Blast from the Past: Strapping Young Lad – Alien

Strapping Young Lad, masters of chaos Metal (yes, I just made that term up – making up sub genres FTW!), and the brain child of manic, musical genius, Devin Townsend. The band formed in 1994, and created some of the most aggressive, schizophrenic and manic music until the band came to a natural end in 2007.

This week I’ve decided to review the band’s fourth studio album, Alien, so go ahead and make the jump for my verdict.

1. Imperial – 2:17
2. Skeksis – 6:42
3. Shitstorm – 4:22
4. Love? – 4:53
5. Shine – 5:13
6. We Ride – 2:37
7. Possessions – 4:12
8. Two Weeks – 3:28
9. Thalamus – 3:58
10. Zen – 5:02
11. Info Dump – 11:56

Alien came out in 2005, and was hyped as being the most aggressive album of the year, at least that’s what my friend told me. He wasn’t far off either. Just to give you an idea of how insane this album is, Devin Townsend suffers from Bipolar disorder and he stopped taking his prescribed medication for the recording of the album. What you hear is the result of this…

The album opens with ‘Imperial’ and what an opening track it is. The track has everything, fast brutal riffs, insane synths, discordant harmonies, and Devin’s trademark screams and singing. Lyrically, the song is batshit insane, which suits me just fine. In fact, most of the album follows are a very similar pattern, whilst also retaining the diversity to keep the music interesting.

Devin is an absolute master of dynamics and range, and the production cannot be faulted at all. There is a range of fury, aggression and melody on display. Third track ‘Shitstorm’ takes the music to dazzling new heights, with some downright ridiculous lyrics (“I can’t even eat, I can’t even fucking piss”). This is the stuff that teen angst is made of, apart from the music generally kicks ass. Korn may have done teen angst, but I’d rather listen to Devin scream about how he’s so fucking crazy than Jonathan Davis whining about how he’s been raped for the 436th time. If you think the band can’t do melody too, you’d also be completely mistaken. ‘Shitstorm’ ends with a melodic arpeggiated synths before breaking into the most commercial track of the album, ‘Love?’

‘Love?’ is an example of the amount of talent Devin and the rest of Strapping Young Lad possess. The song is well structured, and melodically catchy, but the band don’t compromise any of the heaviness and aggression displayed in the rest of the album. The only exception to this, is 8th track ‘Two Weeks’ which is an acoustic pop ballad entirely sung with clean vocals, and I’m not even kidding. It’s truly bizarre, yet within the midst of chaos, the calmness almost kind of makes sense. If acoustic music, or ballads aren’t your thing though you may hate it.

Alien is musically abrasive, but it’s the kind of music that grabs you by the balls and doesn’t let go until the end. Speaking of the end, that’s the one part that seems to draw the most criticism. The final track is simply inaudible white noise. At least they don’t drag it on for 12 minutes though.. Oh wait, they do. What the fuck? I actually can’t find myself to criticize this end though. Why? Because my CD player came with a stop button. I’ve been listening to this album and simply pressing stop after the end of tenth track ‘Zen’ since I bought it back in 2005, and have never had a problem with this. Overall, however, Alien kicks major ass.

From songs about having a “fucking” baby, to being fucking crazy, to being in love, to going to the beach, to eating shit (I don’t know, I’m starting to make this up), Strapping Young Lad manage to pull off one of their most impressive albums in their discography. I’m not saying it’s necessarily the best, and truth be told, I wouldn’t want to say that about any of the band’s albums. Alien is a unique experience though, one that everyone must undertake and really take in to understand. To the ignorant, it may sound like a mish mash of “awful” noise (perhaps if you’re like 60 and hate heavy music), but Metal fans of all walks of life should find something to appreciate in this album. The songwriting is absolutely immense.

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