Unabletothinkofname Reviews: Strapping Young Lad: Alien

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Unabletothinkofname Reviews: Strapping Young Lad: Alien

Post by Unabletothinkofname on Sun Mar 06, 2011 8:15 pm

If you want crazy, if you want fucking crazy, I'll show you how to be crazy



Strapping Young Lad, L-R : Jed Simon, Byron Stroud, Devin Townsend, Gene Hoglan

Backstory


One of the most celebrated extreme metal bands of the last 20 years, Strapping Young Lad were formed by Canadian musician Devin Townsend after his brief tenure as vocalist for Steve Vai's band. Disillusioned with the music industry, describing his time with Vai as him feeling like "a musical whore", he created Strapping Young Lad, recording all the instruments on their 1995 debut Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing entirely by himself, with some assistance from future guitarist Jed Simon.

After solidifying the lineup of Townsend (guitar/vocals), Simon (guitar), Byron Stroud (bass) the legendary Gene "Atomic Clock" Hoglan (drums), they went on to record four further albums, of which Alien is the second last, the band splitting in 2007. Townsend has since focused on his solo work with albums like Ziltoid the Omniscient and his continued work with The Devin Townsend Project. Stroud and Hoglan are now in Fear Factory, and Simon now busies himself with Zimmers Hole (also featuring Stroud and Hoglan) and City of Fire.

The Review


Right from the opening notes of Imperial it's obvious this isn't your bog-standard blastbeats-in-the-name-of-Lucifer extreme metal album. The demented, heavily synthesized orchestration and choir combined with the furious downtuned riffing and pounding drums puts you more in mind of the Star Wars soundtrack than anything else. Devin's vocals switch between furious roars and operatic wailing with ease, the short intro ending with a squall of feedback, leading into the opening proper, Skeksis.

My personal favorite track on the album, it gradually unfolds from a staccato riff and snare beat into a classic SYL crusher, expansive synths layered over Hoglan's inhumanly precise fills. The rich production (by Devin himself) really brings out the complex instrumentation without overshadowing the vocals, the guitar sound in particular recalling melodic death mastermind Fredrik Nordstrom. It's confusing but undeniably brilliant, releasing over a spectacular seven minutes, managing, unlike most thrashier bands who write long songs, to be completely flab-free, the twists and turns managing to be consistently followable but defiantly quirky.

Speaking of which, if you're wondering about the title and the frankly bonkers lyrics, Alien refers to the feelings Devin experienced when he stopped taking medicine for his bipolar disorder in order to make Alien a more intense and reflective record. The final track Info Dump relates to the "panicked state of mind" he felt when he stopped taking his medication.

Anyway, the most crazed and brutal track on the album, Shitstorm follows soon after, and...hell. Roadrunner Records initially dismissed the Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing demos as "just noise" and Shitstorm barely surpasses that. The hysterical screaming, pushing Devin's astonishing voice to its limits, the machine gun riffs and mind-bendingly fast drumming, and the gloriously crazed and genuinely hilarious choral wails of "CRAAZY! YOU'RE CRAAZYYYY!" bring to mind an extreme metal version of The Trial from Pink Floyd's The Wall. It's almost impenetrably extreme, but it's worth it, for what is possibly one of the most emotionally intense tracks I've ever heard (even with its dark, heavily tongue-in-cheek humor). The hysteria comes to a sudden stop, banks of synths leading into the next track, lead single and probably one of SYL's most recognizable songs.

Love? starts with, like most other tracks on the album, a heavy, almost neo-classical minded riff, but it has what most other tracks on Alien lack-a hooky, memorable chorus. Not that there aren't hooks on the rest of the album, but, even as Simon admitted, they produced a video for it because it had "the most commercial potential". Not that it's not utterly savage on the verses, boasting another furious wall-of-sound bombardment early on, with the lyrics as shielded and manic as ever, there's genuine emotion in the crooned chorus. Recalling Fear Factory's best moments in that it's as brutal as it is catchy, and with its fantastic, Evil Dead themed video, there's a good reason it's one of their most well-known songs.

Which is why it's unfortunate that Shine is a bit of a letdown. Despite being 2 minutes shorter, it seems to have acquired all the flab Skeksis left off, and it feels a bit like SYL on autopilot. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, the sawing strings nicely complimenting Devin's most, in terms of clean vocals, varied performance, his huge, operatic bellow nicely complimenting the mid-paced song, but as I've said, it just feels a bit like filler.

A slow, eerie fadeout leads into hyperactive thrashathon We Ride, with more hysterical, misanthropic roars as found on Shitstorm. It seems almost like a thrash parody, whammy squeals, relentless kick drums and even a duelling solo section (followed by Devin bellowing "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!") It devolves into a hotchpotch of Devin's nonsensical ranting over the same furious riffage, coming to an abrupt, glorious stop, with another startling howl.

It leads into another unfortunately dull track, Possessions. While Shine was boring because of its song length and repetitiveness, it's Posessions cliched melody and incredibly irritating use of the choir (which is sad, because it's brilliant on most of the rest of the album), but combined with more SYL on autopilot syndrome, it makes for easily the least interesting track on the album. It concludes with a high-pitched squeal from the choir, leading into more ambience, and almost inaudible spoken word.

While Possessions is annoying in its cliche, the utterly hilarious 80's ballad pastiche Two Weeks hits the nail on the head perfectly, even the faux-groovy bass and whale-song guitars managing to sound perfectly authentic. The acoustic guitars take a darker turn as they lead into the next song, Thalamus, another wall-of-sound thunderer, but rather than aggression, it focuses again on the huge, expansive synths, giving the constant heaviness and an atmospheric feel.

The final track, Zen, another single, and one of the album's most beloved songs, starts of with a droning, fast-picked riff, slowly taking center stage in the song, while the swirling vocal samples and synths build up tension, before it bursts into another classic SYL slugger. It hasn't got a chorus as such (well, it does, but it consists of "ZEEEEEEEEEN"), but the vocal line is one of their most memorably simple. It all comes to a sweeping, crashing crescendo, sounding like every single instrument used in the recording of the album is playing at once, before it suddenly, almost anticlimactically, cuts off.

Ah, yes, Info Dump. I managed to stick the first 9 minutes before I realized absolutely nothing was happening. It's 12 minutes of varying levels of feedback, sometimes sounding like the beginning of a bass riff, feedback, a relentless beeping noise, constant voices, and that's about it. While I realize what it represents (as has been said, Devin's panic after he ceased taking medicine for his bipolar disorder) it's a somewhat anticlimactic, if cathartic, end.

The TL;DR

Alien, while by no means flawless, is one of the finest extreme metal albums I've ever heard. While many people prefer City I find Alien's synths, choir and more progressive song structure make it the better, or certainly far more interesting, album. If you're an extreme metal or Dev fan at all, you need this.
Score:
Score:

9/10

For Fans Of: Fear Factory, Death

Recommended Tracks:

Skeksis:
Zen:
Love?:

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Unabletothinkofname
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Re: Unabletothinkofname Reviews: Strapping Young Lad: Alien

Post by Terria on Sun Mar 06, 2011 8:43 pm

Good stuff.

As I believe I've said before, Dev is fucking god.

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Re: Unabletothinkofname Reviews: Strapping Young Lad: Alien

Post by reg42 on Sun Mar 06, 2011 8:54 pm

Ah, SYL.

About 2-3 years ago I was on my yearly trip down to the Cape with my mate and I had a bunch of cash to spend so I stopped in to a music shop. I looked around for a while and picked up one or two albums before I saw this



I vaguely remembered hearing the name before, and the cover looked fucking awesome, so I picked it up on a wimb.

As soon as SYL began playing we knew we'd stumbled onto some pure gold.

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"Fuck, fuck, fuck/Mutha, mutha fuck/Mutha, mutha fuck fuck/Mutha fuck, mutha fuck/Noinch, noinch, noinch

1-2-1-2-3-4/Noinch, noinch, noinch/Smokin' weed/Smokin' wiz/Doin' coke/Drinkin' beers/Drinkin' beers, beers, beers

Rollin' fatties, smokin' blunts/Who smokes the blunts/We smoke the blunts/Rollin' blunts and smokin...

Oh, let me get a nickle bag

15 bucks little man/Put that shit in my hand/If that money doesn't show/Then you owe me owe me owe

My jungle looooove/Oh-e-oh-e-oh/I think I wanna know ya, know ya"
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Re: Unabletothinkofname Reviews: Strapping Young Lad: Alien

Post by miracleofsound on Sun Mar 06, 2011 11:06 pm

Freebird wrote:Good stuff.

As I believe I've said before, Dev is fucking god.

I'm going to see him in 2 days! WOOHOOO!

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