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
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
“In his music he has the perfect symbiotic relationship between heavy and melody and true emotions and feelings. It’s just so pure and so heavy. When I was singing for the Epicloud album I told him I could hear West Side Story in the music. It’s so fairytale-like but so damn heavy.”
The above comment from vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen with regards to the Devin Townsend Project’s new album, Epicloud – offered during a May 2012 interview with yours truly – could have turned out to be a glaring case of too-close-to-the-music enthusiasm. Understandable given the high of her first successful foray into Hevy Devy’s world with the Addicted record in 2009, but from a discerning open-minded Townsend fan’s perspective her words sum up the album perfectly. It plays with his trademark heavy on a canvas of melody, seemingly executed with a musical stage play in mind, and Townsend clearly unafraid of mixing his not entirely hidden pop tendencies with the crushing metal he’s known for. In fact, he doesn’t give a good goddamn what people think in the grand scheme of things if they choose to dismiss Epicloud as worthless. Townsend made the record for himself and anyone else who gets off on being entertained.
“I think for me, because I spent so many years writing records that threw curveballs at people out of a fear of success or failure, I never really allowed myself to make a record that was just straight up,” says Townsend. “I let myself go on autopilot for this one and I was actually surprised by what came out naturally. When I finished it I sat back and listened to it the same way I did with Alien (Strapping Young Lad), and I was thinking ‘What the hell did you make here?’ (laughs). I just allowed myself to write a bunch of stuff that seemed to be appropriate, and when all was said and done my first reaction was that Epicloud was too vulnerable, too exposed. They were going to kick me out of the Chess Club for not being progressive. I thought I was going to get lambasted for doing something like this.” 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