Strapping Young Lad was an influential progressive extreme metal band from Canada, started by Devin Townsend in 1994. The band's music could be best described as a fusion of thrash, grindcore, industrial, and progressive metal.
Strapping Young Lad (usually abbreviated as SYL or Strapping) began as a solo project by Canadian musician Devin Townsend. Once he had completed his work as vocalist on Steve Vai's Sex and Religion and that album's subsequent tour, he recorded the majority of the instruments (except drums by Adrian White; excluding where drum machine is used) on the debut album, Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing. Rather than remain a solo project, additional members and the release of their album City saw SYL secure their line-up permanently. City was released to a huge response, prompting Kerrang! magazine to call it one of the heaviest albums ever.
After recording several very successful solo albums, Townsend founded The Devin Townsend Band in late 2002 as a separate entity with a different line-up to that of SYL, and the two bands have since existed in tandem; albeit with somewhat divergent musical directions.
SYL's third album, the self titled Strapping Young Lad, marked the band's first new release on Devin's own label, Hevy Devy Records, which was founded just after the release of City and is managed by Devin and his wife Tracy. Strapping toured heavily throughout 2003 and 2004 making stops in the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia.
In early 2004, Devin advertised on the band's official forum for fans to join SYL for a free show at the Commodore in Vancouver. This show was filmed and released as the first DVD from SYL: For Those Aboot to Rock: Live at the Commodore (the title being a pun on the band's Canadian heritage and the anthemic song "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" by AC/DC). Blame Canada, the infamous anti-Canadian song from the South Park motion picture was played over the PA as intro music at most SYL shows in 2003 and 2004.
Strapping Young Lad's fourth album, Alien was released March 22, 2005, to a mixture of reviews, mostly favouring the progressive element Devin Townsend continues to bring to extreme metal. The band spent a considerable part of 2005 touring North America and Europe in support of the album. They entered the studio in March 2006 to record their follow-up, titled The New Black - which was released in July 2006. In addition, Strapping Young Lad embarked on a short festival tour of Europe in June (e.g., Download Festival at Castle Donington, England), and were added to the bill of the prestigious Ozzfest, where they played to some of their largest audiences thus far, in July and August 2006.
Prior to embarking on Ozzfest 2006, Strapping Young Lad flew into New York City to shoot a music video for the song "Wrong Side" with director David Brodsky. The video can be seen at the My Good Eye production company website (www.mgenyc.com). Brodsky hired professional ballerinas to enhance the "heaven" set up and to "flit around Devin". A consummate professional and frontman, much of Devin's moves were ad-libbed. Brodsky is quoted as saying that "there is nothing I can tell him to do that he didn't already think to do, so I just hit the playback button and watch him do his magic". Interestingly, the majority of the band's outfits and gear were "misplaced" by the airline prompting the band and production crew to quickly gather formal-wear and instruments on the day of shoot, which happened to be the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend 2006. However, the airline managed to recover and deliver the band's gear in time for the final set-up of the day, hence the different guitars and bass guitar from the "heaven" set to the "hell" set. Long-time Brodsky collaborator, Mike Milia, co-produced and was the Director of Photography. The video aired numerous times on MTV2's HeadBanger's Ball during the summer of 2006 as well as collecting tens of thousands of internet views on popular websites such as YouTube and MySpace.
"Wrong Side" was nominated for Best Video of 2006 on MTV2's Headbanger's Ball.
Devin's comments about the album and 2006 live shows: "The recording process went amazingly well, and STRAPPING as a whole is really excited about this effort. We were very inspired with the idea of doing Ozzfest, and the concept we are running with on this record is really based around abhorring the current music scene, yet being a part of it in some weird way. SYL is ready to be a subversive product for the unwitting 14-year-olds to scream along with. We also intend to sprinkle a little ugly around all the pretty bands this year. You can think of us as the proverbial pubic hair in the cheesecake of this year's festival. We are ugly, large and angry. We have also been around longer as a band than 90% the other bands. Most of all, we're just really excited to be a part of Ozzfest and this summer is going to be crazy."
Contrary to the musical intensity, SYL songs also contain a hint of humour, self-parody, and is usually tongue-in-cheek. This can be seen in the either album titles (Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, No Sleep 'Till Bedtime), song titles (Oh My Fucking God, Happy Camper, Satan's Ice Cream Truck) and lyrics ("I'll do anything to get some fucking sleep tonight" - Shitstorm), ("Love is a way of feeling less alone / So what's all the fuss about?!?" - Love?) However, since Devin himself has said on multiple occasions that Strapping Young Lad functions also as a conduit to pour out his "darker side" (as he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder), it is sometimes hard to distinguish which lyrics are written as tongue-in-cheek. For example, he himself said that in order to get the mood for the Alien record, he stopped taking his medication for the disorder for a length of time, and the lyrics on that record are supposedly a reflection of some of his feelings during that time. Strapping Young Lad is known for not doing guitar solos, not until their Alien album they started to do this. They came back with guitar solos in their fifth album.
Strapping Young Lad's future is currently somewhat uncertain, as Devin has recently commented that he's tired of it all.
"At the end of the day, man, I'm just tired, and old, and bald, and fat, and grouchy, and bored. You know? So I was just like, I'm going to make this record, and do this stupid Ozzfest thing, and tell a bunch of stupid jokes in front of a lot of people at Download, then I'm just going to fuck off for a while. The bigger this gets, the less I care, to the point where I just need to go spend some time with my family. I don't wanna bastardise Strapping and all these other projects by doing it for the money. Strapping was about the big middle finger, and it still is, but I don't think it needs to go any further than this."
Devin Townsend, 2006 Terrorizer interview
Meanwhile, SYL drummer Gene Hoglan contradicts Devin to a degree with his comment:
"SYL is alive and kicking and is merely taking a break so they can invest some time home and recharge their batteries".
Hevy Devy Record's official website posted a press release which blamed a hectic touring and interview schedule for Devin's negative attitude, as well as his reluctance to embark on major tours and record label pressures. It also drew attention to the fact that Devin himself tends to think in extremes and what is decided one minute may well change the next. As of late 2006, Devin has retreated from the public eye to concentrate on his family and several non-SYL projects, so the band is currently considered to be on hold.
Regardless of the future of SYL in terms of new music and tours, two new releases will still be offered in 2007. "The first is the remastered 10th-anniversary edition of SYL's classic "City." It includes the 1996 demos of "Home Nucleonics," "Detox" and "AAA"; Japanese bonus track "Centipede"; the hilarious, previously unreleased "Headrhoid (Gunt demo)"; the video for "Detox" and humorous, insightful liner notes. The second (and possibly the final) SYL album will be a best-of. The Century Media compilation includes music from the band's entire catalog, all of its videos and a performance from the 2006 Download Festival. Townsend says he didn't have much of a hand in the remastered 'City,' but he was heavily involved in the best-of package."
Devin also noted in the above interview (with blistering.com) that the future of SYL is still unclear. "I'm not sure if I am technically finished with Strapping Young Lad or not or if I'll ever see that band play again, he muses. But either way, it was still a really big part of my career, and I love it for what it is."