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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The proposed Tom Jones cover has subsequently been replaced by the 13-minute soundscape ‘Infodump’, a meandering swirl of white noise, tape loops and demonic vocals vaguely reminiscent of something that Namanax would do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.