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This album is probably the best representation of what I love and loathe about Strapping Young Lad. At times, their output is inimitably original heavy music, which melds powerful downtuned groove and infectious melodies with a progressive spirit to create some frankly astonishing pieces of music that convey a multitude of emotions, often within the same song; at other times the songs fall utterly flat, and can best be called “filler”. Not bad songs in the sense that they induce spontaneous combustion or projectile vomiting, but just boring, which seems even worse in comparison to some of the genius this band puts forth.
The first four songs on this album are outstanding chunks of metal; from the opening blastbeat salvo and ¾ time signature swing of opener “imperial” through to the tactical nuke of “shitstorm”, with its controlled chaos of tremolo picking, maniacal screeches and utterly punishing rhythms courtesy of the always-impressive Gene Hoglan (probably best known from his stellar work with thrash legends Dark Angel), all is golden. “Skeksis” is reportedly frontman Devin Townsend’s favorite strapping young lad song, for good reason; its almost simian groove, thrashy midsection, and interesting synth/vocal tracking arrangements make for an incredible composition. Capped off with “love” and its epic, singalong chorus, these first four songs fire you up for a monumental album…
And it’s there that the album falters. Nothing else in the album matches up to those first four songs. Flashes of earlier genius surface in each one of them, but none seem to coalesce into the excellence of the first half of the album. Closer “Zen” has a neat chorus, but it just seems to go on for too long. It’s as if they came up with a killer portion of the song and just didn’t know how to expand it, which is bullshit – bearing in mind what this band can do firing on all cylinders, I’ve no doubt they could’ve gone somewhere with it – but in this instance, they just didn’t. “Shine” features some righteously heavy riffs…and also a children’s choir. “Possessions” commits similar atrocities with female backing leads. Neither of these things is inherently bad, but they just don’t serve the songs particularly well, feeling outright jarring or just in there for the sake of it, but not particularly improving the song at all, and honestly coming across as quite annoying. Again, these aren’t bad songs per se, but they don’t measure up well against the earlier material.
The end result is a conflicting album. The first 4 songs are superb. The subsequent material is not. At least not to the same degree. Capped off with an eleven minute white noise track called “Info Dump” (not listed on the back of the album) you get the impression of an album losing steam, both in terms of tempo and musical inspiration. The key thing here is that the latter half of the album just cannot measure up to the brilliance of the first half. However, it’d be unfair to end on a sour note; The music always sounds huge thanks to an epic, muscular production. There is some stone cold classic material on this album, and however they are playing, no one has ever sounded the same as Strapping Young Lad – whatever can be said about them, they are unique as a band. All in all? This album is definitely worth a purchase, both for the first songs and the sporadic brilliance that occurs elsewhere (“We Ride” in particular is a monster, with a blitzkrieg solo and kinetic riffs reminiscent of “Shitstorm”), just bear in mind that it doesn’t entirely deliver on its early promise.
These days it seems that death metal is kind of confused. The scene doesn't seem to know exactly where to go and the bands aren't sure what do with themselves. Ever since the rise in popularity of death metal over the last decade and this new "wave" of modern death metal, the genre seems to have hit a brick wall. The old bands played the style with the same techniques, but they also wrote real songs that really felt genuine. They wrote death metal MUSIC in which each composition said something.
Its hard to say the same with the modern bands. With the newfound trend of being the fastest, the heaviest, and most technical band, the style of death metal seems to have lost something important. That thing is composition. Not that I am saying it all sucks. I really enjoy many modern death metal bands. But the problem I see is that there are so many new bands coming out and giving a stab at death metal, that few really get the fundamentals in writing a simple song no matter the style. The scene becomes a blur and for me its all becoming redundant.
Where doesn't Strapping Young Lad come in out of all this? Well as we know the story, SYL is the brainchild band of insane guitarist and vocalist Devin Townsend who had a bad run in with Steve Vai and had to let out his anger. Alien was the group's 4th full length and to me was the peak in their career. Most tout City as the essential and while I find it to be a phenomenal record, Alien is their most complex and mature release and represents how composition makes a death metal record amazing.
From the start one can hear the strong change in the group and the unique style they are going for. Their earlier stuff was borderline noise with a strong industrial death metal backbone but here the band is surprisingly melodic. Since their self tiled they are slowing become more post thrash and their use of keyboards in a more melodic fashion. What makes Alien so special is this striking contrast between chaotic industrial insanity and blatantly melodic phrase structure. This is definitely up there as one of the heaviest albums of all time but at the same time its really catchy and fun.
Look for example Skeksis, a song that has been noted to be Devin Townsend's own personal favorite SYL song. Devin's signature production style really shines here with the massive layers of keys, synths, and choruses over the thick guitar parts. It starts slow with a gradual build of groove riffs before Devin's clean mantra pulls the song into a wondrous chorus of scatter shouts and singing over an explosion of riffs and keys, String Choirs, and even xylophones. The amount of texture and layers present makes the track sound like a cosmic storm cloud; a vortex of mysterious and horrible proportions. Clearly though, this song is like this is because its about the Jim Hensen film The Dark Crystal; a bizarre movie played by puppets as strange creatures and takes place in an even stranger world. All the members of Strapping Young Lad add well to make a concept like The Dark Crystal work in a death metal song.
Gene's amazing drumming capabilities hold the album together. Only a man of Gene's rhythmic control could take the unworldly music concepts of Devin and play it perfectly along with embellishing upon those. It takes a powerhouse like Gene to hold together such crazy songs. His great use of dynamics fits well, where he can do some of the greatest blast beats and double bass but he know when to do those, or to do a simpler beat to match the rest of the instruments.
Overall the inclusion of pleasant sounding keys and other instruments really enhances that concept of soft melody against the death metal mayhem. The string arrangements over the heavy as hell guitar parts give of this twisted sense of epicness. The songs feel bigger than they really are but not in a positive way. Its like the some multidimensional rift has opened, its amazing to behold but then you realize that you are about to be consumed into a horrible void then you feel the terror manifest. The use of choruses from not only adults but also children choirs only make this record sound that much more derranged. There is nothing more fucked than the sound of the sonic assault of the guitars and drums along with Devin's hellbourne screams against a legion of children's wails.
The guitars range from the straight up industrial riffs to extreme thrash riffs to Meshuggah like chugg riffs. Shine has a clear melodic form, and revels in some harmony throughout the piece, yet the rhythm behind the guitar part sounds like it could have been a thrash riff at one point in the writing process. However the signature "fast picking of the root" while touching upon the main melody is gone, and all that is left is the main melodic part. Imperial follows that same idea, yet is even slower due to it being a sort of anthem like intro. However the riffs have a story to tell, and they progress throughout the song. Shine has the main theme from the start, then goes into the verse where the guitars plays a reduced deviation from that main theme. Then the chorus explodes back into that main theme. This simple relationship gives the song a stronger pull for the listener and overall makes the song sound far more intense. That is because there is a high point of the song, a place for where the listener can look forward to. If the song was just as loud as that main theme the whole time, it would get boring fast. That right there is an issue with most death metal bands.
Devin's vocals is a large element as well. Today's death metal bands seem to not understand that vocals help a lot in making a song interesting. Just because you are not singing a melody doesn't mean suddenly you aren't important to the song. The vocalist still has the duty of leading the listener through the song. Devin does this beautifully writing his vocal lines closely along to how the guitar part has moved. A good example is Possession where Devin just screams "give it away!" while sustaining the "way!", which matches perfectly against the guitar riff where it picks fast for a beat then sustains the chord. Also the smart use of layer makes every intense scream sound like there are ten Devy's attacking your ears.
Shitstorm paints the diversity of Devin's vocals amazing. The first line "Oh you bastard!" is this insanly long howl, where he wavers in pitch and intonation making him sound like some berserk hobo. The tension strangles the listener before going into the main riff, and thats where the psychological destruction starts. The mentally unstable ranting of Devin and the melodically unstable phrasing of the guitars interplay in a chaotic fashion. The drums bounce throughout with frightening precision between the short bursts of unrelenting blasting and abstract technical beats. Devin's charismatic screaming feels so genuine as the song is about the the personal mindfuck he has experienced contemplating existence.
He also has the advantage of being able to sing cleanly as well. This adds another element to the mix. Love, a supposed "love song", goes between the harsh yells of "LOVE!" to ballad like singing. In the chorus, Devin goes into a heartfelt crooning while the heavy riffs and bursting drum beats pummel away, as if Devin is trying to comfort a loved one from the hateful death metal storm around them.
But how does all these thing's work together and how can one even imagine how such strange concepts even manifested themselves in a death metal record?
Well Devin is the clearly the main man behind the group and, as far as I know, is basically the main creative force. This allows for the music, despite the many different things going on at once, sound focussed and well refined in structure. The songs have been optimized to a T and there really isn't really any place in the album where the song seems to get lost as to what its trying to do. While in most cases if one person takes full creative control, you'd expect the music to be simpler and more about the straight emotions of that person, but its a rather different case with Devin being that person. This album is very emotionally driven and personal, thats for sure. Most of the lyrics don't seem to make much sense, but that is because its all emotional. Nothing is calculated. But Devin's bi-polor disorder and overall eratic personality makes the album ungodly and intense. To listen to this album is taking a trip beyond your normal line of thinking.
The album is truly an insane piece of death metal yet its merely a vehicle to show the inner working's of Devin Townsend's demented mind. This album is a great example of modern death metal doing what it does best, creating a sonic form of energy, intensity, and destruction. The contrasting instruments and constant layering make each song rich in texture and in feelings. It presents melodic portions that mesh with harsh death metal elements and speedy rhythms. The changing speed and rhythm pull the listener in and create an outstanding form of dynamics. Alien is a true lesson in intensity, brutality, and heaviness and in that regard its a rather overwhelming album for most. Only try this album if you are ready to stomach some strange concepts and vengeful assaults of the ears and mind. If more bands tried to write music in mind of how Devin does it, we would have a more satisfying death metal scene.
Devin Townsend does exactly that by unleashing his "Alien" upon the world. There is not much to say about Devin Townsend that has not already been said. He is absolutely out of his fucking mind, he is a musical genius, he is ugly as fuck but has one of the most beautiful voices in metal. All of this is one hundred percent true. I am personally much more a fan of his solo work, especially Terria, but as far as Strapping Young Lad goes, Alien is my favorite.
I can already hear all of you City fans screaming, "But why? Have you not heard his magnum opus?" Yes, I have listened to City and that actually is my second favorite. Call me crazy, but all you have to do is play the track "Skeksis" to realize that Devin (along with the rest of Strapping Young Lad) is experimenting so far beyond his comfort zone it is stunning. His lyrics, as always, are absolutely hilarious but strangely intelligent, and I believe them to be much more hilarious and intellectual here than on any other album they have released.
This album has a little bit of everything, from the sheer intense fast paced "We Ride" to the slow, (oddly) beautiful "Thalamus." From the silly lyrics of "Shitstorm" to the thought provoking lyrics of "Love?" To me, this is sort of like the Beatle's self titled white album in the sense that it would have everything you would possibly dream of having on a Strapping Young Lad/Devin Townsend album. It's a shame that I will never get a chance to see Strapping Young Lad live, but Devin already announced that one of his four albums in the new Devin Townsend Project will be heavier than anything Strapping Young Lad has done! But in the meantime, we still have Alien, City, SYL and The New Black for Devin's heavier side. If you haven't already, listen to Alien. It's experimentally fun metal at its best.
Why do people like this so much? Most of the riffs on here are complete duds, and the few good ones are repeated beyond comprehention, I mean, everyone likes the Love? riff right, I admit, it's catchy and heavy, but they do it for 3 minutes straight... non-stop. There's samples everywhere, stupid ammounts of random swearing, not to mention the vocals are average when screamed, and horrible when sung. This is complete shit.
Things start off with Imperial, a song which after a few average riffs, degreades itself into a pile of keyboards and other pointless shit, and then ends. "Skeksis" starts off with a pretty cool industrial riff, but instead of developing the riff, they just add samples and beeps all over it, and pretend like there's been a change in the last 2 minutes. We get a little bit of mechanical slow crushing, before the song colapses into another pile of samples and multi tracked vocals, it's not even 'chaotic' it's just a random bunch of noises, not heavy or aggressive, just filling up time on the CD. About 4 minutes in we get some faster riffing, which actually sounds pretty cool, and interacts with the various multi-trackings going on everywhere, actually pretty catchy, heavy and good for the last half or so.
"Shitstorm" lets us wallow in some average highspeed riffing, with some strange time tempo's going on, but there's too much random noise going on around them to be enjoyed properly. Townsends vocals sit in between the realms of noise and being proper vocals. They are distinguishable, and they're are lyrics, they may suck, and consist of random sentances, but they are real lyrics, and they are being said. But they are also completly independant of the music, and are just there, adding to the ball of noise that this song creates. Once everything's in the song, making it's noise, the only traditional metal instrument you'll be making out will be the drums, which are luckily on the great-to-godly level for this album. The song isn't music, it's just a bunch of noise.
The album hits a high point with the oddly musical, and instrument based "Love?", It's got a hell of main riff, it's not the greatest riff ever written, but it's in the higher part of the list, it's catchy, and addictive, it's also played non stop (Well, ok the chorus does have a little gothic riff spaced between sections of the riff)for the first 3 minutes or so of this song. The clean vocal sections are a little below what it could be due to Townsends voice, but other than that, it's not too bad. The second half, retains the instrument based, approach, and gives us a few average riffs, before giving us our verse riff again, with samples. But nothing excessive. Seriously, there's about 45 seconds on non-main riff in this 5:40 song. This song is still pretty good, but it gets old, due to the whole "We-only-wrote-one-riff" thing.
The groove approach continues with "Shine", which basically uses a crappier riff, more samples, an other than that does the same thing. Townsend changes his voice around, for no reason, other than it's easier than writing different music. There is some basic enjoyment to be found here, but it's in the most simple of grooves, and doesn't really provide any serious fun. Add in some child choir voices, and this song is ready to suck.
"We Ride" has some energy, and features some pretty standard riffing of a thrashy nature, along with a nice break from straight out double bass drumming. But again, Please write more than one riff per song. Townsend does tend to think that everyone is stupid, and that by singing differently, he's writing new music. The solo is a nice feature, as there's not any others around, but it's still kind of average. The riff finally changes, but unfortunately, the vocals are completly independent, and stupid sounding. So that stops me from giving them a bonus for writing multiple riffs in the last minute or so.
The second OK song, is another groover, "Possesions" it's vocals are pretty over the place, and there are more childrens choir vocals put in a heap of places, but it's catchy-ish, not overly good, but when you compare it to it's competition on this album, it's a goddamn classic. This one has more vocal samples than anything else, which is annoying, but less engulfing on the rest of the music than the other samples.
Then, as a complete insult, the group felt it'd be funny to put in the most stupid ballad song imaginable in there. "Two weeks" is pretty much a accoustic ballad, which reminds me of Anal Cunt's Picnic of Love title track more than anything else, with the whole "What do you want to do now baby/Should we take a day/Maybe go to the beach". Terrible, shitty, crap. Made cheesier through the use of shitty samples all the time, but I guess it does give it a little touch of Pink Floyd. I generally like ballad type tracks, but this is too gay for anyone to stand.
After thinking that the previous shitfest was merely an intro to some insanity, "Thalamus" kicks off very slowly, with accousitcs, and then changes into the song, which completely sucks, as the drums go ape shit, and everything else, really doesn't make any noticeable noise, basically, there's some samples and drums. followed by a pathetic slower sections, with some half-sing/scream thing going on. Somehow, with three major transitions in style on the song, they still only manage to write three differnet pieces of music, with the guitars barely being present.
Everything ends with Zen, It's basically got a quiet verson of the Imperial riff at the start. After that, we get some actual goo chaotic sounding shit, with just instruments, but for some reason, it only lasts for about 15 seconds, before changing into something which sounds nearly the same as "Imperial", with just as much listenability. However, the song surpised me by actually changing again, and again, and again. Now, nothing on this song is overly impressive, it's just that SYL actualy wrote song dynamics, and an actually piece of flowing music. Which obviously makes it an amazing SYL classic. It's actually probably my favourite song on here.
I'm not even going to bring up Info Dump, which I just did, but you know, just imagine it doesn't exist.
Now I don't usually write track by track reviews, but when the lowest other review is about 65%, from someone with the same "It's too vocal and sample driven" complaint as me, and I can't see a reason to give it higher than 35, I kind of have to give reasons. I mean, this feels like a 20% to me, I've basically searched deeply for all enjoyable parts, just trying to understand why this thing is loved so much.
I can agree with the first thing everyone says, that Hoglan is a brilliant drummer, and this is some very good stuff, although maybe a little bit too double bass orientated. This doesn't bother me too much, as I like the style, but this band doesn't seem to have the catchiness for it to work perfectly. But the second aspect of the band everyone ejaculates over I just don't get. Devin Townsend is a slightly above average screamer, he doesn't sound like anyone, so theres some originality there, but it's still not any better. He tends to write annoying vocal patterns, which are independant to the music. Yes, this is crazy, but it also sounds like shit. His singing is pretty poor. It's always got a little bit of scream in it, as the music doens't exactly leave sections for big singing breaks. It's just really average. It's not painful or whiny, just not very good.
There is some good playing by Townsend and Jed Symond on a few places, unfortunately, most of guitar work is generally uninspired. The guitars go from nicely placed when the band is playing their songs without all the pointless bells and whistles, but once those come in, the guitars get lost in the 'chaos' and become usless. this is infact probably a good thing, as most songs only have two or three riffs in them, and these riffs are simply tinkered with, in the slightest possible way, every 25 seconds, which to me at least, doesn't sound like a new riff, it sounds like the first one, and all the changes made are so insignificant you can barely notice them under all the beeps and random noise (I believe Skeksis has a xylophone track on it) tracks on here. This has the capability of getting very tiring, as the band tends to take a very narrative structure when writing it's songs.
In fact verse-chorus would be more enjoyable than the approach that the band often takes, because at least the mediocre riffs would be broken up by other mediocre riffs. Instead they keep one riff, and add noises to it. Now, I know that this is Industrial Metal, and for that reason, noises have to be accepted, but unfortunatly, this is basically JUST noises, the guitars have no importance in the scheme of things. Listen to The Amenta or something, that's Industrial, but still is heavy as fuck, and doesn't smother all it's riffs with random sound effects.
This smothering of samples and keyboards is just ridiculous, I have never heard a band with such talented musicians be so unwilling to let their music speak for itself. It's almost as if Devin realised he had a serious lack of quality riffs, and needed to cover this up, by finding as many random noises he could, and throwing them over the top. These are produced very strongly, so it's not like they needed 15 samples going at all times, because each one is easily audible.
On the end of the positives is the production, it's clear, but I don't see that it's too clear to start saying it's aimed at the mallcore crowd, it's just good production, from a guy who obviously knows how to turn knobs and playing with audio, who should have spent more time playing with his guitar.
...that's the first word that comes to mind with this album.
Imagine having your head strapped to one end of the anvil at the Hellforge while a devilish-looking clown slams a giant hammer repeatedly down on the other end. All the while, a twisted children's choir chimes away as Lucifer himself plays epic melodies on a keyboard and Devin Townsend goes completely overboard with his wildly unstable vocals on top of it all with lyrics that are completely fucking insane... and there's Alien's sound signature. This album is relentless in its punishment, non-stop in its aggression, and utterly adept at not taking itself seriously. Filled with massive riffing, tight and inhumanly accurate drumming, huge bass dives, and monstrous production, Alien never apologizes for leaving your brain splattered all over the wall.
The album is also catchy as hell. Between Devin Townsend and Jed Simon ripping heaviness incarnate out of their guitars, Gene Hoglan pounding you over the head incessantly with beats and patterns that are not of this earth, and Byron Stroud holding it all together with bass hits that threaten to implode your skull, Alien still manages to display touches of glorious melody and epic stature that turn this entire experience into one sadistic trip that you'll probably end up welcoming with open arms.
Devin's voice is one of the highlights here. He rages, screams, soars, and sings like a madman ready to take out a city full of people with an army of demonic teddy bears at his back... and his lyrics resemble the ramblings of a brain on the verge of collapse from attempting to calculate Pi to thirty million digits. The insanity of it all is what makes this so awesome. The music is absurdly spontaneous... what sounds like vibraphones, small children singing innocently, and harmless keyboard lines are interspersed through ass-kicking metal... and there's Devin singing about stealing your heart and soul, having babies, Disneyland, gods and demons, infinity, polynomial colors, the multiverse, and who knows what else.
There's some small respite in "Two Weeks", which is Floyd'ish psychedelia that seems to have jumped in a time machine and landed face first into the completely wrong genre of music, but I guess it just reinforces the fucked up nature of this album as a whole.
The only real downpoint to this album is the last track, Info Dump. This isn't really a song so much as it is a bunch of static that goes on for about twelve minutes. I have no idea why bands like to do shit like this, but at least they put it at the very end... so I just look at Alien as a 42-minute album and consider the damage reversible.
Anyway, this kicks ass. Completely insane. Devin Townsend is mad... simple as that.
This album absolutely owns! While I do enjoy Strapping’s other work, “Alien” completely obliterates them all!
Once you listen to track one, Imperial, it really sets the mood for what the rest of the album holds. It’s dark, it’s scary, and it’s goddamn brilliant. Each track is different in it’s own way, but they all retain the same heaviness and darkness and that unique SYL quality.
The guitars really set the atmosphere of the album. They’re not overpowering the other instruments like on their self-titled, yet they’re not in the background either. They’re at the right volume to be forceful but not dominant. With the playing, it’s impeccable. Both Devin and Jed mostly use the lower strings, but occasionally come out with something that could sound like a solo, but never eventuates (Shitstorm, Shine). We Ride is the only song with solo’s, and while they’re good, it’s better that they limited it to one song, as the album really didn’t need solo’s and endless wankery everywhere. The drumming is also tightly played. Some of the beats he does are awesome, not to mention that in some parts of the album, you’ll find that the beats are more complex than originally thought (for example, at 2:08 in Shine, he adds ¾ hi-hats in a 4/4 beat. I never noticed that until much later, and it was a very interesting find!). It just makes the music that much more technical and interesting.
The best part of the album has to be the vocals. Not many albums can state that the vocals are the best quality of the music, but I think here it is. It’s unlike Devin’s other work. He does his usual clean singing (Love?) and regular harsh vocals, but then occasionally he’ll come out with a very long scream (Love?, Thalamus) that would surely render my lungs unusable.
One of the most stand-out songs is definitely Shitstorm. One of the most negative, hate-filled songs to be ever produced, it really shows Devin Townsend’s state of mind at the time. The song climbs and climbs until it reaches a peak where Devin screams “I fucking hate myself! Everything about this is fucked!”, and then descends back down to normality again. Brilliant.
After the seventh track, your mind needs time to recover from what hit it, so track eight’s Two Weeks is a slower, acoustic piece to bring you back to the real world again. It works as an intermission, and oddly enough, it does its job perfectly. Somehow, it fits with the rest of the album, which by any metal album’s standards, shouldn’t. It’s very…classy. That’s the only way to describe it.
Skeksis is another excellent track, easily my favourite. It’s a long one, which takes over two minutes to get started, but the whole thing is quality. At 4:14, Gene become a human drum machine, essentially playing the same thing over and over until 5:31, yet it never gets boring. Also, at 4:14, a guitar riff comes in from the rhythm guitar that will have you automatically headbanging. Awesome stuff.
It wouldn’t be feasible for me to explain the highlights of every song, because I think I’ve made my point. Basically, this album is the heaviest, and probably will be the heaviest, album of Strapping Young Lad’s discography. If you love heavy death metal, this album has to be in your collection. Let the insanity begin.
Best tracks: Skeksis, Shitstorm, Thalamus
And a fairly epic one at that. Strapping Young Lad’s fourth Alien album outing marked a landmark in my forays not only into Metal but across the board. Since listening to this its marked a falling of the scales, an epiphany and other normally tackily teenaged phrases aboot music and has actually changed my life (for the better). I think that SYL isn’t going to be for everybody at the end of the day and I accept that some people think that the lyrics are one dimensional and puerile. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and say, “I think you’re wrong”. The lyrical content is ‘simple’ because quite often feelings are not really tangible. Many an age has been sweated over trying to give feelings words, shape and construction and has (as I’m sure I’m not alone in) produced some remarkably terrible and embarrassing poetry throughout my life on the topics of depression and life’s hardships, when a simple “Everything about this is Fucked!!” would have sufficed. What it really boils down to here in terms of lyrics is that I think its got to be seen as a part of the whole of the music overall. The lyrics by themselves mean nothing comparatively, true of any great songs in metal. ‘Walk’ by Pantera has funny lyrics but you needed that groovy riff to add that stompy fun element to the song. The song’s music acts as the words of the song if you like, the lyrics merely give them more intelligible shape. Given the nature of this fury unleashed “I fucking hate myself” doesn’t seem, to me at least , to be such a daft phrase in the heat of this musical approach as it might do otherwise. For those willing to look without any of those preconceptions you may see something as important as I did. Even if this sounds like pretentious gibberish, and it certainly does have those tones as I read it back to myself, the fact I believe it enough to write it should show that this is well worth the listen.
Alien then is a real powerhouse of musical chaos. From the album’s intro ‘Imperial’ to the full proper exiting track ‘Zen’ it’s an almost non-stop riot of neurosis and paranoia, pounding you one minute soaring with you the next. The main effects of the approach which go to creating this whirlwind as ever lie in the brain of Townsend central and the multi-layered approach which he has perfected over the years as song writer, producer and mental patient. There’s a real epic feel that’s not been present in the past on SYL releases and its probably got to do with Dev’s work in his solo project, which has recently in particular yielded very big sounds, and for the recording the keys are provided by Dave Young of DTB acclaim. The keyboards are used much more liberally and have that ring of Devin’s solo work which is reminiscent of the Physicist album‘s style. In the case of SYL the effect is a constant feeling of a screaming cosmic landscape, and is the real gleaming turd on the heavy metal shitfest which is laid at the gateways to your ears, hammering and yelling to be let in to do blast beats on your ear drums and chew through your cerebrum.
The prime example of the glorious hell unleashed is ‘Shit Storm’, a suitable title for a song which is now being revered rightly as one of the most desperately frightening displays of negativity ever yet recorded. The song weaves up and down like a hellish roller coaster before right as you feel like you’re going to lose control it burgeons out almost onto a nightmarish plateau. Glorious.
The other main stand out track, which now boasts a brilliant video inspired by one of my favourite films of all time Evil Dead (1 or 2 take your pick) ‘Love?’, I thought, wasn’t going to be for me. The main riff has groovy elements and that’s not normally what I want or look for. In this case I couldn’t be more wrong, as the song mutates into a real monster and proudly screams a catchy chorus decrying the evils of controlling relationships, as “this love is about control”.
The other songs I don’t want to go into to too much detail aboot, because I could really be here forever because they’re all brilliant. The main highlights are to be found in a similar theme, ‘Shine’ is out of control, ‘We Ride’ is as close to light hearted as we get with a motorbike revving up at the beginning and possessing some truly demented soloing and lyrics to match “What the Fuck was that? I’m being completely rational! I’m Not Yelling!!!” ‘Possessions’ provides an interesting look into the idea of procreation with an ‘Adiemus’ style choir providing the bizarre background to a still bizarrer song and Devin adding his own thoughts on the matter at hand, “Do you want a fucking baby?! Noooo!!!”
There is, however, what can be described as a calm after the storm and, indeed, marks a winding down in the album overall in the track ‘Two Weeks’, which has being compared to Pink Floyd, or so I heard. It’s a short acoustic number with added ambience which conjures up the image of an oriental idyllic garden or park, although with a decided sinister foreboding edge added to the surreally peaceful atmosphere. This track pretty much helps to sum up Alien, which is an album of extremity in the very literal term, firing on all cylinders and suddenly pulling off the assault to soar into the cosmic spacey realms of insanity before driving you back even harder.
What you’ve got here is a musical personification of Dev’s bipolar disorder. The music on Alien is all aboot feeling, they’re feelings made into music in the very raw sense of the word, probably hence why the phrase ‘nu’ is being thrown around like a water balloon full of spite. As soon as a band begin to broach the subject of feelings or depression its almost viewed with what can be likened to boy’s school homophobia, a suitable simile given the nature of some comments speculating aboot the sexual preference of some band’s music. ‘Nu’, as far as I can figure out, now means that a band writes music which is accessible, mentions feeling and has a catchy chorus. Can’t you do all those things and yet still be as heavy and menacing as an armour plated rhino in the process? Evidently you can.
A definite contender for the best SYL album to date and certainly the most widely received and best recorded/produced. The album for me only shies away from defeating the mighty ‘City’ in its all to short livedness with the frankly rather annoying ‘Info Dump’ making the album drag its feet when it would have been better off without this 11odd minute construction of sonic feedback that ends in a woman screaming. Atmosphere eh? Something else might have been better. Still, minor nitpicking made all the more stark by how amazing the rest of the album is. The album for me also does not have the longevity of ‘City’, as part of the fun goes into deciphering the chaotic songs and, this done, the appeal tends to fall. But I listened to this album near non-stop for 3 weeks I loved it so much.
Evil, indefatigably heavy and fiercely unique, this bungee jump into hell is the audio equivalent to drifting through a bewilderingly beautiful space-scape with a demented insane weasel running around in your space helmet.
So. Definitely one to check out then.
This absolutely rocks my socks off. Like, this album kills babies and beats women at the same time while playing this bitchin' music at the same time. That's how hardcore it is. Meanwhile, underneath the brutal massacre, there's soft melody, subtle usage of keyboards, exotic instruments used, lots of voices, all sorts of neat stuff. But most of all...insanity. Pure insanity, stemming right from Devy's screaming mouth.
City was a monumental release for not just SYL, but metal in general, for it's relentless yet natural barrage of fuckin' balls to the wall metal that kicked ass and took names. Songs like Underneath the Waves and Oh My Fucking God rank up there as some of the most badass songs I've ever heard. Could they top it? Nope. SYL was good, but not as good as we al lhoped. The s/t turned out to be...above average, which is not acceptable for SYL. So for Alien, SYL needed to come back in a BIG way...and they did. This album absolutely fucking rocks...but why 88? Cause of Info Dump. I'm only gonan cover the songs I like...and Info Dump.
The album opens with Imperial, which is a perfect opener for the album, fast brutal, yet still a great melody halfway through. It's short, and quickly turns into Skeksis. In my opinion, this is one of three big standout songs on the album, which actually come three in a row. It starts with a pretty simple non-melodic guitar riff and builds off of it, until Devy comes in with a great vocal line: "I control / an awkward soul / and my lines / are automatic / are automatically drawn". This is actually quite catchy and infectuous, just like the chorus and the stuff before the chorus. It kicks major amounts of ass, and if you listen closely, you hear that thingy...the xylophone except metal in the background going on. This song just rocks. ROCKS.
Next is Shitstorm, which is another standout in the album. It's also the most brutal song on the album...as my friend put it after hearing the song, "...now that we're all non-virgins...". How very true it is. It's fast, brutal, angry, no singing, just drumming and vocal work crazy enough to rip your head off. Great song. Song to the apocalypse, basically.
The third standout of the album is next, called Love. This song was clearly geared to be the single of the album, fortunately it's an awesome song. The durmming here absolutely fucking slays, and Devy shows off his extremely versatile voice. The chorus here is very very catchy and very cool. Hell, a jazz/Mars Volta kid even liked this song.
Shine is next, it's OK, nothing special. We Ride is the fastest song on the album and is probabaly the best to go crazy to. It's got some weird stuff all throughout the song...you should just hear it. Possesions is next, it's quite cool and has a fun keyboard riff...I enjoy this song. Then...is Two Weeks. This is Devy going, "Let's fuck with our fan's heads right here,", cause he most certainly does. This song is all acoustic, focusing on subtle keyboard effects and vocals and basically beauty throughout the song. It's a nice break Thalamus is next, another just OK song. Too slow for me.
Zen is last, it's easily compared to Love in all respects and is a great song, awesome closer. Oh wait, another one! A 12 minute instrumental...oooh, high hopes! Wait...it's quiet. All I hear is some weird scratching type noise and some distant talking. WTF? Oh wait, it's getting louder...nevermind, back to normal. Prtety much, this is 12 minutes of NOTHING. Some people may see some genius or osmething in this, but I don't. It ends with some screaming and yelling, and that's it. Blarg. That's what hurts this album from being as good as City.
I do have to mention that Devy has the second best voice in music, second only to Daniel Gildenlow, and Gene Hoglan as the second best extreme metal drummer, second only to Flo. These guys kick ass.
Well done, Devy! Keep the insanity coming!
I’ve not heard a great deal of SYL other than this album, but hopefully that means that this review is less biased and I don’t consider it fair to review an album based on other previous albums by the band if it can be helped.
In brief this album has a very well produced and commercial feel to it, but this may be a deterrent to some people, as will other slightly ‘nu’ elements such as the riffs and lyrical content (as pointed out by some others here). But the ‘nu’ elements of this album don’t really ‘smell’ as much as the bands that people might negatively compare SYL’s sound to, though the lyrics do occasionally sound like childish fits that can annoy but it’s hardly as bad as it gets, and this sort of angst is preferable to the sort of melancholic self-pity that you get these days. This album is also a bit one-dimensional but has a few lighter tracks to add some more flavour to it.
Tracks like Shitstorm are a good example this album at full force and like other songs here, Devin Townsend incorporates a lot of shouting that’s not in time with the music in order to create this sort of maniacal spontaneity.
Love has this memorable riff and some nice but basic chord progressions, on songs such as Possession there are also some catchy and more mid-paced riffs, the E major chord in this song sounding particularly pleasing to the ears. You’ll also notice the female choruses employed here as well. I wouldn’t say this for all female voices but it unintentionally makes this album a little bit sexy. The timbre of their voices is just right to compliment the grooves and riffs of the band.
My personal favourite has to be Two Weeks which is actually the light acoustic number. The E major chord is again used here but it sounds so nice, and with the extra layered guitars and effects going on in the background it makes me think of calmly floating about in space. Lovely.
Due to the thick but simple sound this album might tire for some, but for the catchy first few listens, the key tracks are well worth checking out.
The new effort from Devy and Co. is a wonderfully produced, beautifully written, and brutally and savagely performed. Devin's vocals rip the guitar riffs to shreds, speaking of riffs, they are in much heavier abundance on "Alien" than on any other SYL album, and their quality is astounding. Songs like Shitstorm and Love? are absolutely gigantic, Hoglan's classic drumming and Shroud's subatomic bass hold everything together, while Simon and Townsend tear the audible sphere completely apart. Repeat this for ten tracks, with an eleventh of an ambient nature, nice to listen to as an ending, a sort of escape from the sheer brutality that characterizes this album.
While the lyrical content remains somewhat similar (With the "FUCK" and "SHIT" in copious use), the actual subject matter is a bit more advanced than a song such as, say, Oh My Fucking God or Relentless. Shitstorm has some comedic lyrics while listening (read: I CAN'T EVEN FUCKING PISS!!!), but reading them as a whole shows a different, albeit subtle, side of Devin.
Textures flow wonderfully, with the similar keyboards that were all over "City" making a return after a bit of a hiatus on the self-titled album. They add heaviness and build-up at times, such as the enormous chorus of "Imperial". Speaking of which, that is likely the most memorable and heavy part of the album. The Lad's "Alien" is not one to be missed, a breath of fresh air in the saturated death metal atmosphere.
Choice cuts: Imperial, Shitstorm, Love?, Zen
Just as it wouldn’t be a year in metal without something new from Zakk Wylde or Soilwork, no year would be really complete without Devin Townsend making an appearance. And here he is, at the helm of the fourth Strapping Young Lad studio album.
"Alien" kicks off the way all such things do, with ‘Imperial’ rising up as a relentless and crushing wall of sound played at breakneck speed. Following that is the sensory overload of the almost impenetrable ‘Skesis’, a titan of a track with a fortress of guitars and synths. Then the appropriately-named ‘Shitstorm’ is piled on top of it like a weapon of mass sonic destruction. Gene Hoglan’s incredible drumming keeps the madness from veering off course and Townsend’s frantic vocals scream lyrics that don’t seem to make much sense but follow the same basic concept of being pissed-off about something. If that doesn’t sound too far removed from what SYL has thrown up in the past then you’d be right, except that from this moment the album becomes significantly more interesting than just barely-controlled noise terror. Quite suddenly, the album slows down and drops into a heavy groove in the shape of ‘Love?’, which goes into strong contention as one of the best songs SYL has yet put together. A couple of tracks further along and ‘We Ride’ erupts like the most violent outburst of rage ever recorded but then "Alien" reaches its most transcendent moment with ‘Two Weeks’, a somewhat abstract, meandering acoustic song that recalls Townsend’s "Terria" opus.
The proposed Tom Jones cover has subsequently been replaced by the 13-minute soundscape ‘Infodump’, a meandering swirl of white noise, tape loops and demonic vocals vaguely reminiscent of something that Namanax would do (only much less threatening) and similar to the style of Townsend’s own "Devlab" project from last year.
Production-wise, "Alien" is a monster, with the murk of earlier works replaced by a gleaming sound and featuring a huge choir of backing voices that includes members of Zimmer's Hole and Australian band Tourettes. Some versions also come with a bonus live track and a DVD featuring a “making of” doco and some video clips, all adding up to over two hours of SYL madness. As the best-produced and most diverse Strapping Young Lad album yet, "Alien" is sure to be high on the list of the best releases from 2005.
When I think of Strapping Young Lad, I think of the overplayed video clip a number of years back ("Toxic" I believe). To me personally, this band has always seemed Nu-Metal. I'm not sure if that's because of the fans, the type of production they've used, or the lyrical content. I have no problem with this band, they write catchy death metal which is nice to hear every now and again - but this album is in a completely different vein to previous releases.
First off, I'm surprised noone has made any comments about Black Metal in their reviews. When hearing a few tracks on a local metal station, I had absolutely no idea it was SYL. I actually thought it was one of those new "We've popped out of nowhere" well produced Black Metal bands (You know the ones!). If you compare it to say, the latest album from Mayhem, there is a definate similarity. Production wise, as well as song structure. I'm not saying this as a bad thing, but the parallels to (newer, well produced) Black Metal are very clear.
What drags down the quality of this album is the lyrical content. (This is the most "Nu" element of the album, other than the over-produced overlaying keyboards.) I grew out of the "I hate my life, fuck you all, fuck this fuck that" attitude a very long time ago, but I guess maybe that's to appeal to a wider fan base.
The vocals are pretty good, Devin has a good range - although I have found when he does the melodic "scream" they always have the same structure/effect/whatever - I'm not sure what the word is, but you might understand what I mean. (Same rythmic structure.)
The guitars aren't particulary special, as the vocals and effects are what really drive this band of music (like Cradle of Filth, vocal driven) - sure there are moments of "riffing" but these are nothing special. The drumming is very Nu-BM inspired (probably because Gene drummed for Old Man's Child) but catchy nonetheless.
Overall, this is a very accessible album - I'm sure it will appeal to those bordering the Nu/Nu-Black/Cookie Cutter DM sound. I wouldn't call it original, groundbreaking or anything - it's simple and catchy. If you like melodic, cheesy aggression, then you'll like this album.
On a side note, if you want something similar to this, but far more interesting - check out the Mezzerschmitt album "Weltherrschaft" - but maybe that's just me :)
Strapping Young Lad have finally released their long awaited follow up to their self titled release, and as bands get older, sometimes their quality starts to go down. SYL is not one of these bands. They have come back, and they have come back to punish you with their blend of extreme music.
This CD opens up with the absolutely crushing intro, “Imperial”, which is a fantastic way to introduce you to the Lad’s world. This song features a great amount of double kick from Gene and second guitar from Jed and bass from Byron following right along with Devin screaming all the while. Devin mixes part clean vocals with some screamed vocals that have some sort of effect on them, overall a great start. “Skeksis” follows Imperial, and is another brutal track, this is where you can really hear the amazing drum work of the man himself, Gene Hoglan. He punishes the skins with no remorse. This goes on for a while and finally kicks into the vocals a little way through, which are nothing but amazing as usual from this man, there are plenty of fast riffs to be found as well as some neat keyboard effects played over the entire thing.
Not letting up, after these two songs comes the first song many heard off the CD and that would be “Shitstorm”. This song lets you know just how pissed off Devy is, he is hear to make your ears bleed. All the vocals are pretty much shouted and the lyrics are just as crazy with it sounding like Devin is just threatening you in the song. This is also a fast song with many good riffs and some fantastically used keyboard effects that do nothing but complement the song. In here we also get our first taste of the choirs that were used which also help diversify the song, quite the amazing track. Can this CD get better, or can it get worse? Well! In this reviewer’s opinion, it gets much better, and this is because of the track “Love?” This is an absolutely amazing song which is very emotionally composed but it still manages to punish you with it’s heaviness. Devy keeps the great vocals coming using screaming and clean. The guitar, the bass and the keyboards simply come together and give you an amazing performance, the lyrics In this case are also fantastically written, and this should go down as one of Strapping Young Lad’s best songs in this reviewer’s opinion, simply the best song on the CD.
Now believe it or not, after a song like that the quality stays the same, it doesn’t get any worse. Welcome to the track “Shine”, this is another song that is hell bent to crush you into the ground with it’s heavy riffs and insane drumming, it’s a very busy track and will definitely keep the listeners attention with Devin screaming at you maniacally all the way through. Also listen for some more choir at the end which keeps things interesting. Yes, this CD has not relented yet, and it’s not about to. “We Ride” is up next and it features some very fast riffing, and some well written lyrics that are basically telling you to get in gear. This song is unique for a Strapping song has it features a good amount of soloing, so this should catch everyone’s ears has they are very well performed. After this song is the other major highlight of this disc and it comes in the form of “Possessions” It features lyrics that would be corny from other bands but for SYL it works perfectly, this song features more great riffs and some crushing drumming, but the most prominent feature in this song is the fantastic use of choir, and luckily it is not overused, it’s just the right amount.
Oh no! The CD has slowed down, but is this cause for alarm? No! This is “Two Weeks” and it is a very well written slow piece, some have compared it to Pink Floyd even. The point is though, that this CD doesn’t break the atmosphere and only adds to the greatness of this album, it’s very mellow and relaxing, and has a good amount of emotion put into it, the only people who wouldn’t like this song are those people who can’t deal with anything that isn’t going at 100 miles per minute. “Thalamus” brings back the heavy that we are used to, but it almost seems like a drone song. This is good though! It keeps the CD diverse and makes it a more interesting listen, it is nothing but effective here. The last of the “songs” in this case arrives and it comes in the form of “Zen”. Where Thalamus brought back the heavy, this song brings back the speed, with some great riffing and drumming that you won’t soon forget.
Now, the last track is a bit.. Controversial I suppose you could say. Some really like it, others down right hate it. It’s an ambient track of sorts and it is quite long, but if you have patience you begin to hear things later in the track. Basically it is an experiment in feedback. It doesn’t take away anything from the CD in my case, so I treasure this track just as much as everything else on the CD. What’s cool about this track though is that is kind of scary in a way, the feedback has a constant beat, but it fluctuates and gets louder sometimes, which may make you tense, as you don’t know what’s coming next. All in all, just have patience with it and it may be rewarding for you. This may not be for everyone and you may want to skip it though, but at least give it one chance.
I think this is SYL’s best release to date. It’s heavy, and it has plenty of emotion and anger. Truth be told I think the CD of the year has been released in March, and it’s Alien. Don’t miss it, it’s a must hear.
I've been a SYL fan for a relatively short amount of time, but in the last couple of months I've really gotten into their sound and style. That said, I still didn't consider any of their albums to come even close to the greatness of frontman Devin Townsend's solo work.
When Alien leaked, my friend sent me Imperial, Skeksis and Shitstorm, and after listening to each song once through ( I admit, I wasn't paying much attention) , while surfing the net, I concluded that the new Strapping album was about on par with the others, and that was that for a few days. When I was sent the rest of the songs, I decided to roll them all again, burned a CD with all the songs on it, and set out for a long walk.
I returned to my house, ABSOLUTELY FLOORED! BEST SYL album YET!
I can't find a single song on this album which I don't enjoy thoroughly ('cept maybe 'Info Dump', but that's an aquired taste). 'Imperial' is the best SYL opener yet. 'We Ride', unquestionably the fastest song on the album, sits in the middle of the tracklist, and IMO the album hits its climax right there. Some say that the unplugged ballad, 'Two Weeks', breaks up the flow of the album, but I didn't find that to be so. It was a wonderful surprise that I totally didn't expect. 'Skeksis' and 'Shitstorm' took me a couple more listens to really appreciate, but I'm now glad I devoted that time. Zen, which is pretty much the final real song on the album, blows out a driving rhythm right to the end.
Instrumentally, the Lads are all in top form. Gene Hoglan's drumming, which, for me, has always been one of Strapping's biggest trademarks, has only gotten more technical since the s/t album. Devin's vocals hit home as well, but then again, I have yet to hear him sing something that didn't sound cool. The band's typical "wall of sound" style has been noticeably beefed up. This album definitely has some points ( such as the 1:00 mark in 'Thalamus' ) where the sound gets bigger than Strapping has ever done before. The difference is that these explosions of sound now seem so much more complete, as though the sound is surrounding you, not just hitting you hard in the face. Part of this may be attributed to a higher production quality, which this CD does have, or to the added keyboard backing of Dave Young (from the DTB) which permeates most of the album, but there's also just something different about the Strapping sound. In an industry where a lot of used-to-be-great bands are progressing in a really crappy direction, an album like this is a welcome breath of fresh air.
To conclude; awesome album! Buy it! Can't wait for the tour!