by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

Strapping Young Lad - SYL
(Century Media)

Back after five years since the live album and seven since City, Strapping Young Lad have created a record in keeping with their patented blur of cybernetics, but one that feels like - and is the product of - a band experience. Byron plays the bass and Gene plays the drums nearly edit-free and oddly and actually graciously, Devin lets Jed play all the guitar parts, Townsend content to roar in his powerful way, parody always just at the edge of what he does. The dynamics and the plush pound from the man's confusing-monikered solo outings have made their way into SYL, the band filling in that framework with hot-wired riffs that sound like creamings from the poison cups of Testament, Nile and Emperor. Heart palpitations are inevitable as Gene, the metronomic wise gnome of the home team, crunches and crackles precisely, the manlegend accomplishing the industrial through the organic. The end result: more traditional than City, more riffy, but not really more melodic. Call it dense, expertly crafted thrash with an incendiary wink of the six million dollar eye.
Rating 8.5

Nightingale - Alive Again: The Breathing Shadow Part IV
(The End)

Dan Swano returns three years hence with the fourth installment of his loosely-wound Breathing Shadow concept and the picture just gets brighter, stranger, more enigmatic. Dan's band has solidified into a touring unit and indeed Swano says that Nightingale now will get his full commitment. Still, this is very much a Swano vision. The man's Lande/Coverdale-like voice and the keyboards (shared by Dan and his brother Dag/Tom) dominate, IV sounding like a hard rock version of GTR, Steve Hackett, Asia, Morse-era Kansas, Hairsnake, Hairhair,'90s Styx and '90s Saga. In simple terms, it's plush, dynamic, beautiful... pomp rock at the hard edge of the lost art. As well, there's a smoky, foggy Porcupine Tree mystique to the thing, Dan's northern roots and his vast death past casting an ethereal pall on the unflapping, unflappable jewel box of surprises. Faves would be the stomping State Of Shock, which collapses into a chorus worthy of Alan Parsons and the next track The One, which is a giddy gem of dated keyboards and idealistic prog rock melodies. The two tracks together bookend the general thrust of the rest of the album: this is essentially a canny, self-aware, highly skilled record in the spirit of prog rock from the searching, shifting early '80s version of the form on through all the big production tricks utilized through the early '90s dead-stopped by the rise of grunge. And the best part is that the ship is commandeered by an underground metal insider, which is why both mellow Nightingale and mellow Opeth are always going to seem "cool."
Rating 8.5

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