I've loved Devin Townsend for years. I remember the first time I heard Accelerated Evolution, the frenetic sense of motion, the layers upon layers of sound - the absolute beauty of it all. I remember when I heard Alien for the first time, and the disorientation and comforting discomfort that it brought. (Yeah, it's that kind of album.) I remember laughing at the conceit of a concept album about a puppet that demands all the world's coffee.
I also remember it's been two years since I've heard a peep from the man. That, for him, is an inordinately long time. For years, he'd put out at least one album of amazing music a year, and often more. In 2009, we were treated to the first two albums of the four Devin Townsend Project discs, and I was left waiting for more.
Finally, the wait is over. The two concluding parts of the Devin Townsend Project are being released, and I'm thrilled to hear what the madman of metal has for us this time around. I'm going to write quick reactions to my first listen-through of the project as a whole, from the beginning two discs to the two new ones. Think of it like liveblogging an event - one that's way better than the Oscars or Grammys could ever hope to be.
This album is heavier than I remember it being. When I was describing the DTP to my wife, I told her the first part was very low-key and soft. It is in parts, but "Coast wastes no time getting a bit heavy. And "Gato"? Listen to that lovely crunch.
There is a certain feel of raw sound that Ki has that no other Devin album has had. It's not that it sounds like a demo, but it has that type of urgency and simplicity. This is pared down to a degree Devin rarely is - often just one guitar track, one vocal, a bass and a drum. It's lucid.
I love the female vocals on this CD. They're so different from Anneke (who we'll hear so much from on Addicted) that they make a great contrast.
Tense. That's the best way to describe Ki. It's a record that seethes.
"Heaven Send" is Devin's songwriting at its most powerful. And its most terrifying. And "Trainfire" is a weird, Elvis-y feeling thing that doesn't feel like it really belongs here. And then, it does, as the Elvis fades and the sense of calm comes back.
The piano is a nice touch on "Lady Helen". It's really a great song. And so too is "Ki", easily the centerpoint of the album. It's a wonderful little song, with a lilting melody, stoic guitar work, and just the right groove - which picks up pace and verve near the end, feeling frenetic and terse. It's got all the technicality of a Strapping Young Lad song without any of the violence. Beautiful.
And we close out the album with "Demon League", quiet and simple. It ends on a promise of more - on a promise of loudness to come...
And boy, does it get loud. "Addicted!" starts with a crunch, and it's a whole new ballgame. Heavy, layered, multiple vocals punch in, and the whole things starts feeling blessedly chaotic. Between Devin's clean and harsh vocals and the addition of Anneke, it's busy and full. Just like any Devin Townsend record should be.
I love the spacey synth sounds that permeate Addicted. It's just crazy sauce.
On the matter of production: in terms of the solidity of the whole thing, it's the closest (in Devin's back catalog) to Physicist, which has some blistering metal on it, but remains sounding controlled and centered. So too here - this is very heavy metal, but it's produced like a pop record. This is not a slight against it, by any means - it just has a beautiful identity crisis, like it's a pop metal album trying to decide what it's going to be.
Here we are: "Bend it Like Bender!", where Anneke takes the reins of the vocals and dominates the song (and much of the rest of the album). She has such an inimitable, memorable voice, Devin was beyond wise in enlisting her help. And when the two sing together? Gold.
And let's be honest. On Ziltoid, "Hyperdrive" was a great tune. A soaring anthem. Reproduced here, with Anneke singing the vocals, it's (arguably) even better. It punches just right, and her dulcet voice peaks beautifully.
"In-Ah!" has a gorgeous melody. It's the calmest point on this record, probably - and it's just stunning. Even pop records need their ballads, and this metalpop album has a doozy of one here.
And we approach "Awake!", the sprawling album-closer that features more melodic ideas than all six of Nickelback's albums combined. It's big and splashy, and then fades out into quiet introspection. It really sums up what the new, cleaned-up Devin Townsend is all about better than anything I write can. And so we're on to the brand-new stuff...
It starts . . . not where I expected it to start. Lots of synth, weird drumming, and almost no guitar at all. I'm curious to see where Dev is going to take this sound - this is supposed to be his weirdest, most blistering album yet. And it's starting like . . . a Depeche Mode album or something. (Don't get me wrong - it sounds great.) But what is this? Who are you, Devin Townsend? And from whence do you come?
And there it is. Utter confusion and chaos. No time wasted. Less than four minutes in, and now I know this is a Devin Townsend album. Lyrically, this is dark stuff - lots of violence and drug use. This is Dev battling his inner demons. And then it fades out. This is going to be a roller-coaster of contradictions, methinks.
Oh! Oh my! Is that Mikael Ackerfeldt's harsh vocals I hear in there?!? IT IS OH DEVIN WHAT HAVE YOU DONE. "Stand" blisters, peels, and cracks, just to blister all over again. And when it calms down, it's just a ruse, waiting to assault you as soon as you let your guard down.
"Juular" sounds like a demented carnival ride. Another polka for the centuries, just like "Vampolka" and "Vampira" on Synchestra. It's madness.
The madness continues. There's so much going on in this album, a one-time listen through will never suffice to describe it. It has definite touches of everything Devin has done before this, but it's a creature all on its own. It's an ugly thing, but I think I love it.
"The Mighty Masturbator" is one of the strangest songs Dev has ever given us. I don't even know where to begin to dissect it. It's so massive and layered. I expect nothing less than surprises from Devin, every album - this one doesn't disappoint. And once again, I feel like I'm trapped in a terrifying carnival of sound.
"Cheeseburger . . . cheeseburger . . . cheeseburger." "Shut up, Rick!"
And "Poltergeist" wraps it up - loud, violent, and abrasive. Deconstruction is every bit of those, all eighty minutes of it.
Did this album really just start with flute?
Yes. Yes it did. And it's a perfect way to begin it. This is the most low-key (while still interesting - yes, I'm looking at you, The Hummer) that Devin has ever done. This is music I would put in the car if I knew I was driving my mom somewhere. It's just that pretty.
"Feather" sprawls, but stays just so airy. It's like new age music that doesn't suck or something.
The title track, "Ghost", has a great sway to it, and bubbles with effervescence. The vocal layers add so much, as each is so light and (dare I say it) friendly. This is Devin's friendly album. What? Devin Townsend made a friendly album? Yeah, I'm thinking it too - while I'm tapping my toe to it.
The use of lots of synthesizers really fills out the sound of the whole album - it's really solid.
And so I reach the last track, "As You Were", which closes us out with calm, seagulls and oceans and breeze and all that. This has been quite the journey to bring us to this ending, but I've enjoyed every minute of it.
REACTIONS: Devin Townsend is a musical genius. Few (if any) can write as varied and as enjoyable a catalog of music as he has, and these four albums truly showcase every bit of his impressive talent. I can't wait to listen again.