The Devin Townsend Primer – Part 2
In Monday's edition, we glanced at the bottom tier of Devin Townsend solo releases. Despite what rabid fangeeks would have you believe, his catalog is not without a couple of clunkers.
Often, progressive metal fans can be an aversion to the music’s enjoyment; they’re basically polite, well-read juggalos. In the worst cases, they can develop a symbiotic wink-nudge relationship with the artist that becomes counterproductive and exclusionary. (Ever found yourself in the middle of an Opeth set? Yeah. That.) But, fear not, heavy metal compadres: Though highly recommended, a celebration of Devin’s entire catalog is not a requisite for fandom. You can jam a few records here and there without fully embracing the tenets of nerdism.
Thus, this ill-advised wheat/chaff thing continues: Welcome to the upper echelon.
While the previous six albums in this series haven’t been devoid of their wiles and charms, Devin Townsend’s top six albums are, naturally, his most unique works. This is where the dynamics truly reveal themselves: The highs are higher, the lows lower, and the journey from point-to-point is as perplexing as it is unpredictable.
Strap in. This is where the ride truly begins.
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6. Epicloud (2012)
How can one quantify the awesomeness of an album that's so . . . new? Indeed, ranking such a fresh beat is intently problematic. Moreover, Epicloud is largely built on a foundation of big, dumb rock. Thickly-lacquered hooks are commonplace. Immediacy could easily morph into tedium with repeated rotation.
Let’s frame it like this: If Addicted had spent the last few years crushing cans in Japan and getting jacked up on
‘roods horse meat, Epicloud would've been the kick that broke Brock Lesnar's liver. Instead of Addicted's instantly annoying "Bend it Like Bender," we get the fine-tuned turbogoof of "Lucky Animals." Instead of a wink and a nod, we get unabashed, life-affirming love. There's no irony here, just gigantic jams. Between kinetic bursts of moshball goodness, he deftly disarms with the minimalistic tenderness of "Divine" and the inspirational climb of "Hold On". Not only is Epicloud a hell of a good time, but it's arguably the most uncloaked, fuck-it-all-and-fuckin'-no-regrets album of the dude's career.
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Devin Townsend - Epicloud tracks
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5. Ki (2009)
At the time of their release, Addicted seemed like the superior of DTP’s dual 2009 efforts. That’s testament both to Addicted’s immediacy and Ki’s intricacies. Ki is one of the most adventurous efforts Devin has undertaken to date, partially due to the rhythm section he employed: Virtual unknown Jean Savoie on bass, and Duris Maxwell on drums, a 66-year-old swingman who manned the throne for The Temptations, Jefferson Airplane, Heart, and The Chessmen, to name a handful.
While the influence of their playing is readily apparent on the studio jam “Ain’t Never Gonna Win”, they truly shine on the cold, wistful walk of “Terminal” and the rambunctious-but-never-obnoxious “Trainfire”. The emotional distance between these songs is wide, but the feel remains constant. That’s the beauty of Ki; the restrained, seething anger of “Disruptr” can calm itself and peacefully coexist with the sublime, shitgrinning “Quiet Riot”. This is one of the most dynamic releases in Devin’s oeuvre, and easily the most profound of the initial Project cycle.
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Devin Townsend - Epicloud tracks
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4. Infinity (1998)
Infinity was released at the height of the ”holy shit Devin Townsend is fucking crazy!” hype. His unabashed honesty—which has made him the beloved personality that he is today—was somehow used to turn him into a mythic caricature. (This was a much easier feat before the advent of social media.) Battles with mental illness and self-medication aside, Infinity certainly did its fair share to contribute to this mystique. It's fucking gonzo.
Devin didn't just open an eclectic door on Infinity; he ripped the damn thing off its hinges and set it on fire. The Wildhearts bebop of "Christeen" and Satanic circus romp of "Bad Devil" were a devastating shock to the system fourteen years ago, about as far from SYL as anyone could've imagined. But the energy level was fully intact. Infinity is a wild, wild ride, bouncing madly from the multi-layered “Soul Driven Cadillac” to the anthemic “Life Is All Dynamics.” These are the infant strands of Devin’s prog-web; all lines from Terria to Synchestra to Deconstruction can be traced to Infinity’s source. Infinity is bursting at the seams with raw energy; Devin honed each of these elements through the years, but hasn’t since sounded this spontaneous, this alien, or this innocent.
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Devin Townsend - "Life Is All Dynamics"
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3. Accelerated Evolution (2003)
Crafted as a spiritual successor to the revered Ocean Machine record, Accelerated Evolution was the inaugural outing of the Devin Townsend Band, as well as our introduction to longtime collaborators Brian Waddell, Dave Young, and Ryan van Poederooyen.
Released almost simultaneously with SYL’s half-cocked comeback record, AE was the superior effort by a cavernous margin. Opening with a hard-driving rocker in “Depth Charge”, the album quickly gives way to Devin’s vocals as the crucial propulsive device. That’s not to say musical heroics aren’t abundant: A distinct night-driving vibe permeates the record. Futuristic, skylit tones aren’t left to emote without the gravitas of concrete’s grit.
But the true beauty is found when Devin’s cynical croon swells into splintering shrieks. Wistful longing morphs into tortured catharsis on “Storm”, “Deadhead”, and “Suicide”, and even the (mostly) instrumental “Away” conjures an ethereal pain that is never fully salved. At times, Accelerated Evolution shimmers, but always through a battered, weary haze.
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Devin Townsend - "Storm"
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2. Ocean Machine – Biomech (1997)
It’s easy to forget that Devin Townsend is only 40 years old. In 1997, at age 24—when most of us are either struggling to get our bearings amidst the cold realities of our capitalist dystopia or retreating to the womb because the post-college world is just too damned real—Devin released City, one of the most fiercely original heavy metal albums ever recorded, and followed it up six months later with Ocean Machine - Biomech, a dark, searchingly-profound album that garnered the “progressive” tag on basis of its ambition, scope, and originality, not wankery or preset ambition.
(Originally, Ocean Machine was conceived as band comprised of Devin and a pair of rad Canadian dudes. "Biomech" was the album’s title. It was rebranded as a “Devin Townsend” release years after the collaboration dissolved.)
Throughout its 74 minutes, Biomech wears many masks throughout its narration: It opens with seismic thwomps “Seventh Wave” and “Life”, deftly drapes itself in white-noise lace throughout its midsection, and finally billows itself into dense smoke (“Funeral”, “Bastard”) before disintegrating into a pool of minimalist reflection (“The Death of Music”, “Things Beyond Things”).
Truly, though, Biomech is nutshelled in the desperate closing strains of the criminally overlooked “Night”:
"And I can't believe that I'm here to stay / 'cause I never worked it out . . . / And I love you more than I can say / But I hate you every other . . . / And I'll keep my world from falling apart / In the corner of an aching heart / So say you'll come into the city / Come back with me please . . . "
Biomech is equal parts confidence and confusion, defiance and insecurity, fortitude and longing. It’s a snapshot of the quarter-life crisis, not only from first generation to truly experience it, but from that generation’s most powerful voice.
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Devin Townsend - "Night"
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1. Terria (2001)
After the manic fits of Infinity and the perceived failure of Physicist, Devin crashed back to Earth with Terria. In the best way possible.
Yes, Terria’s a grounded record, and not just conceptually. (Let that sink in for a minute: Grounded. We’re talking progressive metal, here, people. Modesty isn’t one of its hallmarks.)
Unlike Infinity, Terria isn’t about letting his wiles spiral into chaos. Instead, he dexterously manipulates them into sprawling, intricate soundscapes (“Deep Peace” and its legendary solo) and continent-spanning gigantism (“Canada”). How does one get so huge, yet retain that crucial element of humility?
It’s all about perspective. At its core, Terria is an ode to Canada, but, of course, the country is nothing if not for its inhabitants. Therein lies the catalyst for the shift from the panoramic longview of “Down and Under” to the solitary conversation of “Nobody’s Here”: Despite our existence amongst an awe-inspiring array of sights, sounds, and smells, we are nothing without the ability to interact, to converse, and to be human on the most miniscule of levels.
Terria toys with this juxtaposition of scope; it’s an exploration of perspective, the introvert dueling with the extrovert to a beautiful stalemate. The album itself is as much of a question as it is a statement: Could this internal / external battle trigger some type of existential implosion / explosion? The dance is delicate. The danger is there. “Earth Day” would be your Ground Zero.
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Devin Townsend - "Earth Day"
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