Strapping Young Lad - _Alien_
(Century Media, 2005)
by: Jackie Smit (
As much as I worship what the man does, it's hard to argue that over the last two years Devin Townsend hasn't exactly hit the creative peaks as hard as he did on his earlier work. I mean, let's be honest here: the man is capable of some truly phenomenal things. And while his last solo effort _Accelerated Evolution_ wasn't a complete waste of time as a stand-alone record, it was certainly more than a little cack-handed when compared to the likes of _Ocean Machine_ or _Infinity_. More to the point, Strapping Young Lad's third album was likewise a good straightforward metal album in its own right, but when compared to the titanic majesty of its two predecessors, it just wasn't a cut from the same mind-boggling cloth.Clearly, the need was stronger than before for Devin and his troupe to step up to the plate and deliver something of a statement; a steadfast reminder to one and all that when it comes to the unpredictable and innovative in heavy metal, there's precious little that any other band has over Strapping Young Lad. So, cue Devin and his long-time partner in crime, Gene Hoglan, disappearing for six months to focus on writing material for the fourth Strapping Young Lad opus, and the end result is... well, absolutely fucking fantastic.By Townsend's own admission, this album does represent more of a sideways step than a bold move forward, and it's not surprising therefore that from the moment "Imperial" signals the start of the mayhem, there are distinct similarities -- particularly in terms of actual sound and feel -- to what was ultimately the band's coup de grace, _City_. But to simply brand _Alien_ a sequel would be doing it a grave disservice. While it's certainly arguable as to which is the superior of the two, _Alien_ presents some poignant evidence to strengthen its case. From the almost confusingly heavy "Skeksis" to the _Infinity_-on-PCP blast of "Shitstorm", the key words here are anger, rage and speed. Not all the way, mind you, as anybody who has ever heard a Devin Townsend record will be acutely familiar with the man's inordinate knack for delivering sweeping melodic crescendos, that tend to burst out of the melee like large oceanic swells. _Alien_ is no exception, with "Shine" being but one sterling example of Townsend's breathtaking sense of melody and keen understanding of dynamics.The record is not without its surprises either, and given the unrelenting chaos of the rest of the album, the distinctly slower turn that follows on "Two Weeks" will raise more than a few eyebrows. But while it may almost seem illogical for the band to switch to Pink Floyd-esque acoustic mode after unleashing metallic apocalypse for the better part of a half hour, it's a transition that works and leads perfectly into the album's climactic conclusion of "Zen".The only thing about the record that I'm not entirely on board with is the reason why an eleven-minute static sequence was added to the end of the record. But really, with such a masterpiece preceding it, I wouldn't really have cared if the band had included a ten-minute fart-duel in the disc's dying moments.
||Testament / Stuck Mojo / Strapping Young Lad
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