The Great Canadian Curveball is back. Not a reference to Townsend’s neatly shaped skull, rather a tribute to his ability to change gears from album to album without losing his fanbase or footing as one of metal’s / music’s most original contributors. Addicted is part 2 of Townsend’s four part musical journey through all things Dev, picking up the pace considerably from the quietly brilliant Ki album from a few months back. Hatemongers need not apply, however, as Addicted is the big dumb rock record the man warned us about. On top of that, it’s a good spirited big dumb rock record celebrating the stomping foot and banging head and singing-for-the-hell-of-it voice. Lots of heavy crunch, no splatter, and far from weak. Best described as falling somewhere between Ocean Machine, Physicist’s more melodic moments – ‘Material’ and ‘Irish Maiden’ come to mind – and Strapping Young Lad’s lighter side on The New Black, Addicted doesn’t truly kick into gear until track 3, with the lead-off title track and ‘Universe In A Ball’ sitting comfortably close to an SYL comfort zone without going madcap violent. Just enough of a heady return to the past to cause the heart to blow a gasket when ‘Bend It Like Bender’ hits cruising speed with a Euro-pop chorus belted out by The Gathering’s ex-vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen (Agua de Annique).
And therein lies Addicted’s hook, as Townsend puts Van Giersbergen into the spotlight as often as he takes it himself, giving over complete songs to the lady or using her voice as a major backing element when he’s front and center. Case in point with ‘Supercrush’, featuring Townsend in the lead and Van Giersbergen backing him in ways Arjen Lucassen wished he’d come up with for his own work with Ayreon. On the flipside, the re-recording of ‘Hyperdrive’ from Ziltoid The Omniscient with the lady in the driver’s seat is a trip, as she puts in a performance far superior to Townsend’s original recording (fans of The Gathering’s heavier moments would do well to check the record out). Perhaps it relates to Townsend’s mindset in creating Addicted, but harmony plays a huge role in the songs even when he’s screeching in trademark form – and indeed he does – as every song is shaped for the voices present. Musically, the song arrangements are relatively simple and easily infectious even when drummer Ryan van Poederooyen is raising hell (‘The Way Home’), making even the love to hate to love ’em tracks ‘Bend It Like Bender’ and ‘Ih-Ah’ guilty pleasures. Riffs aplenty, a healthy amount of Ocean Machine bombast, but lacking the more epic aspects of records like Synchestra.
On a personal note, Addicted sits squarely beside Strapping Young Lad’s classic City album and Ocean Machine as one of Townsend’s finest works; a big fat addictive unpretentious listen that will still put a stupid grin on my face 15 years from now.
Fave tracks (in no particular order): ‘Universe In A Ball’, ‘Numbered’, ‘Bend It Like Bender’, ‘Addicted’, ‘Hyperdrive’, ‘Ih-Ah’, ‘Awake’