STRAPPING YOUNG LAD — Alien — the ultimate metal music online community, from the creators of

4.37 | 34 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 2005


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)

Total Time: 54:45


- Devin Townsend / guitar, vocals, keyboards, samples
- Gene Hoglan / drums
- Byron Stroud / bass guitar
- Jed Simon / guitar

Additional musicians:
- Dave Young / keyboards, vocals

About this release

Century Media, March 22nd, 2005.

Thanks to UMUR, Unitron for the updates


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Reading over reviews on different sites, it seems that Strapping Young Lad’s definitive album is considered by most to be “City”. I, however, put that album in third place out of the five SYL albums. It’s furious, intense, and mostly one heck of a ride. But I like “Alien” best.

There’s something about “City” that really grabbed people. Perhaps it was its brutal intensity and honesty. “Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing” was loud and a bit silly. “City” was honest to goodness anger and being fed up. After that, Devin Townsend spent time working on his solo albums which were where he could be more melodic and more sensitive. That’s not to say those albums weren’t heavy, and his trademark screaming vocal style found its way in aplenty. Then six years after “City”, SYL recorded a new album entitled “SYL” and though it was good and heavy and raw, most fans just didn’t see it as living up to “City”. In the meanwhile, Devin had started up a new band called Devin Townsend Band and released a debut shortly after “SYL”, having written and recorded both albums in the same period. Word is that he was disappointed that the fans hadn’t been happy about the latest offering by Strapping Young Lad and after recording an ambient / experimental album called “Dev Lab”, he devised a plan that could satisfy SYL fans.

The problem Devin faced was that when he had written and recorded “City”, he was really pissed off about how things were going for his musical career. He had to regain that anger – that rage! Having been diagnosed several years before with bipolar disorder and taking medicine to control his negative mood swings, Devin decided to quit taking the medicine. At first he felt a terrible panic and fear about leaving his safety harness. This is expressed in the final track of “Alien”, a hidden track called “Info Dump” which begins with static and a repeated static pulse like a bit of percussion while some incomprehensible voice speaks in the background of the static. The piece eventually builds and explodes with a calamity of static and guitar feedback with a booming voice overtop that makes me think of God conducting several speeding freight trains and crashing them all into a beached freighter. It’s a wreck of sound that is interrupted with explosions of a pulsing static boom. At the end someone, an older child I think, awakes with screams from a nightmare. That, Devin said, was meant to express how he felt going off his medication. Alright then.

So, here comes an unhinged and un-tethered Devin Townsend, and for the first several tracks its absolute mayhem. The songs are exploding rage with Devin screaming expletives and shouting hellfire while the guitars attack with the subtly of a supercell thunderstorm and drummer Gene Hoglan sends a furious assault of double bass drumming that always makes me feel like I am being shot at continuously by a machine gun of large calibre. I especially like “Shitstorm”, which is well titled as the sentiments expressed are indeed such a tempest, and “Love?” which must be the most played Strapping Young Lad song in my iTunes library.

One thing I find really outstanding is the use of synthesizers to give a background melody supporting the thunderous guitars. I read that for his album “Physicist”, Devin wanted to combine a Metallica thrash metal sound with Def Leppard’s bright pop keyboards. That album did not work out as well as its concept. But on “Alien” the synthesizers work very well, I feel. There’s also quite a show of Devin’s progressive side as the songs often feature abrupt tempo changes and odd time signatures. Some songs here are easily tech extreme progressive metal in some ways.

The mood finally lightens up for a bit with an acoustic and effects track called, “Two Weeks”, which to me sounds like a precursor to what would come on the Devin Townsend Project albums, “Ki” and “Ghost”. By “Zen” we are back to the intense and heavy thrashing of extreme metal again.

My copy of “Alien” has the simplified cover without the Strapping Young Lad name and just the band logo seemingly carved or stamped into the eerie space scene and the alien letters glowing red at the bottom. For me, this album really stands out and though I have very few albums in my collection of such extremeness, I’d say that it’s thanks to this one that I have come to appreciate this kind of screamo / aggro metal. But I also think that the use of Devin’s normal vocals, the keyboards, and the more advanced rhythm changes and meters make this album an easy favourite and preferable to “City”, great though I think most of that album is, too.
After a brief hiatus and the warmup which was the self-titled album, Strapping Young Lad deliver a true followup to City in the form of Alien. If City had been an angry album, Alien unleashes downright world-shattering fury on the listener, with Devin Townsend's shocking rant on Shitstorm representing one of those rare, magic occasions in metal where an artist unleashes their most extreme, shocking lyrics and sounds absolutely, impossibly sincere throughout it. With the rest of the group more than pulling their weight, Strapping Young Lad pull out a late-career classic that outstrips even the mighty city when it comes to ferocity.
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.

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