By Carl Begai
As loyal followers of the Devin Townsend Project immerse themselves in the band’s latest opus, Transcendence, there’s plenty of lip service being paid to the musical genius that is Devin Townsend. Standard routine some 20+ years into his career, but even though it’s the man’s name on the marquee Transcendence isn’t a solo affair featuring his long time backing band. This time out Townsend opened up his creative process to input from his Project mates – Dave Young (guitars, keyboards), Brian Waddell (bass), Ryan van Poederooyen (drums) and Mike St. Jean (keyboards) – to create what many fans and critics have said is DTP’s strongest album in years. Together since 2008, this is the Devin Townsend Project’s seventh album to date but only their first working as a unit in building an album from the ground up, perhaps making it seem that Townsend is a late bloomer when it comes to the concept of teamwork. As one might expect of a musical genius…
“The Devin Townsend Project didn’t start with writing together as the intention” says Townsend. “If we had started with that intention and it took me 10 years to finally implement it I’d be an asshole, but it started as the Devin Townsend Project playing all sorts of stuff from different stages of my career live, and everybody was on board for that. The decision to open things up in the way that I did for Transcendence was moreso out of ‘What do we do now?’ I’ve got all these projects that I’m really excited about doing, but DTP had gone pretty okay for us. It’s a healthy environment in a lot of ways; it’s not toxic emotional content, it has an audience, so to not continue it would have been a mistake for me professionally let alone musically. But, in order to make it count in ways I can still get behind I need a theme of some sort, something to sink my teeth into, and collaborating with the other guys became that something. After I wrote the book (Only Half There) and being able to look objectively at these things I’d written down, my objectives musically or otherwise are that I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. It seemed like an interesting thing to do, plus these guys have put in a ton of work and a lot of money into DTP, so it made sense.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Z² from 2014 was the Devin Townsend Project’s ambitíous double album split into two very different sonic entities. Hardly a stretch for the man leading the charge, as Devin Townsend’s 20+ year music career is based on diversity, but for some fans it fell well short of some rather high expectations. Compared to other records in the Townsend / DTP catalogue Z² was a tough listen, never quite digging in, although there are some diehard fans that no doubt absorbed every note (naturally) and have already bagged this review as bullshit (naturally). Transcendence is the Devin Townsend Project’s return to form, putting things back in focus and turning in a rather prog-heavy record, opting for songs both long and short over the space of a comfortable 10 tracks.
In what seems to have become a DTP tradition of covering Townsend material, Transcendence kicks off with an updated version of “Truth” from the Infinity album (released in 1998), following up what they’ve done previously with “Hyperdrive” and “Kingdom”. From there we dive into a record reminiscent of the Epicloud album is spots with a very prominent Ocean Machine vibe all the way through. The guitar riffs and tones on “Stormbending” and “Secret Sciences” are positively fat and gorgeous, drummer Ryan van Poederooyen shines on “Failure” and “Higher” with his percussive groove madness on Transcendence’s two most adventurous tracks. “Higher” also happens to be the album’s prog mad centerpiece loaded with crushing guitars, some welcome metal vocal fireworks from Townsend, huge “Grace”-like melodies (see Epicloud), the song seemingly pulling itself in different directions over its nine minute run but ending things intact. The lone up-tempo song, “Offer Your Light” – Anneke van Giersbergen’s in-your-face guest spot – and the “Transcendence” title track are big on Ocean Machine-ry, the latter recalling the magic of tracks like “Funeral” and “Bastard”, although far more upbeat. Closing song “Transdermal Celebration” is indeed the Ween hit dressed up as a DTP track, and you would swear Townsend & Co. wrote it from scratch judging by how well it fits alongside the rest of the material on the album. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Photographer-turned-musician Omer Cordell doesn’t suffer from delusions of grandeur. He does, however, possess an artistic streak that saw him go from tackling the bass as a hobby to a full album of prog-metal tweaked Pink Floydian-esque songs. A full year in the making, Trailight went from being a blip on social media radar as Cordell began assembling the necessary pieces to an intense musical experience unleashed at the end of May 2015. The do-it-himself experience included a 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary of the production (found on YouTube) and extensive track-by-track breakdowns all prior to the album release (issued via Facebook), far more than most signed band are able or willing to produce… and for a fanbase that had yet to be established. That’s about to change, as Trailight is slowly but surely gaining some well deserved momentum.
“The Trailight album is the result of a conversation I had with a good friend of mine,” Cordell begins. “I originally released what I call a glorified demo with a bunch of instrumental stuff that I performed myself. That was when I was just starting to play music. What inspired me to do it was an interview I read with a bass player I really like – I started playing bass about four-and-a-half years ago – and he said the best way to explore yourself as a musician is to write music. I thought that was a great piece of advice, so I went out and bought some crappy gear, and taught myself how to record.”
Cordell admits that at the time he had no idea what he was doing or how to go about it. His learning-by-doing approach would pay off in spades when it came time to mix and master the official Trailight debut, The Primitive Mountain. But more on that later…
“I played everything myself on my first attempt – there was no singing on the material – and I compiled a bunch of stuff and over the course of about a year that I wanted to share with people. It was an experiment, really; bedroom demos that made it into CD form. Nothing to write home about, but a handful of people really dug it so that gave me the confidence and push to work on the real debut, which is The Primitive Mountain. It was more popular amongst fellow bassist in the Spector community who were liking the tones and effect. They dug it so I released it as my first thing.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Within 24 hours of the metal press being given advance access to the Devin Townsend Project’s new album, Z², reviews started popping up online. They invariably heralded the highly anticipated double album – split into Sky Blue and Dark Matters – as trademark Townsend musical genius existing on multiple levels of godlike awesomeness. With all due respect to my peers – many of whom are much better review writers than I am – you might want to go back and re-evaluate Townsend’s work and then your own. There’s simply no bloody way anyone gets the Z² album after only a few listens; it’s far too adventurous, emotional, chaotic and occasionally scatterbrained to be able to embrace it as a whole so easily. And indeed, some fans have voiced their disappointment since Z²’s official release. The simple fact is Sky Blue (Part 1) is not the thundering sequel to DTP’s Epicloud album from 2012 it was expected to be, although it does follow some similar lines. Likewise, Dark Matters (Part 2) is a different beast from the original Ziltoid The Omniscient that reared his bug-eyed head in 2007.
For one thing, Dark Matters seems almost kid-oriented as a target audience rather than being metaphorically driven as the Ziltoid The Omniscient album was.
“I think there’s a part of it that’s kid-oriented, but there’s another part to it,” says Townsend. “I’ve demanded a lot of my audience for years. I drew them in with heavy metal and gave them country, new age and ambient music. There’s a part of me that, when the support came, I decided that I did my artsy-fartsy movie (Sky Blue) so I needed to do my Michael Bay-type movie (Dark Matters) and then reconsider what I want to do musically. It’s not that the well is dry, it’s just that it’s been an intense amount of work for an intense amount of time. By finishing up with the Ziltoid thing, in one way it was a conclusion to what started seven years ago. Sure, it’s still metaphor because that’s how I write, but the surface of this is much different. It’s for people to enjoy. I think the Sky Blue element of it is where the emotional aspects of it went because I was frustrated by it, and because some heavy things happened during the making of the record. I listen back to Z² and I’m proud of it, but at the same time there’s a part of me saying ‘Okay, next!’ (laughs).” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Devin Townsend has never been shy about his love for, as he puts it, the “big dumb rock record.” Trace his career back to the beginning and even when his tripwires n’ landmines Strapping Young Lad playground was his ground zero, Townsend was plenty capable of taking a lighter approach to getting his message(s) across. Hell, his first real foray outside the box with Punky Brüster in ‘96 put the “F.U.” in “fun” for all eternity. Songs like ‘Life’ (Ocean Machine), ‘Bad Devil’ (Infinity), ‘Slow Me Down’ (Accelerated Evolution), ‘Vampira’ (Synchestra), ‘Sunshine And Happiness’ (Synchestra) and ‘Bend It Like Bender’ (Addicted) are solid examples of his upbeat tendencies – at least as far as the music is concerned – all of which are worthy starters as a build up to Epicloud’s monstrous rock n’ soul delivery.
And there’s nothing dumb about it.
Call Epicloud the bigger, more emotional, deeper, curveball-throwing sibling to the stellar Addicted record. In what amounts to theater for the ears, Epicloud is an album of scene-by-song contrasts. For all the heavy – and there’s plenty of it – Townsend takes the all too common “You can’t do that in metal” mentality and chucks it out the locomotive window. Case in point with the gospel choir that kicks things off with ‘Effervescent!’ and sticks around for a good chunk of the record: symphonic metal be damned, you’ve never heard a choral group sing on a summer cruisin’ pseudo-punk tune with “bullshit!” as part of their score.
Anneke van Giersbergen makes a grand return as Townsend’s female counterpart, dishing out lead vocals and trading backing harmonies as required, up front no less than 50% of the time. Even half way through the album it’s hard to imagine what Epicloud would sound like without her. It certainly wouldn’t be as in-your-face as it is, and that’s without taking anything away from Townsend’s vocal performance, his band (Waddell / Van Poederooyen / Young) or wall of sound production values. Hard to pick where she shines brightest, though I was partial at press time to her performances on ‘True North’, the pop-ish ‘80s feelgood groove of ‘Save Our Now’ (reminiscent of her latest solo album Everything Is Changing), and the crushing metal assault of ‘More!’ in particular. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Even though the release of Kobra And The Lotus’ new album, Visionary, is still months away, the band has been anything but quiet. In a surprise move they issued a video for new song ‘Welcome To My Funeral’ as a taste of what’s to come without a date even being set. On top of that, they’ve been tearing up the road in the UK, and have confirmed an extensive European tour supporting metal veterans U.D.O. for the fall. Recent developments saw me doing some work on behalf of the Kobra crew, which involved hearing Visionary in its entirety, and it’s safe to say the band has evolved into something much stronger and meaner than even their most devout fans can imagine. Vocalist Brittany Paige took some time out from a hectic tour schedule to discuss where the band has been, where they’re going, and what kind of mayhem the fans are in for.
Bottom line; it’ll be worth the wait.
“After our first big summer tour in 2010, it put in perspective the main areas of improvement we needed to focus on,” Paige begins, discussing the line-up changes that have taken place since the release of their 2010 debut, Out Of The Pit. “The first step was making sure the line-up was strong enough. We needed every member to be on the exact same track in terms of commitment, vision and effort. We parted ways with Matt Van Wezel (guitars) and bassist Ben Freud. It put us in a very tough position because we had the UK tour coming up shortly after. When we came back in the winter, Chris (Swenson / guitars) and I began writing the album. This also really put into perspective the true foundation of the band. I composed some of the songs by myself – such as ‘Welcome To My Funeral’ – and together we wrote the album, so the fact that the bass and lead guitar weren’t filled concrete roles had no effect on the writing process.” Continue Reading
(Click here for my May 13th, 2009 interview with Devin about the Ki album)
By Carl Begai
Devin Townsend’s last album, Ki, was a clear message that his beloved Strapping Young Lad was indeed dead and buried. Capping off two years of self-imposed silence, the laid back and atmospheric record seemed better suited to a university poetry reading or smokey after hours blues club than the catalogue of someone known for making authentic Norwegian black metal seem tame. Townsend was and remains unapologetic for the scare, and as promised he’s followed Ki up with the second installment of his unofficial Circle Of Hevy Devy’s Life four album exercise under the Devin Townsend Project moniker. And while it’s safe to say that very few people saw it coming, the appropriately titled Addicted may well be one of his strongest outings to date. It depends, of course, on how much one has enjoyed (or not) Townsend’s work outside the Strapping Young Lad demolition derby over the past 15 years, but anyone who is a fan of the man’s diversity as a singer, songwriter and straight-up musical talent won’t go away disappointed. If you do, check to see if your heart is still beating.
“It’s funny. I was talking to a friend of mine at ESP Guitars recently and he said that he didn’t understand why, if I do a record that has the potential to go somewhere, that I can’t keep doing that,” says Townsend. “I tried to explain to him that my process is automatic. I don’t think about it, I don’t preconceive it, and when I write songs I can literally sit down at my computer, turn it on and start writing. If someone left me there and gave me the chance to pee and eat I could have a record a month later. And I wouldn’t know what it was about. Continue Reading