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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.