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Strapping Young Lad: Alien

Alien is Strapping Young Lad's fourth studio album (excluding their live disc). It is a big improvement over their previous self-titled release. While I thought Strapping Young Lad was a good disc in its own way, I felt it sounded a bit dry in its production, and certainly left me a tad disappointed after the band's untouchable masterpiece, City. Alien certainly finds the band going back to their more chaotic phase, with its dense mix and thick wall of sound built around the whole record. Now it doesn't redefine the limits of musical extremity as City once did, but it definitely proves to be a rock solid release.

Alien is the first Strapping Young Lad album written as a cohesive unit and by far their most diverse disc to date. It's not just Devin Townsend handling every aspect of the songwriting and production, but overall, the album still feels like some of the material on his solo albums (especially Infinity and Terria). It is obvious that the other members have contributed to the songs tremendously. They certainly threw ideas at Devin which he morphed into interesting soundscapes. The melodic sides on the songs on Alien sound more melodic, whilst the chaotic sides are more chaotic and certainly faster. There are ultra-fast and brutal tracks like "Skeksis" and "Shitstorm", yet Devin Townsend's excellent harmonies. The guitar work on the latter is quite challenging technically, and it doesn't sacrifice melody for a second. The vocal melodies on these songs could easily rival Devin's stuff on Infinity. Both Devin and Jed Simon play fluid guitar runs loaded with technical riffs crash with Gene Hoglan's utterly insane blast beats. As usual, the lyrics are characterized by rage (the feeling he successfully portrayed on Ayreon's The Human Equation) and irresistible sense of hatred. Alien isn't about little green men or abduction; it deals with the individual's alienation and feeling lonely in society. Devin mostly screams the lyrics in his unique way of growling, shrieking as well as regular singing.

Aside from the tracks dominated by hyper-fast blast beats, spiraling riffs and insane vocals, there are also more laid-back tunes to diversify the record. Take the melodic "Shine" as an example, its melodic riffing with Devin's 'normal' voice is awesome as is the thick sound on "Love?" with clean and scream vocals mixed. It feels like bassist Byron Stroud (Fear Factory) plays a key role in this song. Guitarist Jed Simon-penned "We Ride" is the shortest track, yet one of the finest on the album. Super technical guitar runs meet throbbing bass and thundering drums. "Possession" shows Strapping Young Lad's humourous side, while "Two Weeks" is the album's biggest surprise. It begins with nice acoustic guitars and builds upon a vague Floydian atmosphere reminiscent of the stuff on Terria. "Thalamus" has more acoustic guitars, but this song does pick up somewhere in the middle. It never gets too heavy or too slow, and for some reason, is another favorite of mine. As much as I love the sheer power and chaos presented on City, I feel it's this kind of song that best shows Devin Townsend's versatility.

"Info Dump" closes the album - and what a finale. It is easily the most bizarre song Strapping Young Lad have ever done. Its almost 12 minutes running time, cluttered structure and esoteric instrumentation are all key factors that make this instrumental piece even more wicked. It's actually hard to call "Info Dump" a 'song', as it sounds more like a maze of sounds and distorted effects going on for a good seven minutes. The last five minutes, however, are even more challenging, as the song moves into a more uncomfortable musical territory. You just feel bad listening to it, but I guess that's what Devin had in mind writing this piece. Check Alien out -- Devin, Gene, Jed and Byron are back with a a vengeance. This disc is going to rank right up there with City.

Track Listing:
1. Imperial
2. Skeksis
3. Shitstorm
4. Love?
5. Shine
6. We Ride
7. Possessions
8. Two Weeks
9. Thalamus
10. Zen
11. Infodump

Added: May 9th 2005
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Score:
Related Link: Strapping Young Lad's Web Site
Hits: 2205
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Strapping Young Lad: Alien
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-05-09 22:04:09
My Score:

OK, OK...it's taken me quite a while to finally "get" this band, but after repeated listens to Strapping Young Lad's latest Alien, I think I finally hear what all the hype is about. After all, when I hear all this praise from people whose opinions I trust, there had to be something I was missing right? Basically, yeah. I'm not going to say that Devin Townsend is a genius like so many others do, not yet anyway, but the guy is on to something here. Alien has many of the characteristics of technical death metal, but I'm hesitant to call it death metal. Apocalyptic sci-fi progressive metal-that might fit a little better. Strapping Young Lad are not for the faint of heart, that's for certain, as the manic screams of Mr. Townsend can surely peel the paint off your walls, the superhuman drum work of Gene Hoglan will rock your foundation, and the overall mix of speed and heaviness surely can level continents. This is angry music, yet played with such precision and class that after a few listens you forget just how primal and violent it really is. Guitar riffs and lead passages are jagged and technical, like on the manic "Skeksis", and keyboards add a wild symphonic nature to many of the tracks, especially on the frenzied "Shitstorm". Townsend's vocal delivery will do one of a few things to you-cause you to run out of the house screaming with your hands over your ears, grab a baseball bat and bludgeon your neighbor, laugh your ass off, or seriously groove to the maniacal nature of his delivery due to the fact that it really meshes well with the music. His mixing of beastly shouts, melodic clean upper register screams, and tortured death wailings work real well on "Love?", a tune that also has brutally heavy riffs, keyboards, and Hoglan's insane drum workouts.

Music to celebrate the end of the world as we know it? Perhaps. Devin & Co. certainly won't appeal to the masses with Alien, but to sick freaks like you and me who like technical, progressive metal, as well as angry death metal, this is a good offshoot from those styles. What you actually want to call the music of SYL is entirely up to you, but there's no denying its raw, unadulterated power, aggression, and intelligence. I've been converted.



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