"Well, aren't you just a traveling shitstorm?" A more appropriate quote couldn't be found for Devin Townsend, nor STRAPPING YOUNG LAD's new one, "Alien". This release has untouchable frenetic speed, fuming and frenzied honesty at its purest, a radical shift in what we've come to know as "extreme" metal, topped off with Devin screaming like he's pissing fire — his best vocal performance to date. "Alien" is a total and complete metalized SHIT FIT — yes, the full-on metal tantrum. Intensity unmatched so far, pushing deep buttons, sincerity unquestionable, skillfully executing the simple lyrical theme into a giant tidal wave, just waiting to crash into, and over, the listener. You're definitely going to feel the fire here, and I don't think STRAPPING YOUNG LAD has made a better release. This is the first true group effort, and it shows with performances that are 100 percent passionate, everyone's getting into the melee, no matter what the tempo is. Towards the end of "Alien", we're served up the calm after the shitstorm, with a few songs that cool things down. Doesn't mean they're any less powerful, because they are.
The "simple lyrical theme" that I mentioned is going from bitterly pissed off to "resolved to be confused." The tempo is as fast as any respectable death metal band, but, there are moments that distinctly remind me of some of the best qualities of black metal. The cold fury in the guitars, shrieks that are otherworldly, waves of strict drumming, keyboards that add almost atmospheric pressure. So in your face you may not be able to take it. Mental struggles breed incessant creativity, and openness is plastered all over every track. Tweaks are added, keyboard flourishes, children singing, with some samples massaged in — just enough to keep you on the lookout for what's coming next. Guitars are like lightening, raging through the songs, forging walls of noisy terror and disharmony. Vocals are layered under and on top, much like the guitars are.
"Imperial" deliberately throws you right off, with riffing and drumming much like death metal that's got the SYL habit of fast tempo shifts. Quickly becomes a schizophrenic epic. With no time between songs, "Skeksis" so rudely interrupts the disc. Stuttering and chugging along, without a word said for two minutes. Powerhouse singing, strong guitar leads finish this one off. "Shitstorm" — aw, who wouldn't love a song named this? Normal people, I guess. Screams and shrieks of being pushed to your limits, keyboards surge the song, chaotic pace, twisted riffing and big booms. Ode to every fucker in your life that's just messing things up for you every time you turn around. "Love?" The big slick grooves show up on this one, slowly stalking, morphing back into disorder. Excellent vocal melodies are incorporated into this demanding song. "Shine" is war, and nothing less, with some serious guitar leads. "We Ride" — oh, can I ever hear this played live. "Possessions" those hooky vocal melodies, with children's voices as the backing chorus, black and white, fast to slower — it's the opposites that keep you locked right in. "Two Weeks" is where the disc slows down, a huge mood change. Subtle and dare I say, beautiful. "Thalamus" is an epic disturbed attack. "Zen" isn't particularly peaceful, quite the opposite. "Info Dump" is 11:56 minutes, and the last half of it's quiet synthesized confusion, guitar feedback, and wails.
Brutal Truth: I think I need a cigarette. Dozens of spins through the headphones reveal so many more additional layers, levels of moods, keys, backing vocal lines, and guitar textures. It just gets better and better with the sound becoming fuller, bigger, and richer. Our world of hard music so much better off with a band like STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, and I do believe that "Alien" will go down as one of 2005's best releases.