Strapping Young Lad: Alien

Adrien Begrand

As is always the case, the latest opus from Canada's metal mastermind is not for the faint of heart.

Strapping Young Lad


Label: Century Media
US Release Date: 2005-03-22
UK Release Date: 2005-03-21
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As metal music closes in on its 40th year (or thereabouts) of existence, today's bands continue to push the genre's boundaries, as the drive to create the most extreme sounds possible seems to intensify with each new year. As a result, the more chaotic the music gets, the more tame the older metal music starts to sound. Once upon a time, Slayer's "Chemical Warfare" was the fastest stuff ever, and Kreator's "Rotting Corpse" was as over the top as it got; today, while both songs remain classics, they simply cannot match the ear-splitting cacophony of some of today's more aggressive artists. In fact, it's gotten to the point now where the influences of grindcore legends Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, and Carcass are starting to be heard in some of the most popular younger heavy acts out there, such as Mastodon and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

As extreme metal continues to inch towards the mainstream, Devin Townsend is determined to live on the fringes, determinedly pushing the proverbial envelope in his own inimitable way. Like a psychotic mad scientist, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based musician has been behind some of the most insane, visceral, aggressive music to come out in the past decade, as a solo artist, producer (he produced two of this decade's best albums, Soilwork's Natural Born Chaos and Lamb of God's As the Palaces Burn), and most notably, as the frontman of the undisputed kings of musical excess, Strapping Young Lad. Employing rhythmic, crunching guitar riffs, the prodigious blast beats of drummer Gene Hoglan (who has previously played with underground legends Dark Angel and Death), plenty of deliciously tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and a very distinctive production style that sounds both spacious and claustrophobic at the same time, Townsend's trademark sound is one of the most distinct in metal today, and next to impossible to duplicate.

"In any relationship, there has to be compromise, and God knows every one of them has baggage," snarls Townsend on SYL's fourth album, Alien, evoking the goofy sermonizing of Manowar. "I know I have my issues, and we know you have yours...put it in gear, motherfuckerrrr! For tonight... WE RIDE!!!" In one masterful, hilarious moment, he completely eviscerates the angst-ridden whining of My Chemical Romance and The Used. Nah, with SYL, you don't wallow in your sorrow, you revel in it. Subtlety is not a part of Townsend's vocabulary; he has two modes, on and off, and on this record, the man is on. The simple fact is, nobody else makes being royally pissed-off with the world sound like so much fun.

Combining the inspired lunacy of 2000's classic City with the riff-heavy sound of 2003's potent, portentous SYL, Alien careens as crazily as the late Hunter S. Thompson's Dr. Gonzo piloting a red convertible on a desert highway in the midst of an ether binge. You are absolutely bombarded: Townsend's and second guitarist Jed Simon's riffs churn away, Byron Stroud's downtuned bass rumbles, while the shrillness of Hoglan's cymbals is brilliantly offset by the beefed-up density of his double-bass work. The industrial metal sounds of Ministry and Skinny Puppy creep in one moment, strangely subtle keyboard accents enter the fray the next, and even female backing singers make an appearance, as the quartet goes full-throttle for three quarters of an hour. This is an album that's as exhausting as it is enjoyable.

The chaotic "Shitstorm" just might be the most ferocious song SYL has ever recorded, as Hoglan propels the entire track with his percussion work, which achieves a black metal intensity, as Townsend drops programmed beats that explode like bombs, momentarily drowning out the rest of the mix. It's a remarkably effective touch, serving as a perfect backdrop to Townsend's impassioned, filtered vocal screech. At one point, he says, "If you want fucking crazy/I'll show you how to be crazy," and he most certainly does.

The rest of Alien carries on at a slightly more controlled, yet equally furious pace, best exemplified by the midtempo tracks "Skeksis", "Ride", and "Love?". "Possessions" contains the most accessible moments on the album, with Townsend's vocals taking on a slightly more melodic turn, the song bolstered by effective synth stabs and some of the best use of backing singers this side of Rob Zombie. To show that he's still not without a sense of humor, the acoustic ballad "Two Weeks" comes in from out of nowhere, a song so slyly pulled off, if it were Good Charlotte singing it, 14-year-old girls would be instantly rendered weepy, but Townsend's vicious combination of sarcasm and modern rock cliches tell you instantly what his intentions are, as the song quickly morphs into the brutal "Thalamus", as bipolar a love song that's ever been recorded.

As strong as Alien is, the decision to conclude it with the 12-minute track "Infodump" was a horrible mistake, its blend of static noise and feedback (which rips off Neil Young's equally tiresome Arc) becoming unbearable less than two minutes in. It's simply a waste of time and CD space. However, that's why we have stop buttons on our CD players, and for the first 42 minutes, anyway, Strapping Young Lad have raised the bar yet again, proving that no matter how hard young bands may try to crate something new and menacing, nobody does it as well as the old masters.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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