Devin Townsend

Three-Finger Dio Salutes for Everybody!

Strapping Young Lad
with Malevolence and Camel Clutch
The Starfish Room
Vancouver, B.C.
Saturday, March 15, 1997

Review by Darren Gawle
SYL photography by Daniel J. Collins

Thirty or so years down the line and this problem child we call 'heavy metal' has yet to run its course. Whether it was invented by the Beatles, the Yardbirds or Jimi Hendrix, this 4/4 musical approximation of the jackboot-stompin' glory days of Nuremberg 1936 has ruled North America's airwaves in one form or another since the late 60's, proving itself so adaptable that even cockroaches should be taking survival notes, and splintering off into so many factions that it makes the situation in Lebanon seem as clearly defined as the Super Bowl.

And, now, Strapping Young Lad have dug up the corpses of every bad metal cliché and excess, dressed them up in dayglo pink body stockings and sent them running around the musical landscape screaming "Ride my love turbine all the way to rock 'n roll Valhalla, baby!"

guitarist Jed Simon Of course, I'm talking a load of crap.

Having completed his rock apprenticeship supplying the human vocal element to Steve Vai's seven-string wankathons, Devin Townsend has provided heavy metal with a new lease on life for the next millennium; yes, he's taking the piss out of it... kind of. Strapping Young Lad stands to prove that metal still matters, as long as you Krazy Glue your tongue firmly to your cheek: "Help Cheese Metal rule forever!" proclaims the SYL website. Too bad Strapping Young Lad didn't exist about fifteen years ago when we really needed them!

Then again, given the opening acts for tonight's show, we might need Strapping Young Lad now more than ever. At least glam metal provided entertainment. All we get at tonight's show are Camel Clutch and Malevolence (both from Victoria -- or, as Malevolence's singer puts it, "the place where we don't have hookers still on the streets at six a.m.").

It's hard to tell what Camel Clutch are on about, but, given song titles like "Christ Bait," you can be sure that sunshine, lollipops and rainbows don't enter the picture. Despite a couple of moments where they recall Metallica around the time of Damage Inc., Camel Clutch fail to rise from the death metal rut they've dug for themselves. Still, they get extra points for almost frying the P.A. system three songs into their set.

guitarist Jed Simon Malevolence fail to improve on the situation after a prolonged setup period, which means that they wear out their welcome that much sooner. In fact, Malevolence prove to be so boring that I will be hard pressed to remember what they're actually like, apart from the singer's vocal whine which would be more at home in any number of indie-rock (!) bands.

With the openers out of the way, Strapping Young Lad end up pulling off a show that you'd think would only work in a venue three times the size of the Starfish. The Lads employ a small yet effective light show which backlights drummer Gene Hoglan's arms-aloft cymbal washes and amplifies Devin's gargoyle-like facial mannerisms. Through the haze, you catch glimpses of the band putting their heavy metal histrionics through their paces: Hoglan and bassist Byron Stroud thunder away, looking like the last two people in a biker bar you'd want to piss off, while Devin and co-guitarist Jed Simon headbang their way through a setlist of buzzsaw riffs like there's no tomorrow. The crowning touch, though, comes from the keyboard department, where icily-programmed strings and backing vocals recall Ozzy Osbourne (Key moment: Devin pulls well away from the mike during one song, and the vocals keep going. Hmm...).

Devin Townsend Though the songs don't come across as altogether different from each other, that's not really the point -- it's Strapping Young Lad's over-the-top delivery that's the focus. Devin spends as much time with his hands in the air making grandes gestes as he does with them playing his guitar, and though his lyrics serve to exorcise his own personal demons, they're delivered with such sky-scraping vocal acrobatics that you involuntarily double over with mirth at regular intervals. Welcome to Devin's theatre of pain -- the whine and cheese are on the house.

"We're satiated in the metal department!" exclaims Devin, dedicating the final number to, ironically enough, Germany. With the amount of three-finger Dio salutes rising above the crowd, you know the audience is satiated too. But do they get Strapping Young Lad's point? No, though I doubt they'd give a fuck either way. In the end, Devin and his cohorts have pulled off the coup of pleasing everyone: the headbangers, the cynics, and, most importantly, themselves.

For those about to rock, the joke's on you.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on April 19, 1997

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