Who knew Canada could be so insane?
Strapping Young Lad pulls off one intense listen with Alien. Although this may be more progressive than their early offerings, it's far from an easy listen. Right off the bat the album opens up with three crazed songs typical of Townsend's anger and insanity. The opener "Imperial" is as grandiose as it is crushing, and it is very very crushing. The next song "Skesis" is probably the best on the album, a pure showcase of the raw insanity inside the crazed atmospheres of SYL. Just when you think things have to let up they hit you again with "Shitstorm", probably the biggest contender for the embodiment of anger in musical form. All three are big, dark, and heavy beyond expectation.
Most of the albums cools off a bit after this, though not by much. "Love" and "Possesions" are more downtempoed than the others and become more of a groove metal style, though they're still top notch materal. "We Ride" gets back to the thrash style, fast and relentless, with an excellent blistering solo reminiscent of the early 90s. It should also be noted that the atomic clock Gene Hoglan is all over the drums on this one. The masterful technique is obvious, and the drumming is fast and brutal. If you want a nonstop drum performance, this would be an album to hear it in.
Of course, although this album contains crushing metal prowess it's far from standard thrash. There is typical Devin Townsend wall of sound that envelopes the listener, making the listen all the more heavy, even though melody pours all around. Xylophone can be heard occasionally, and an eerie choir of haunting children voices sometimes appears through, most prominently in "Shine". Things even cool down completely with the ambient Floydian "Two Weeks" with tongue in cheek cheesy lyrics. But that's no reason to be comfortable, since the following song to that is "Thalamus", staccato and quiet at first, until everything hits at once with a gargantuan metal assault where double bass, relentless guitar, and Townsend's voice attack from seemingly everywhere. Then everything drops away again into cool synth backed beauty. Truly one of the most creative metal songs out there.
The final track is comprised of ten minutes of static, with faint voices in the background. This is mainly the letdown of the album, though thankfully it's at the end and nothing occurs after it, so it's quite passable.
Overall, if one wants to be assaulted by crushing riffs, giant atmosphere, pummeling drums, and the insane screams of Townsend, then you can't get much better than Alien, a near masterpiece that shines out among a discography of an already great band.