Being bipolar is (I’m assuming) not a fun thing. One would think you would be absolutely submittive to your feelings, feeling fine one minute and wanting to throw yourself out a window the next. Since parents can’t bear to have their children imperfect in any way, it is usually treated with a ridiculous amount of medication, which may or may not be beneficial to the user.
However, being bipolar CAN have its advantages. Such is the case of Strapping Young Lad.
A project of everybody’s favorite Canadian, the mastermind Devin Townsend, Strapping Young Lad is basically balls out metal. While Townsend’s normal music is enough to strike the listener with a “eau de what the fu
ck” attitude, he evidently wanted something more. Strapping Young Lad was formed with the intention to just let out all his anger and rage into a project, maybe writing some music along the way or not. Whatever the case may be, it worked, and Strapping Young Lad has enjoyed as much success as a band of their ilk can achieve.
Strapping Young Lad - Alien
March 22, 2005 on Century Media Records
Devin Townsend: Lead Vocals/Guitars/Programming
Jed Simon - Guitars
Byron Stroud - Bass
Gene Hoglan - Drums
As the sticker on the CD states, Alien is “The Soundtrack To Our Impending Armageddon”. Tis a rather fitting title, really...although some records don’t really deserve the labels that are put onto them, this one certainly does.
At first glance, SYL may appear to be your standard, run of the mill metalcore band. However, it takes a deeper glance to truly see the genius of this band.
As usual, anything with Devin Townsend in it is bound to be weird as hell, and absolutely terrifying. And he does NOT disappoint here. One wonders how he can talk the next day after you hear his vocals. He can sing some (and does it decently enough) but the real treat are his screams. He has the range of a bull crossed with a castrated seal, and everything in between. It’s (as was stated before) flat out terrifying. Chaotic, unrestrained, and one of the harshest things you’ll ever hear, you’ll enjoy it. Really.
The instrumental portion, excepting Hoglan (more on that later) is good enough . It’s not too complicated, tis your basic Drop C riffing patterns with a few harmonic minor scales and a couple of solos thrown in for good measure. Tremolo picking and heaviness are abound in this release. Townsend is actually a better guitarist then he lets on to be in here (I saw him live, he pulled off some crazy crap), and this release shows them branching out a bit. Whereas their earlier albums were solid heaviness, there are a few moments here where there are notes NOT played on the bottom 3 strings.
So, you may be wondering...sure, the guy can sing, but it sounds like the music you’re describing is boring as hell. What gives" Why is this so good"
I’ll tell you.
Yes, there is your standardish metalcore crossed with evil sounding riffs on here. Boring. It works, but you may want something more. What takes a while to sink in is HOW FAST the music is actually going. Looking at some SYL tabs, I thought it would be a piece of cake. It truly isn’t. The guitars are FAST. AS. HELL. Trempicking at 185 beats per minute takes some skill, ladies and gentlemen. While they may not be the most technical musicians out there, the guitars and bass DO play pretty damn fast. Which is no small feat.
Beastly guitar riffs need a beastly drummer. Aside from being as big as his drumset (he has earned the title “The Grand Walrus” among me and my friends), Gene Hoglan is also one of the greatest drummers I have ever heard. This dude is FAST, and can more than keep up with Townsend and tow. He is living proof of the theory that fat people make good musicians. His double pedal work is impeccable, and while he only has one speed (hyperdrive) he somehow makes it work. Think the guy from Dragonforce, except knowing more than 2 drumbeats.
There is also programming scattered throughout the music. A lot of programming. A lot of it is quite unsettling, from the cries of children on Possessions to the xylophone riffage on Skeksis. Townsend has a knack for programming, not only for his solo stuff, but for this as well. I tried to cover a SYL song, and aside from it being nigh impossible to play because of the speed, there is a lot of stuff that you don’t really notice (synth parts, weird little doodads and whatnot) that makes the music sound much fuller.
So, recipe for a Strapping Young Lad album: make 7 songs in essentially the same vein (balls out, fast as hell, pure fuc
king mayhem metal), add an acoustic track, 2 somewhat experimental, yet still ungodly heavy songs, and close with an 11 minute synth/sample instrumental, in the vein of drone greats such as Earth or Sunn O))), except without the G standard guitars. Did I mention the band was a bit weird"
Strapping Young Lad have a rather ingenious formula to making their music though. They have enough angst and heaviness for the mallcore and nu-metal crowd, yet they have enough talent for the actual metalheads, and they have stuff for everybody in between as well. It’s remarkable that they are just starting to become successful now.
: The first two tracks on the album, the first being an intro of sorts, it immediately plunges you into what the group is all about. Fast, heavy, insanity, samples, and Townsend, basically. The second song, while still fast and ungodly heavy, is the longest, and maybe the best, on the album. Musically, this song rips. Hoglan’s versatility is immense here; even though he doesn’t stray much from fast, his beats and fills are crazy. The guitar riffing is terrific, the added programming enhances the music (shred xylophone, anyone"), and there are some guitar things in the vein of Behold...The Arctopus, almost.
THIS shows your marketability factor in the band. The lyrics are standard self hating, I hate myself and everyone around me fare, but they are delivered with the intent of causing unholy night terrors. Surely Townsend’s best vocal effort on the album, his range and insanity are brought full circle here, truly, as the song puts it, “showing you who’s crazy”.
The single from the album, it comes in three flavors: single version, album version, and weird crazy extended version (which I have no idea where it comes from). Many dislike this song, as it’s MUCH more radio-friendly than the rest of the band’s stuff...tis CATCHY, almost. It’s quite good, though, the drums are, as usual, excellent, and Townsend manages to squeeze in some 15 second or so screams.
Oddly enough, it really DOES give you the impression of being a crazy motorcycler. Does not relent for any of its 2 minutes and 37 seconds, it stays the same tempo (700 miles per hour), and shows the band’s first attempt at a solo section. The solos are the same as the music: chaotic, basically. It also shows more of Townsend’s insanity (and humor) with some rather “interesting” lyrical content.
Don’t drug your kids. Bipolar disorder is good for the metal community, though parents and the general population may not agree. Strapping Young Lad deliver one of their most chaotic releases to date in this 11 track package. Oddly enough, it’s good as well.
Final Rating: 9.5/10
: If you ever get to see this band, or Townsend’s solo project live, you’re in for a treat. It’s a concert and a comedy show wrapped together. Townsend’s sense of humor is impeccable, and he delivers jokes better than most comedians around today. Also, the band makes their nonserious approach to their music work, almost. It’s filled with a bunch of quirky moments.