steve Vai.
The Lad's new disc, SYL, is a perfect example of Townsend's "double dose of everything" approach to hard and heavy music. Though just under 40 minutes long, it's jammed with so many thundering riffs, blasting rhythms, and throat-ripping screams, it's like the sound of six lesser metal bands being tortured to death for Townsend's amusement.
Live, the band is always worth seeing -- and frequently astonishing. Mountainous drummer Gene Hoglan releases one blast beat after another, while seeming not even to realize he's onstage. He's the perfect counterpart to Townsend's flailing arms, screams of rage/joy/lunacy, and generally way-too-energetic presentation. Strapping Young Lad recognizes the value of entertainment, even in the self-absorbed world of extreme metal.