Saturday, 15 March 2014

Devin Townsend: The Ultimate Guide





Anybody out there unfamiliar with Devin Townsend? Only 99% of you. If you're not into metal, chances are you've never even heard of his name, let alone his impeccable, emotionally-charged music which throws true music fans into regular bouts of ecstasy, frenzy and bliss. His material pretty much receives zero airplay in the mainstream media - despite the fact that he doesn't only play progressive metal, but also dabbles in ambient, prog rock, pop, and even blues rock. 

He is the best thing the music world dropped on our collective (mostly empty) heads for the past 20 years. In the huge, polluted ocean of commercial mud for the zombified masses, the vast ocean of hyped generic trash that we refer to as "modern pop culture", Townsend's music sticks out like a shining beacon, as corny as that may sound. Imagine a 500-karat diamond sticking out in a vast field of huge elephant turds: that's pretty much it. So I guess if you consider yourself a metal fan and yet you intensely dislike his music or find that it leaves you cold, then you must be pretty much tone-deaf by definition, I'm afraid. What are you even doing on this page? I've pissed you off already with this intro, hopefully.

This is not an "ultimate" guide in the sense that I discuss what kind of socks the man wears or how often he farts in his pants. (Judging from the collection of tour-farts his band recorded and then posted on YT, he does that a lot, but not nearly as often as I do: at least one thing I'm more talented at than he is.) The text deals with the music only, specifically with all his studio material, but also DVDs and such. 

If music is the drug of the brain, then Devin Townsend must be my favourite drug-dealer. Techno "music" requires LSD pills, stoner rock requires Bolivian mushrooms, but Devin's music requires no such aids. I am going to say this for the zillionth time (never get tired of saying it): Devin's music is NOT for hype-happy peasants and insecure hipsters. Obviously, I mean "peasants" in the I-love-to-listen-to-primitive-soulless-shit-and-am-unable-and/or-unwilling-to-focus-on-truly-great-stimulating-music sense of the word, not farmers. (I don't say this as an elitist snob, or anything like that, it's just a fact.) Unfortunately for Devin's bank account, such people make up the vast majority of the (non-)listening public. Frankly, it's annoying to hear about his struggles to raise funds to release albums or put on spectacular shows, while the likes of Bon Jovi or Jay-Z have enough money to release a collection of sonic turds out of their rear ends every 5 minutes if they wished to do so, and could probably film a gig on the Moon as well. (Ironically, such non-talent charlatans release albums rarely, which goes to show how "passionate" they are about their music.) It is an absolute joke that the most gifted composer and one of the best guitarists of this age has to organize pledge campaigns and get bank loans in order to pursue his career, not to mention has to tour a lot more than he wishes to - while hordes of dilettante jackasses dominate the charts, polluting the culture and dumbing-down the MTV-brainwashed amoebas even more.

And that's more-or-less where this post comes in; it's a tiny contribution, a modest attempt to expand his fan base so that he can make more money which in turn leads to more of those amazing records. If it were up to me, I'd rather see even more albums from him and less tours; he goes on the road so often primarily because that's the main source of his income, in this age of music piracy and the internet. But before you write me off as a demented fanboy, let me assure you that this list was primarily an opportunity for me to have some fun by sorting out his vast discography in order of quality, explaining in often excessive detail what I like and what I dislike. I enjoy making lists - and I just love shoving my views/opinion/tastes into people's faces, so shoot me.
 

Why does Devin get so much hate? Or at least, why does he not get the recognition he deserves even within the metal scene? Well, most people are born with a low M.Q. (which isn't really their fault, of course), and even many people that aren't often grow up listening to garbage hence never get to train their ears properly - which is essential at a young age. Eventually, these musically-challenged kids grow into musically-challenged adults - and then are faced with something as original, mind-blowing and powerful as DT's vast array of sonic gems. Their reaction is either to scamper away like frightened little bunnies, or to curse out the man for composing brilliance which deep down inside they know they aren't capable of comprehending hence hate it. Ears are a bitch!

Another reason some people are outright hostile toward him and his music or don't take his music seriously is the fact that he often treats metal and its many cliches with tongue-in-cheek, seeing them as an opportunity for lighthearted parody/hommage rather than as an untouchable temple to worship. Metal hipsters HATE that. Injecting humour and phony-free sincerity into metal goes totally against the mentality of certain self-important metal-head dweebs who actually take that whole skulls-'n'-Orc thing seriously. They're (black metal) buffoons, and I am glad Devin annoys them. Hopefully, I can piss them off too. In fact, I know I do. Hipsters, peasants, and metal elitists: my favourite targets. 

OK, enough of the ranting and raving, I've got drool all over me... Let's get down to business.

I've been a fan of his music from the very beginning i.e. the 1993 Steve Vai album, but at that point he was just one of many promising young guns. It didn't take me long after that to realize that this young, manic Canadian was going to bring a huge breath of fresh air into a relatively stale mid/late-90s metal scene. By that point, I'd thought that the best metal had already been recorded and that nothing too spectacular would come again. How wrong I was. Townsend not only matched but surpassed most of what had been done before him by metal's greatest. I've heard thousands of metal bands; only a few dozen or so are up to his knees, and only a handful reach his neck, in terms of both quality and quantity. Musically, his originality is his biggest asset. He is unlike anyone else in the entire music scene, as a musician and even as a person.

The enormous talent - guitar-playing, vocals, song-writing - was more than obvious already after I'd heard his vastly underrated Strapping Young Lad debut. Yet, nobody could have foreseen that he'd churn out so much exhilarating music as he'd done, and for such an extended period of time without losing his edge or selling out, not to mention the diversity of styles he touches on. In fact, along with Mike Patton, Killing Joke and a few others he belongs to a select circle of top-notch song-writers who don't just talk about musical integrity but actually apply it in their careers. If he wanted to chase the dollar like some glam-rock transvestitic whore, I am convinced he could have achieved wealth a long time ago, either by playing shitty radio-friendly pop, by producing garbage bands, or writing movie soundtracks for increasingly moronic Hollywood blockbusters.


This is the one gig I managed to attend, because he never tours the Balkans. That guitar pick you see him holding, it will feature again later in the text. (My precious, gollum gollum.)


All the studio releases by Townsend are listed, plus a few quasi-studio albums, ranked from best to worst. I don't care much for anyone's lyrics (with rare exceptions), so this list deals predominantly with the music. Yes, his lyrics are much more intelligent than the majority of laughable, infantile non-thoughts you'll find on any given pop, rock or metal album sleeve/booklet, but for me music is about the music, not the lyrics. If the lyrics accompanying great music happen to be good, then that's the minor icing on a vast cake, hence they don't affect the ratings i.e. the placement of the albums. Besides, I even prefer not to know what a song is about, because I want it to be whatever I want it to be, not what the song-writer intended.

I've decided to point out the various high-quality bonus tracks for the corresponding recording sessions. Normally I don't pay much attention to B-sides, bonuses, left-outs and the like, because the vast majority of bands and musicians have little or nothing of value in there, but in Townsend's case there are many hidden gems among the various leftovers because he usually has an excess of written and recorded material, rather than a lack of it as is the case with most other musicians who struggle a lot to get any inspiration. This is further proof that he lives for his music i.e. doesn't need to be "coerced" into delivering the next "product" by a record company, but instead has the opposite problem: he cannot stop writing new music, and can barely find the time to get it all out. It's a fortunate compulsion that has resulted in mind-blowing material - and plenty of it.

To make things a little easier to follow, I've used parenthesis and italics for songs, and just the italics for albums and other bands that I mention. The best tracks are in bold. 

If you're unfamiliar with Devin's huge body of work, this list will help you greatly in orientating yourself in a virtual maze of very different releases. If you're just now beginning to discover his music, you are to be envied. Sort of. The large quantity on offer might be a little overwhelming at first, but when it comes to a great new find such as this, that kind of "problem" is every music fan's wish. 

Remember the Golden Rule regarding most of these albums: give them time. A lot of good music reveals all of its greatness only after multiple listens.

Very important for those of you who can't stand any criticism of any music that you like: I suggest you start the list from the best album, i.e. in reverse order of what I'd listed. This will ease the mental anguish. In other words, any annoyance you might experience will increase gradually hence increase the chances that you complete scrolling through the entire list without giving up in disgust.

Which brings me to a very important point. I like to call a spade a spade. When something sucks I say it sucks, so don't expect me to fawn over ALL of his music like a demented religious-cult adherent. This is as realistic an appraisal of his music as you'll find. Subjective shmubjective. Music is in the ear of the beholder and I've got the ears to prove it. 

Just kidding. This text is only the opinion of little ol' me. I am just an irrelevant speck in this laughable multiverse, so try not to get your pressure up. It's not worth it.

As of July 2016 this lengthy rant has reached over 16,000 views, which far exceeds my lowly expectations
 




Devin Townsend's Albums Ranked




30. The Hummer

2006

Ambient.

In all honesty, I haven't listened to the entire album, as this kind of music really doesn't interest me. Besides, I don't have the patience to listen to never-ending ambient tracks that contain barely a melody-and-a-half, so I did fast-forward a lot. But Devin himself had pointed out that his ambient releases aren't to be classified as "serious" efforts or true solo albums, but something he records just for fun and without any major ambitions. It's only been released through his site.

Most of the tracks are very long, one running over 23 minutes. That's a hint in itself: yes, this is minimalism at its painful slowest, although I'm sure there are drone bands out there that stretch a "song" idea even further. Imagine Tomita's music without the classical pieces, just the "space sounds" - it's a bit like that. Most of the album is very mellow, peaceful, meditative, with for example the sounds of a wave dominating for several minutes until something else - just as unspectacular - replaces it. There is even a track called "Consciousness" throughout which a man narrates about the meaning of life essentially; Devin in one his many bouts of existential musing. Almost like some Indian baba's mission statement, though interesting.

The album cover reminds me of Voivod's art-work. Speaking of which, I wonder why he never mentions that band whenever he's asked about the Canadian metal scene.



 
29. Devlab

2004
 
Ambient. 

This is just a full-on moment of indulgence for Devin, nothing more.

This is what I mean: imagine having a state-of-the-art recording studio, with the opportunity to create just about any sounds you can want. Would you not wish to fiddle around with the knobs? Especially after having completed a loud, intense, technically-demanding Strapping Young Lad album, what better way for him to unwind than by gluing together a bunch of keyboard sounds plus goofing off into the microphone. And after he'd done that, he decides "what the hell, I might as well release this, someone might actually even like it".


Unlike its sonic sibling Hummer, this ambient CD is noisier, more experimental, with many short tracks, and with Devin providing all sorts of non-singing vocals here and there. Think of Mike Patton during his bouts of over-the-top self-indulgence and his don't-give-a-damn-what-the-fans-think moments of recording mayhem; it's similar to that. As different as they may be musically, Patton and Townsend have some fairly striking similarities, certainly career-wise.
 


 
28. Ass-Sordid Demos II

 
2004

Just as Ass-Sordid Demos I, this is not a studio album, but contains plenty of unreleased material, demos recorded in the early 90s while he was still quite young. The expression "don't judge a book by its cover" has never been more wrong. This shitty cover fits the music like a glove, and serves as a warning to fans.
 


It took a while to finally listen to this album, because so much of it pretty much sucks, especially his singing which is virtually unrecognizable i.e. pretty terrible overall; in certain songs, it almost sounds as if he's trying to impersonate the 70s David Bowie. The guitar playing is impressive though, especially for a guy that young. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that he never got a record contract so early, because he simply wasn't there yet as a song-writer, but also as a singer. A bad first album would have made a continuation of his career even more difficult than it was post-Vai. 

Apparently, there is an album called "Promises" that he recorded in the early 90s with a band called Noisescapes which never got released. I assume some of that material is part of this compilation album.

Yearbook pic, from around 1990, around the time a lot of these "Demos II" tunes were being worked on.

"Sunmud/Woman" is a mix of various songs, such as "Ocean Machines" from Demos I, and "All Hail The New Flesh". I've also managed to identify a melody from "In The Rainy Season" within the song "I Am". There is even a Led Zeppelin cover, "Friends"; all things considering, it doesn't sound that awful. Considering how bad almost everything else is, that is. There is a semi-funky song, "Thick Stock", that is almost as bad as anything The Red Hot Chili Peppers ever spat on their easy-to-please fans in the past few decades.

What I'm trying to say is don't waste your time or money on these very modest baby-diaper beginnings.

Devin was barely out of his teens when he recorded a lot of this crap, hence the low quality. Just the fact that he wasn't too embarrassed to release such a mediocre compilation of failed songs shows what a comparatively tiny ego he has for someone of his talent. I.e. he is actually letting his fans hear this crap.




27. Casualties Of Cool: Disk 2


2014

Blues rock, country blues, ambient, adult contemporary, ballad pop.

This is not a review of the main album, just the bonus disk. It consists of COC and Ghost sessions.

I know this statement (as this entire review) will hit a raw nerve with many fans, but it needs to be said: the Emperor has no clothes. Could it be that Devin has lost his sense of what is a usable melody and what isn't? Have years of being literally worshiped by his utterly loyal fans blinded him? Has even the modest, down-to-Earth, supremely likable, intelligent Dev started to believe in his own creative infallibility? Has he started to believe that any tune that he comes up with is now studio-worthy? I know that's not the case, but listening to this bonus disk one almost gets that impression. Ki, Ghost, and now this. So many average or crap tunes on those albums. 

Before I get to the review, a brief comment about Devin and the distortion pedal. There is now absolutely no doubt in my mind that Devin has a natural affinity for loud, bombastic music, much less so for mellow commercial styles - at least when it comes to the song-writing itself i.e. performance-wise he is equally adept at both; I think he could perform almost any type of music with a great deal of proficiency. It is as though the moment he switches on the distortion pedal a beast wakes in him; an almost child-like enthusiasm grips him, out of which springs out innovative, varied, experimental, and above all fresh-sounding music. As soon as he switches off the distortion pedal, though, he becomes almost too introspective, serious, calm, his imagination starts to waver and flounders, he starts to get nostalgic and sentimental, becomes more conservative in his song-writing, and the results are far less impressive and more predictable. Of course, there are notable exceptions to both rules: several SYL albums aren't that great, while on the soft side of the coin he's written a number of splendifurous tunes, such as "Sit In The Mountain", for example, "Watch You", and a plethora of brilliant softer moments sprawled among his metal albums. But essentially this is how I view his talent: he is better at writing heavy, bombastic music.

Even though I wasn't awed by Disk 1 from COC, it was a solid album so I was expecting a few gems on this bonus disc as well, because he often leaves out some above-average material for these kinds of compilations, and because Disk 1 does have several highlights. How wrong I was. This is without a doubt the dullest concoction/collection of sleeping pills he could ever have unleashed - barring his ambient albums which don't count as "proper" releases. It's almost as if these days Devin records and releases every idea he comes up with.

Some of this inferior material might even be described as adult contemporary. You wonder what that is? Translated into English it basically means "lame-ass yuppie pop", a music style usually listened to by adults who consider Duran Duran to be too in-your-face. These are the people who still buy whatever crap has-beens such as Paul Simon and Barbra Streisand fart out, and they consider the likes of Tracy Chapman and Norah Jones the height of "artistic expression". Do I need to go on? You get the idea. Jesus wept, if this is the music direction Devin has fallen in love with recently, forget about it. Still, hipsters seem to like it, so what do I know.

The sense I get from this album is Devin simply re-working i.e. rehashing the numerous country/blues/pop clichés he'd grown up with as a juvenile. It's pure nostalgia that drives him to write this kind of tiresome piffle - that's the best explanation I can find for this bizarre turn for the worse. From Ziltoid to this?! (And back to Ziltoid, later this year.) 

"Ghost Wives" features a ridiculous, almost comical singing style by the otherwise rock-solid Aimee, which sounds as a semi-parody of reggae. Am I nuts or has she even added a speech impediment with the letter "S" for the song? "Thay it with me now", is what I'm hearing in the chorus. Have years of listening to SYL and Ministry turned me into a deaf man? Or has Aimee lost her mind? The song itself is yet more calm yuppie pop - a musical direction I'd expect from an aging (and now boring) Sting or someone like that, not Devin. This is music for the elderly and for young people who are elderly both in state and mind. 

These must be the ghost wives. One can rarely accuse Devin of picking ugly artwork. 
This was initially intended to be released as a sequel to Ghost, i.e. containing Ghost session extras. However, this plan was scrapped, and songs "Drench", Mend", "Perspectives" and "Moonshine" were included on the COC bonus disk instead.

"Drained" starts off with a cliché guitar riff that's as old as rock'n'roll itself. Add to this a "train keeps a-rollin'" type of rhythm, some uninteresting vocals - and the mega-cliché is complete. Who the hell needs this?! It's only the second song and already I feel drained. Damn this new musical direction. 

"Dig For Gold" is a song you can dig in all your life and never find any gold. The irony is complete, because trying to find decent tunes on Disk 2 is a bit like digging for rare metals. Slightly more original than the previous tracks, but that's like saying that Oprah looks marginally better after she'd lost 5 pounds. The guitar "solos", if I can call them that, sound like Mark Knopfler strumming away in a drunken stupor. 

"Dead Eyes" is sort of like ambient space sounds mixed in with lifeless vocal melodies. More crap. Tomita and Jean-Michel Jarre used to eject these kinds of sounds out of their rear-ends in their sleep - and nearly half a century earlier - so as far as originality is concerned, a fail. 

"Drench" is a 6-minute exercise in drabness. If you're a pill-popping acid-freak who worships stoner rock and sludge you might find joy in the same damn boring bass-line droning on and on and on as you fall deeper and deeper into a drug-induced state of calm (or whatever the hell that feels like - I've never taken any drugs in my life). But make sure your LSD is of the highest quality otherwise the illusion will easily shatter. Others, steer clear. What is this? Drone pop? The best use I can find for this baseline is as a 15-second lead-in to a highlight, and yet Devin uses it as a permanent melody here. This is Devin being uninspired and lazy - and I can't even believe I am using these adjectives in the same sentence as his name. But that's the truth. 

"Mend" doesn't exactly mend the bad impression left by all the previous tracks. What it does though is remind us that even the best composers in the history of music (and Devin does belong to that exclusive club) are only erring humans who do fuck up big-time on occasion. Or do you know of any great composer who doesn't have a few duds to his name? This is ambient bullshit. 

"Where You've Been" is slightly better than the rest, but ultimately yet more energy-devoid, unoriginal, calm yuppie pop. Even some trashy pop-chart ballads have more spunk to them than this. 

"Gone Is Gone" is almost like thrash metal energy-wise - but only when compared to the slow and apathetic stuff before it. It's another uninspired, cliché egg though. It is only up-tempo and exciting compared to cows grazing in a field on a windless day. It was supposed to be on the main CD, but didn't make it due to length restraints. 

"Fight" is a pointless inclusion. It is essentially the song "Flight" from Disk 1, but with no Aimee and possibly different lyrics (as if I could bother to check). The song is much better than the vast majority of what's on this Non-Deluxe Disk 2, but why listen to it when the original is better? Not much better, but better nonetheless. 

"Glass World" is a brief track and sounds like an outro. Certainly more lively and original than 95% of this disk, but hardly Townsend-worthy. 

"Aquarius" is yet more yuppie pop of the most comatose kind. It's the sort of forgettable song you'd expect from one of those pretentious chick-on-guitar pop girlies who sing about world peace or some relationshit nonsense about how her boyfriend left her for her BFF. It's not a bad song, but who needs mediocrity - ever? 

"Perspective" is the first song that finally makes you sit up and take notice - after an 11-song string of duds, semi-duds and badly laid eggs. A 12-song wait for some good stuff to turn up? That's a Townsend first, a negative record, and a non-feat he hopefully won't try to emulate again. It is a balladesque track in the exact same style as the previous song and many others here, but the song-writing (that key ingredient in all music) is vastly better. Thankfully, it is also the longest song. Fortunately, the brief mid ambient part serves only as the lead-in to the very nice crescendo. This is in fact a great song that sticks out like Einstein on a moron convention. 

"Moonshine" could be used for a Hawaii travel ad. An upbeat instrumental that offers nothing much new but at least doesn't bore as much as most of this album does.


Boromir is indeed wise. While we're on the subject, in the history of music there is NO band or composer whose entire body of work was brilliant i.e. without duds, as Boromir would attest to. Anybody who claims to love absolutely everything Devin has ever released (nearly 30 albums!) is either delusional or has fallen into that age-old "fanboy trap" which many people succumb to, which means their worship goes into pathologic overdrive where they lose all sense of quality and criteria. Yes, Devin is brilliant, but are all of his albums top-notch? Boromir says no. Can his vast array of very different music releases all appeal to any one individual listener? Boromir very much doubts it.

Before you dismiss me as some narrow-minded metal-head unable to appreciate mellow music of any kind, keep in mind that I consider "Feather" one of the best songs in the Devin Townsend Project, so yes, I am capable of appreciating and enjoying any kind of music - just not badly written material, and that's what this non-deluxian compilation essentially is.

On the other hand, this is only a bonus disk, so it maybe shouldn't be judged too harshly. It's just that we Devin fans are so spoiled, and always have high expectations.

If sedate yuppie pop is what Devin feels "most comfortable with at the moment" then I really am starting to question his ability to continue with high-quality output. Is he gradually headed for an all-out mainstream career? (Fact is that he recently recorded a pop song with Nickelback's producer, but decided against releasing it for whatever reason. Apparently, he was embarrassed about the result - and that's a positive sign.) Hopefully, this bizarre need for Canada's genius of invention to present dull and predictable music to the world is just a phase from which he will grow out of when he finally realizes that thousands before him had written almost the exact same tunes. On the other hand, this could be just a confirmation that his transformation from "metal madman" to mellowed-out hippie might be in its final stages. Hippies are so much more boring than metalheads when it comes to music. On the bright side - should this be the case - at least his interviews are still a lot of fun and not hippie-like in any way. (He refers to himself as a hippie often, but he also pokes so much fun at them that you can't take that seriously at all.) At least he is not becoming pretentious, but seems to get even more relaxed with age.

I hope Ki/COC/Ghost represent only temporary, occasional mood-swings and not the direction he wants to pursue completely. It would be very disappointing to lose Devin entirely to the mainstream and zombie hipsters. Anybody can "excel" at average pop music.

Then again, read what he said in a 2015 interview: "As a human and as an artist, what I’ve done with Casualties, what I did with parts of Ki, and what I hope to do in the future is perfect for me. Everything else I’ve done since Infinity is essentially discussing the fallout of that period of Steve Vai and my kid years.  Addicted, Deconstruction, Epicloud, Ziltoid – they’re not about songs.  They’re about the past.  But Casualties isn’t; it's about the present.  I think that if the dominoes of fate will allow, then I’ll be able to support myself and my family being honest from here on out.  And if it doesn’t, then hey… Z3 coming soon!" 

This is the kind of stale music that attracts people who like to curl up in the fetal position and listen to the soothing sounds of near-silence as they fantasize about being back in the womb. Pensioners' rock to the power of 3.

But then there's always . Due out later this year, that album will show once and for all whether we've lost him to the mainstream and the pretentious/boring "adult contemporary" crowd or whether he still has some of that vigour and spunk that made him the most innovative musician of his era. (Whether it's the former or the latter, find out later in the text. Obviously, this review was written before came out.)



 
26. Punky Bruster: Cooked On Phonics

  
music

 
concept & lyrics

1996

Guitar Messenger: "Could you tell me something - anything - that you haven't told anybody in an interview before?... Anything you can think of."

Devin: "... I've got one ball that's bigger than the other."
Guitar Messenger: "... (laughs nervously)... A little more serious..."
Devin: "That's pretty serious..."

From a 2011 interview. I love that answer; he could have easily become a stand-up comedian with the amount of hilarious "bullshit" he comes up with. Compare this for example to the pretentious baloney someone like U2's Bono would say if asked the same question. There simply aren't enough devinotownsends in this world, but far too many empty-headed, self-important poseurs i.e. u2onian boners.

"That was a joke record... It's a horrible-sounding record with a bunch of average songs, but I had a fun time making it" - Devin, 2014

How do you mock an awful music scene by writing good music? Perhaps this is the main reason the music is so mediocre. Hence, this can't really be put in the same basket as the main studio releases because it was a joke project that mocks the fake-punk/baby-punk/pop-punk garbage that was all the rage in the charts back in the 90s. Hence why the concept is everything, whereas the music is totally secondary and intended for laughs and as parody rather than actual good melodies. The songs support the lyrics, not the other way round.

Shit like Green Day (who get mentioned by name) are the primary target here, and all the other cloned crap such as Sum 41 and Greed Charlotte that came a little later. Although, the opening track "Recipe for Bait" (an allusion to the track "Recipe for Hate" by the world's most self-righteous politically-correct punk band) would indicate that DT made fun of Bad Religion as well. Of course, Bad Religion don't really belong to the baby-punk movement and their music is considerably better than garbage such as Green Day but they did profit from the hype quite a bit.

PB COP is an amusing collection of punky songs, with a number of spoken/acted bits in-between the fairly uninteresting songs. (The exception is track 6.) The lyrics, the dialogue, and the basic concept are of much more importance here than the actual music (which is ironically kind of similar to nearly all pop-punk groups, in the sense that their predictable music always took a backseat to the plastic image and the excessive posing). So keep in mind that the rating pertains to the music only, not the lyrics or the concept which are quite fun.

The above-mentioned song 6 has a riff that sounds very much like one of the riffs from Faith No More's "Digging The Grave". That should perhaps tell you how seriously DT took this album, musically at least, i.e. in the sense that musical originality wasn't a priority.
 

"If what it takes to rock is to suck a little corporate cock,
Well, hey everybody, we'll be the girls next door,
If what it takes to score is to be a corporate whore,
we're already there" - a bit from "The Girls Next Door" 

There are some very funny bits, most notably the first song i.e. the introduction to the Polish band Cryptic Coroner, and Devin breaking a string and "struggling" to stay in death metal mode. The next dialogue, in song 3, had me in stitches; it shows Cryptic Coroner addressing each other as if they were demons, Orcs or something, but then swiftly morph into high-pitched baby-punk bitches in order to make more money. Song 4 has a hilarious "metal moment"; a bit of a parody of heavy metal clichés this time. In song 8 the band's singer, Doctor Skinny, is embarrassed about his metal roots. In song 9 the band looks forward to becoming "validated" by winning a "Granny Award" in the Lifetime Achievement category despite the fact they'd been playing pop-punk for a mere few weeks. And so on, wonderful stuff like that.




 
25. Ki

 
2009

Pop, rock, ambient.
 


"Townsend doesn't take himself too seriously, and in hipsters' minds such personality is unacceptable. If there are any hipster Townsend fans, they must be the ones who consider Ki his best release. You're not going to hear many of them praise any of his truly great albums." - a Townsend fan (no, not me)


WARNING: This review may cause severe annoyance in people unable to handle other people's opinions about music (or anything else, for that matter). In no way am I taking away anybody's well-deserved right to enjoy listening to this mediocre album - merely by criticizing it. If you are that insecure, then perhaps you're not even sure yourself whether you like this album or not. Anyway, feel free to post comments about how despicable I am for daring not to like this release. I really don't mind. 

The cover reminds me of a coffin. The funeral marking the end of DT's high-quality output? That's how it almost seemed at the time. This album marked the first time one of his studio albums fell far below (my) expectations. To merely call this CD a disappointment would be a vast understatement.

"The Death Of (DT's) Music"? Someone referred to Ki as being a continuation of that song's style. Nothing could be further from the truth: that Ocean Machine track has  passion to spare, is devoid of clichés, whereas Ki consists of 5% passion and 95% drowsy uneventfulness, generic riffs/chords that just plod along at a snail's pace. If I wanted music that is slumber-inducing I'd listen to Norah Jones or the pathetic wails of the supremely talent-free Dido. Even the few times when heaviness kicks in, nothing happens; even the heavy riffs are one-dimensional and dull.

But let me first clarify the rating. 2 stars means the album is weak, not horrible. If I though Ki was horrible, I'd have given it one star. It is only really bad as compared to many of his best albums, not empirically.

Ki was quite an unexpected kind of album when it came out, which I don't mind - and in fact encourage (i.e. unpredictability) - but a big let-down. Up to that point all of his solo albums were either great or close to it, so a failure such as this was something I didn't see coming at all. But I suppose it was inevitable. Every great musician eventually mellows out and/or runs out of ideas - at least that's how it seemed at the time. (Turned out I was quite wrong about the running-out-of-ideas thing.) This might have been the album that marked the end of Devin's prolific high-quality output, were it not for the follow-up release that had him back in the form of his life. Talking about that "little" pop-metal masterpiece with a certain Dutch blonde. Fortunately, Ki was a momentary dip, a needless excursion into pop rock territory, a way for Devin to relax a bit and not have to scream all the time - although it did also mark the beginning of Dev's more mainstream phase. He said he wanted to make "a quiet but also ferocious album". Quiet, sure, but I wish I could detect this ferociousness.

Is "ki" Tibetan for "cheesy soft rock"? Or perhaps it's just Nepalese for "try not to doze off, there's still more than an hour of this stuff".


Pop/rock with smaller doses of ambient and even tinier amounts of metal: that's all this mediocrity really is. Even more amazing is that Devin had managed to put together an album utterly devoid of great songs. Not a single Ki song deserves to be put anywhere near - let alone onto - his best albums. If I wanted a lame pop/rock album for the sleepy sheepy comatose masses I'd listen to the Dave Matthews Band or Matchbox 20. Or if I really hated myself, I'd go out and torture myself with garbage like Maroon 5; I certainly hope Devin never starts to "move like fuckin' Jagger".

Devin seems to be developing a temporary fear of pressing the distortion pedal, which plays right into the hands of Coldplay fans. Jesus, he was only in his mid-30s and yet  already he felt obliged to drift toward static, acoustic-driven pensioners' rock. In his defense though, he admitted that getting older is making him less attracted to playing (extreme) metal, and that's fair enough, I guess. Additionally, he had always liked other, mellower styles of music (as any normal person does) so in that sense Ki isn't a surprise perhaps.

What is surprising is the low quality of the song-writing and the lethargic yuppiness. If I wanted to listen to 70 minutes of acoustic guitars, then all I'd need to do is go downtown and listen to the first hippie bum warming the sidewalk, strumming lazily on his semi-broken guitar, waiting patiently for low-value coins. Devin is far too brilliant to waste his talent and our time on drowsy mainstream pop - and he needs to realize this.

Hypothetically. In an ideal and fair world, Dev would have millions in the bank, wouldn't have to tour (as much), hence would have enough time and energy to dish out a half-dozen albums every year. In that kind of spiffing scenario, he would have time to record plenty of music both for his metal fans and his non-metal fans, and that would be perfectly fine, and a win-win situation for everyone involved. But that just isn't the case, so every time he makes an album such as this, he is - in my mind at least - wasting precious time on stuff that has no real value, at least when compared to what he normally records.

Let's get something straight: I don't think Ki is a disappointment simply because it isn't metal enough. Someone wrote that Ki is for "eclectic tastes" (probably a hipster, they have a fetish for the word eclectic, just as brainwashed left-wing college students have a need to use the word diversity as a kind of all-purpose superlative), implying that metal fans are unable to appreciate it. Eclectic tastes, my ass. I listen to a wide variety of music, from classical to bluegrass to fusion jazz to Latin folk music to movie soundtracks to metal and pop. Ki is for fans of mediocrity - because for many people listening to mediocrities is safe and cozy; it doesn't threaten you in any way, doesn't challenge you emotionally nor does it shake you up from your everyday stupor. It's mediocre because it lacks originality and good melodies. It's as simple as that. The fact that it's soft and so very ready for "MTV's Unplugged" only makes matters worse but that isn't the reason why Ki fails.

A song such as "Sit In The Mountain" (1998) is an example of soft Dev being brilliant. Where are the sitinthemountains on this album though? Nowhere in sight. Ziltoid is an album full of wonderful mellow moments, something that cannot be said about Ki at all. Ocean Machine has a number of brilliant soft parts, as does Terria. I.e. he is well capable of writing excellent mellow music, it's just that fairly little of that vast talent can be detected on this CD. I have no idea why that is. 

The term ambient is nothing more than another word for "elevator music". If I wanted dull background music I'd listen to porn soundtracks or those pointless Kitaro albums. I wish I could be content to simply have average music doodle around in the background, but I seek excellence in music, not a predictable succession of very slow guitar notes. However, ambiance is the least of this album's drawbacks.

A few fans complain about the female vocals, but I'd have to disagree there. When Aimee Dorval's voice kicks in during those 3-4 songs is when the album finally seems to come to life with what appears to be a glimmer of hope. If anything, she saves the album from an even lower rating. However, the several faint glimmers on Ki never heat up. I can't even pick out a part of a song that evokes a "wow" effect. There are perhaps a dozen solid moments/parts, but if I wanted solid/average/OK/reasonable I'd listen to AC/DC or the new Motorhead.

Lyrics over music. Ki is yet another example of how lyrics i.e. the theme/concept can get in the way of making great music. Devin said he wanted the music to be restrained, to seem as if it's going to explode but doesn't - something like that - just in order to convey whatever message he had. Perhaps this plan does work as far as lyrical content is concerned, but it turned out to be a miserable strategy when it comes to the music. Boosting the lyrics at the expense of music is a good idea only if you're a talent-free charlatan who wants to distract from the music. Devin is the opposite of that. While he is intelligent and has something to say, he needs to understand that he is a musician first-and-foremost, not a philosopher or author. Whoever values lyrics above music should write/read books, not record/listen to music. It's that whole Bob Dylan/Velvet Underground attitude I'm talking about; fans of such musicians and bands don't really focus on the music much. To be fair though, Devin had stated on occasion that he often finds himself mocking his own more overtly serious stuff, finding it too close to becoming pretentious. His fear of being pretentious is a sign of level-headedness and high intelligence. 

Thank God for free downloading, that's all I can say! I haven't spent a dime on this collection of sleeping pills, hence don't have to go through the futile process of trying (literally) to kick myself in the ass for buying mediocre Dreck. Hence no ill feelings towards Devin: he didn't take my money this time, and that's all that matters. I am still traumatized from all the mistakes I'd made in the 80s and 90s, all the crappy CDs I bought, the vast amounts of money that I might just as well have thrown out the window.

SUB-TOPIC: How Devin's fan-base is changing

Devin Townsend is gaining a mini-horde of new fans. But what music demographic do some of them belong to? Could it be that a lot of them don't appreciate innovative, progressive music at all? A lot of them have been drawn into Devin's world by Ki and Ghost alone, pretty much ignoring the heavy stuff. Let's call them the new softies.

This is what a new softie recently posted on a music site:
  
"I really like (Casualties of Cool)... I really hope this guy eventually gives up on metal though."  

This typical hipster statement reveals the essence of a new softie's inner world. In other words, "Ziltoid, Accelerated Evolution and City all suck coz it's primitive noise and I don't understand it".
Might this be the new breed of Devy fans congregating around Ki/Ghost/Casualties of Cool? Without a doubt. 

Without any doubt whatsoever, many of these Ki-lovers are goatee-wearing, Bunuel-sniffing, vegan hipsters.

I am not saying metal fans cannot enjoy these albums but there is no doubt that a lot of Devin's new fans are much more likely to listen to Rihanna or Coldplay than Enslaved or Mr.Bungle. And his new hipster fans surely pray to Pavement and Neutral Milk Hotel.


Some of these new softies are image-obsessed hipsters hence want desperately to become part of the "edgy" alternative metal crowd - but without having to like/listen to Devin's heavier stuff: sort of like the stereotypical black-nails-polish nose-pierced 16 year-old girl who wears a Slayer shirt but only listens to Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" and any hit song by Evanescence. Hipsters would hate this comparison because it hits so close to home, but there is nothing I enjoy more than annoying hipsters so I had to add that.

(I call such people "image bunnies", because they hop from one trend to another, attaching themselves to all sorts of styles and bands but without ever being truly interested in the music aspect of any of them - only the image.) Some of those folks can also be referred to as the fake heavies.

New softies simply hate all metal and are loving Devin's gradual transformation from metalhead to hippie-yuppie. They want to see all of his future albums sound like soft-ass pop because that's all they know and understand. Because most hipsters detest metal and complex technically-challenging stuff by default.

There is also a third category, and that's power metal softies. Power metal is a type of horrible music that's neither powerful nor metal, but full of generic pop and even Schlager-sounding choruses. It's the kind of music ideal for people who hate the tritonus, dissonance and any kind of innovation but want so desperately - for whatever reason - to be part of the "metal scene" - whatever that is, considering that the modern metal scene has more to do with generic pop than metal the way we understood the term in the 80s and 90s. But it's doubtful that Dev's music will ever sink so low as to appease a larger segment of the music-hating public that listen to power metal, although some of these cheese-lovers do like Devin - for whatever strange reason, or pretend to at least.

Anybody who names Ki and/or COC and/or Ghost as their favourite DT album(s) doubtlessly belongs to this demographic, the new softies, to either of the three basic categories. They prefer their music unadventurous, mellow, commercial-sounding and safe - while genuinely believing that they are "edgy" listeners who support/encourage innovative music! Yes, their delusion is almost comical.

Which demographic groups make up these new softies? My guess - and I am just guessing i.e. rambling at this point - is that they are mostly yuppies, confused hipster students, teen girls in an identity crisis, and bored housewives. The one thing all these groups have in common is Coldplay. And perhaps even Celine Dion, for non-hipsters among them. This is the common denominator of such music fans.
Their views about this list don't mean squat to me. Nevertheless, I encourage the new softies to keep posting their whiny comments, accusing me of all sorts of silly stuff. I truly do enjoy reading their rants in spite of - or precisely because - they're such easily-offended sheep.
And now enough of this dumb rant. Back to the stupid review.


Highlights? No entire songs, only bits and pieces.

"Heaven Send", the longest song, is possibly the best one, but mostly due to the excellent female vocals; as soon as she stops singing the song becomes dull again. Notice I didn't bold the song title; that's because it's a highlight only relative to the other bad songs.


"Winter" has a very nice main melody, but what about the rest of the song? Not that interesting. Very stereotypical acoustic tunes try to fill the gaps.

"Trainfire" is the third-best song only because there is a nice vocal melody that comes right after the utterly pointless rockabilly verse. This is either an homage to or a parody of Elvis (or, knowing Devin, both). Either way, 50s chewing-gum rock'n'roll is the last thing a talent such as Devin should be wasting his time on.
This is the guy who incorporated fusion into metal (better than anyone)! Yet suddenly he wants to play rockabilly, frcrissakes, just like thousands of boring, average bands.
 
"I have this little black cat named Spooky, and she was kind of my confidante during this recording... we'd hang out." - from the album's commentary. (Any excuse to put a picture of a cat on my blog, and I'm game. I love the critters.)

"Gato" (which means "cat" in Spanish) only comes to life when Aimee's voice kicks in. Otherwise it's quite average, with fairly uninteresting riffs, but nevertheless a better song than much of the album.
Cats are very smart, and if Spooky could talk she would have told Devin to bin Ki altogether and do another Ziltoid instead. This was the first song written for DTP.


As for the worst tracks, the competition is stiff. "Ain't Never Gonna Win" is like Bob James or Jamiroquai casually warming up during a sound-check. If I didn't know better, i.e. that he always has a surplus of songs and never a lack of them for any album, I'd think it was a filler. Most of the album appears that way.

"Coast" is a typical overly mellow, uninteresting balladesque pop song that briefly sounds as if it might come to life toward the end, but of course it doesn't. Driven by a laid-back bass-line that some fusion-jazz bassist might sleepily strum, the song plods along rather than have any kind of musical point to make.

"Terminal" is similar; quite mellow. It does have a certain mood to it, and is played brilliantly - for this kind of music - but isn't much more than yet another stereotypical, unoriginal Ki song. 

"Lady Helen" is the sort of uninspired and uninspiring ballad-pop crap I'd expect Dido to sing with her dumb, useless, semi-nasal voice (she really needs to release all that snot into a handkerchief occasionally). This song is so bad, it's difficult to even remember; every time I hear it it's as if I'm hearing it for the first time and then I'm thinking "is this a new song or something?" only to remind myself that I'm listening to the boring Ki. How the hell he managed to remember this song from start to finish for his live appearances is a mystery to me.

The first four minutes of the title track "Ki" are pretty much as bad as "Lady Helen": I friggin' couldn't remember this section if I were offered a million dollars. The song improves in the 5th minute but by then I'm already drowsy, restless and thinking of playing a better album.

"Quiet Riot" is a piece of shit, plain and simple. I'd expect a dullard such as Tracy Chapman to bore my ears with such pathetic, corny drivel. Yet here we've got Devin playing this safe chick-on-guitar chart shit.


At the time, I had hoped Ki was just a temporary hiccup, something he needed to write for his wife and kids - the antidote to the early SYL, perhaps. But it turned out to be the "coming of a new Dev" (as opposed to the "coming of a New Age" anno 1995; Dev's new mainstream fans won't understand this reference). 

But as long as he keeps churning out gems occasionally - real innovative music as opposed to rehashed clichés - he can indulge in calm yuppie stuff all he wants, as far as I'm concerned. I support his new attitude of branching out and being fully content to play whatever style he feels like - even when this results in crap such as Ki - because occasionally he will go into bouts of brilliance and deliver. If, however, he ends up ditching metal altogether - as many of his new soft fans hope for - then he will become yet another statistic in the Book of Former Music Greats But Now Mere Mediocrities Content To Record Forgettable Fluff.

For whatever it's worth, a slightly better version of Ki can be heard on the "By A Thread" DVD where he plays the entire album with more energy and heavier guitars - not that the song-writing gets any better that way, of course. With his natural charisma and sense of humour, the gig makes this mediocre material much more listenable. I have no clue why Aimee failed to show up to support Devin on vocals. She isn't exactly Beyonce, i.e. I know she couldn't have had "better" things to do.

RELATED MATERIAL: It is amazing - but also somehow typical - that he left out the best song from the Ki sessions, namely "Synchronicity Freaks", which was fortunately released a few years later on Contain Us. He must have figured, "this song somehow doesn't fit with the rest". That's right, it doesn't: it's good, unlike the rest!

 



24. Ass-Sordid Demos 1990-1996


2000

Not a studio album, but because it features almost only unreleased material, I decided to place it here.

The album title is a warning in a way: do not expect polished, complete tracks with the usual wide, dense DT sound. The sound quality varies from OK to very good. There are two fairly solid tracks here, and an excellent one. 

"Man" has potential. One can just tell how good it would be if this demo version were elaborated upon i.e. given Devin's full undivided attention.

"Ocean Machines" is, just as its title suggests, written in the mold of his solo debut. Would it be a worthy track for that album? Not really, but that's not saying much anyway.

The astounding song that should have been released is "Red Tomorrow": this little ditty has an intensity that easily holds its own against Devin's best, and is a must-have, especially for fans of his heavier stuff. It has touches of the industrial, and a tremendous groove. Just check out its highlight at 2:44-3:31 - huge! And this is just the demo version; although, the production on this one is close to excellent. I believe the reason he never released it are its lyrics which might be slightly, how shall I put it, not too complementary of America. It's a Canadian thing, you know, they have a bit of a more-or-less friendly rivalry going with their southerly neighbours, and we know how much Devin loves his Canada. And he was quite young and impressionable when he wrote it. 

The other 7 tracks you can pretty much forget, not much there. 



 
23. Steve Vai: Sex & Religion

 
1993

The only album on this list that is not his, but since he is the lead singer on this Vai album, it would be stupid not to include it - especially since this marks his deflowering so-to-speak on the metal/rock scene.
 


Frank Zappa discovered Steve Vai, and then Steve Vai discovered Devin. Makes perfect sense.

There are only two songs that totally stick out, and they are "In My Dreams With You" and "Still My Bleeding Heart"; "Down Deep Into the Pain" is solid. The rest is the usual forgettable Vai stuff. Considering that enfant horrible Desmond Child co-wrote some of the songs, it is nothing short of miraculous that there was ANYTHING of quality. Child wrote some of the worst songs of the past century, for junk-meisters such as Aerosmith, Cher and even the World's Worst Band, Bon Jovi.

I remember the first time I saw Vai's "new singer". He looked so smug, like some hyperactive poseur whose 15 minutes of fame would end real quick. I thought he was such an asshole, a young attention-seeking brat; one of my bigger blunders when it comes to instant character assessments. He changed that utterly wrong initial impression quickly through an interview they both did which showed what a character he is, not to mention when he started releasing his own stuff a few years later.

This is what Steve Vai had to say in a 1993 interview for German Metal Hammer: "Devin is a strong personality, and has the lead-singer syndrome: he needs to become famous at all cost. He is a real exhibitionist, takes his pants off on stage, stuff like that. There is a certain shock value there. I gave him some money for CDs - he came back with Fear Factory, Fudge Tunnel, Cannibal Corpse, this really heavy underground stuff." How times have changed.


Barely 21 at the time, DT most probably agreed to sing for Vai because he needed the cash to start off his own projects, make name for himself in the industry, pick up some much-needed experience on the big stage etc. Whatever his reasons, it turned out to be a springboard for far greater and bigger things, such as the building of his own studio, the forming of his own label i.e. artistic independence, although he had to wait a few years until it all started panning out. This CD put him on the map, in a sense. Certainly for me this album was important inasmuch as that his immense vocal abilities didn't escape my attention. And this was without me even knowing at the time that he also writes music, plays guitar on a level not far from Vai, and enjoys extreme and ground-breaking metal. I had no clue what a mind-blowing talent this guy would turn out to be until the first SYL album came out and knocked my socks off.




22. Transcendence: Disk 2

 
2016
  
Progressive metal, pop metal.

The main album review you can find elsewhere on the list.

The bonus disk is almost solely made up of filler material, especially songs 3 to 6 which are quite mediocre, some of them even reaching crap levels. 

"Gump": Aside from an interesting riff during the mid-section there isn't much here apart from solid averageness. Who knows, I might change my mind. The song has a slight hint of potential, perhaps this can evolve.

"Celestial Signals": A mellow one with strong poppy touches. Kind of Devy-dreamy, but the song fails during the chorus. It's almost as if the chorus was written by modern-era RHCP, in the sense that it sounds so damn stupid but is catchy in a sort of cretinous way; hard to describe; just don't think that the song even remotely sounds like RHCP, that's not what I'm saying. But what do I know; some people are already referring to this as the bonus disk's highlight. Basically it has the same diagnosis as "Failure": good set-up, weak chorus. 

"Support the Cause": Another heavier track, but don't get your hopes up. The vocal melodies are mediocre, slightly cheesy. Not power metal cheesy, more rock-cheesy. I'm not too crazy about the song's plodding "groove" either. Just very forgettable, a real filler.

"Into the Sun": More metal riffing; the song is borderline thrashy in its set-up. The chorus is a different story: quite poppy. Again Devin gives us uninteresting vocal tunes, tinged with too much mainstream commercialism - during the chorus - for my (exalted) taste. 

"Time Overload": And now on to the album's biggest stinker. This is like some lame-ass rock band trying to write a pop hit. Pretty horrible, mostly due to Devin's shitty vocal lines, and I mean the part when he sings "time, you give me time overload". That's puke-worthy almost, just as bad as "Offer Your Light". The chorus is shitty too, so this song pretty much sucks from top to bottom. Not really enjoying the cheesy 80s-like keyboard sounds/effects either; that's the sort of shit the crappiest electro-pop bands of that era used with reckless abandon. Speaking of abandon, I thought the rock world had abandoned that shit?

"Lexus": A simple, heavy Deconstruction-like riff opens the song, then gets interrupted by a highly cheesy part sung by Anneke. Then comes a chart-sounding chorus which isn't bad like the several choruses this bonus disk had already forced us to sit through, but still not better than average. At the latest at this point it becomes clear that the main disk and the bonus disk have very little in common, especially quality-wise. For once it seems Devin had chosen the best tracks for the main disk and left all the mediocre stuff for various bonuses - a first. It's kind of like a two-edged sword though: on the one hand I'm glad that selection-process made the main album as strong as it is, but on the other hand it ruined the expectation of finding yet another "ignored" gem, the way "Perspective", "Watch You" or "Juno" for example were.

"Farther On": Finally a song that's more akin to what we expect from Townsend. Not great, but this one has potential and pleases the ear, at least to an extent, on the first listen already. A fresh of breath air after a whole string of stinkers/mediocrities.

"Victim": Well, I certainly didn't wish this to be the album's best track, but it is. A very enjoyable remake of a much-ignored song from the much-maligned and vastly underrated Physicist album. It's never a good thing when your old material shines brightest when sitting in the company of new material. The new version is very interesting because of its use of keyboards: either a new part added, or not heard in the original mix (which Devin hates). Unfortunately, the song ends too soon, seems kind of underdeveloped. Perhaps I get that impression because most of the tracks before it are more structured, whereas this is just basically a simple thrash metal number. I am fairly amazed that Devin chose a thrash song - of all things - to re-do along with "Truth". Quite a strange choice, but a good one. Of course, there isn't much room for failure when it comes to picking songs from his early back-catalog; it's filled with gems.

"Monkey Mind": A proggy instrumental, unfortunately of the kind that countless band had already recorded. The riffs, the solos, the structure and the overall feel remind me of so many prog-metal cliches. A monkey's mind? I'd expect Devin to make a monkey appear a lot more interesting, original and nutty than this. A more appropriate title might be "Cow's Mind". This might sound "weird" or experimental to people who haven't heard much prog metal, but to fans of prog this isn't likely to provide anything really exceptional to chew on.

"Canucklehead": Obviously a joke song, but unfortunately the music is a joke too: straight-forward rock'n'roll played with heavy distortion, that's all this is, somewhat reminiscent of Punky Brusters. One big fat cliche. Perhaps the lyrics are amusing (I have no clue; I almost never read them), but I've never been one to get excited about the lyrics if the music stinks. It's such a stereotypical tune that I was at first convinced that it was a cover song from some shitty 70s rock band or something. 

"Loud": An ironically titled song - the mellowest track - closes this disappointing disk. I wish I could say something positive about it, other than that it's better than most of the songs that preceded it. 

The first track already hints that disk 2 isn't notably mellower than the main disk, as was the case with Epiclouder and Casualties of Cool's extra disk. However, it is more commercial-sounding than the main disk by a fair margin. The bonus disk is really just for people who really need to have everything someone records, and for fans who don't mind when he crosses the cheesiness line too far. The bonus disk really won't impress anyone except the most devoted and fanatical fans.
 



21. Epiclouder

 
2012

Pop, rock, progressive metal.

This is the bonus CD from the studio album Epicloud. I've decided to include it here as a separate entity due to the fact that it is on a separate disk, it's fairly different from the main disk, etc.

This is supposed to be a collection of demo leftovers, but none of these tracks sound anything like demos. The sound is more than solid, quite far from the bare-bones rawness one gets to hear at the demo stage of an album. The style meanders between Epicloud and Ki. i.e. between good and shit.

"Believe" is the kind of ballad that could have been on Ki i.e. it is little better than average. Does have a hint of quality to it, but overall this is discard-into-the-corner kind of material.

"Happy Birthday" is just as soft, but more lively and better written. Anneke's voice makes a difference, as so often. Quite commercial, just as the title would suggest. 

"Quietus" is possibly the best song but only due to its excellent chorus, the bit sung by Anneke. It first appears at 2:44, and repeats again later. I have a bone to pick with Dev's song-arrangements; there is very little on offer until the chorus - which appears much too late. It should come in after a minute or so and be played 3 times.


"Heatwave" is yet another semi-excursion into rockabilly, very similar in that sense to "Trainfire" from the shitty Ki album. What Devin sees in generic rock I don't know, but I don't see why the hell someone as musically gifted as he is would ever waste his time on 50s sounds. Still, the non-rockabilly chorus is quite solid. Astoundingly, this is a fan favourite, because fans voted for it to be played on the request-set portion of the Ziltoid DVD gig.

"Love Tonight" is the first appearance of heavy guitars, which is a bit ironic given the title that could have come from a soppy Lionel Ritchie ballad. The airy guitars are a breath of fresh air after four pretty much acoustic songs. I would have preferred for the song to develop a bit. One of the modest highlights from this relatively modest collection of songs. It starts off vaguely reminiscent of the beginning to "Hyperdrive". I said vaguely. It's not the same riff.

"The Mind Wasp" is yet another acoustic track, but not in any way a ballad, and even has brief heavy-vocals parts. I suppose it isn't bad, but considering what is expected from his music, quite forgettable.

"Woah No!" starts off with a metal riff and heavy vocals, and continues that way, providing a much-needed change of pace from the almost persistent acoustic guitars of the previous songs. The most metal track on Epiclouder alongside "Socialization", and one of its highlights. Style-wise, it could fit into Infinity.

It seems that Devin writes his most/more original music when he cranks up the guitar, and usually tends toward the predictable and lame as soon as he switches off the distortion pedal. Just a general rule - which Ki fans I'm sure won't agree with.

"Love And Marriage" has a very amusing burp which comes out of left-field - and out of Devin's mouth - in an otherwise quite solid acoustic duet with Anneke. Gets more interesting in the second half.

"Socialization" sounds like a Ziltoid or Deconstruction leftover song - heavy, varied and fast - bearing little or no resemblance to the rest of this bonus disk, at least until the last few minutes when it slows down into dreamy ambiance. An OK song. Take note of the part 0:39-0:54 and how much it resembles the part 2:28-2:44 in the song "Triumph" off the Synchestra album.

"Little Pig" is amazingly enough the worst song here. I say "amazingly" because it is the only song from this bonus disk that he plays on the "Retinal Circus" DVD - and that's in spite of the fact that no songs from either Terria or Accelerated Evolution made their way on that gig! Sometimes I simply don't understand his choices. He chose to close off a 3-hour extravaganza with what is essentially one of his worst songs. It may have fit into the set thematically, but musically it is a dud. Cheesy, unoriginal, corny kitsch. The only horrible song on this disk.


Devin's increasing tendency to write lame pop songs (as opposed to excellent pop-like songs such as Life, Sit in The Mountain or Christeen) is perhaps a result of being voluntarily brainwashed by garbage such as Lady Ga Ga and Adele. He has admitted that he like some of their music. I am fine with quality pop, sure; who with an iota of taste doesn't love ABBA, Ladytron or Bjork? But does it have to be generic corporate pop of the shittiest kind? Perhaps it's no wonder Ki sucks so much and why so much of this bonus disk is just average considering that he pollutes his ears with shit such as Lady Ga Ga - and Ke$ha even. But I've always said that Devin has a very unusual taste in music, often surprising me with baffling praises. "Meshuggah is the best metal band in the world" is one of the most notorious ones.

Oh well. Definitely not a priority when it comes to Dev's discography, without any major songs but fairly consistent, i.e. with very few bigger dips in quality.





20. Casualties Of Cool

 
2014


Country blues, pop, blues rock, ambient.

"COC is a record that I'm probably more proud of than any record I've done... but no-one will hear it; it's sort of creepy and quiet, not very exciting" - Devin, 2014 

While I am tempted to state that "most musicians and bands always praise their latest work as their best or most favourite" (which is so true), I do believe that Devin really means it, and that he might even hold this unusual opinion many years later. It is a very telling statement: he is definitely growing tired of playing metal.

This is a concept album. While I do find the premise thought-provoking and quite original, I want to remind the readers of this page that lyrics play a negligible-to-zero role in the ratings I assign to the albums: they only reflect the music. Hence, for many fans who like to immerse themselves in the lyrics - and in this case an all-encompassing story - COC will prove to be a better and more entertaining album than for me. Indeed, the lyrics and story are perhaps a welcome escape route from the mostly average music, to those lucky enough to be that interested in the lyrics.

The mood and the sound are much better than the song-writing - which is the essence of any album. This is the main issue I have with COC - other than the fact that some of the music here is not far from being lame adult contemporary (a suitably stupid-sounding name for a sub-genre that can appeal only to comatose adults and very sleepy young people; I've already defined this vastly overrated, useless, critics-darling genre in my review of the Deluxe Edition i.e. Disk 2).

Very well-produced, but occasionally boring, though generally pleasant. And therein lies the problem. Pleasant. That means: OK, solid, not bad, average, passable, decent, listenable - i.e. all the things that I don't seek out in music, especially his. We're surrounded by pleasant and OK music (not to mention garbage), so it's not exactly a feat of top-notch detective work to find some. Who has the time or interest to listen to average? What I always want out of music is awe-inspiring brilliance, that "wow" factor, something Devin's music usually evokes, but unfortunately there isn't much of that here.

Not to be confused with "Casualties of LL Cool J". That's an entirely different subject.

Possible motives. This project is driven by Devin’s nostalgia, a reliving of his childhood memories, at least that's the sense I get from his interviews leading up to COC; a time when he used to hear a lot of country music (and blues?). He is past 40 and becoming increasingly sentimental, which is perfectly understandable and normal. He is gradually mellowing down; he's not making a secret out of it but says it openly.

This kind of (d)evolution is an unavoidable evil, I guess, and it nearly always leads to a major dip in quality output. I’ve seen it in many gifted (metal) musicians; the difference is that Devin refuses to fake it i.e. play extreme metal just to make a buck. That’s at least something, and his fans certainly appreciate his honesty, but it doesn't change the fact that his music has been slowly but surely declining in quality since that awful little Ki album. Hopefully COC will prove to be the Ki that lead to Addicted or the Ghost that was followed by Epicloud, i.e. soft albums with weak song-writing that were followed with better music, and some much-needed "heaviage" (new word, no need to thank me).

If I were a musician perhaps I also would record an album that was reminiscent of “The Best of Muppet Show” because as a kid I used to listen to Kermit sing. Would I expect people to get excited over it? Not really. If my guitar skills were anywhere near Devin’s, would I waste my time on recording country rock or blues? Certainly not, partly because I think those are dead genres, way past their glory days: just like rockabilly, just like boogie, just like punk, just like any other worn-down, clichéfied and simplistic type of music whose narrow spectrum makes it nearly impossible to improve upon or flourish within it. (Not to mention adult contemporary, which never had any worth to begin with.) Of course, this isn’t a pure country blues album by any means. This modernistic country – which can barely even be considered country music – does not do much for me anyway. It’s pretty much countrified/bluesified pop, and has very little to do with what was played 100 years ago. Using slide guitar or "twanging" the strings doesn’t make you country.

Personally, I have a soft spot for bluegrass so I was open to whatever Dev had to offer in this general arena – i.e. broadly speaking since this is obviously not even vaguely bluegrass. While not such a disappointment as was the case with this album’s illegitimate older half-sister Ki, it offers much more average than great material, and doesn't reflect well enough what a ridiculously talented composer he is. Devin may not like this, but COC will not go down in history as one of his better works - not even close. Half of all those people praising COC as a masterpiece now won't even remember it exists in a few years time, I guarantee it. Due to the Pledge Campaign and the devotion of his fans, COC has received a certain amount of pre-release hype (if I can call it that), and we all know how hype can cloud people's judgment.

Trouble is, when you write an album with the goal of making it more-or-less country blues, you automatically limit yourself creatively because it isn’t a genre that allows for much experimentation or variety, even though there are a few unusual parts here and there (mostly in the album's 2nd half). The song-writing overall doesn't seem to be good enough to make up for that deficit, even though there are a few fairly catchy, even a few memorable tunes. It is by no means a mediocre album, and I very much recommend it with both thumbs up to fans of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash or Chris Rea.

COC strays well away from country blues occasionally, but not necessarily in a good way. When Dev gets overly self-indulgent (I underline the word “overly” because he is always self-indulgent - a good thing in his case because his single-minded self-indulgence is what makes him create great music) he turns to ambient music, which is on display here once again, and it’s a pity because ambient music is of course bullshit, 95% of the time; usually it only makes sense as background noise in mood films or when used very sparingly. When applied excessively and without accompanying imagery it has meaning and value only to very stoned hippies. Pop an LSD pill and any music will "reveal" its non-existent brilliance; this is called the "fill-in-the-blanks-yourself" approach, basically the same shtick used by Picasso, Pollock and other charlatans in the world of pop art.

Use of ambient. I certainly understand how the ambient parts compliment the story and amplify its content, but they do this at the expense of the music. This lyrics-music trade-off is sometimes a problem with concept albums, when the lyrical content starts outweighing the music - something I never support. But that's just me, I know many will disagree - especially yuppies, metalhead wannabes, metal-hating hipsters, and drowsy business-school students, i.e. Devin's new Ki-drooling fans whom I refer to as the new softies.

The elements of ambient don't help much on COC. They do add mood, but also tedium. I understand that he wanted to create some sort of “dark country” with a particular type of atmosphere, but ambient music can’t even compliment itself, let alone gel with pseudo-country in any meaningful or flowing way. The ambient parts pretty much come out of left field, and simply do not fit in with the more straight-forward material here. Ambient may be fun for Devin to create, but not necessarily for us to listen to (at least those of us who never use acid pills to enjoy music).

As I pointed out earlier, I fully support all of Dev’s excursions into soft-ass territory, not only because I sometimes listen to that kind of stuff but simply because I know he needs to mellow out occasionally in order to re-charge his batteries i.e. accumulate enough energy to yet again awe us with some innovative, bombastic, progressive metal (or pop metal). Perhaps will be the great comeback, the way Addicted was and the way Epicloud almost was. If turns out to be weak though (which I doubt), then we can already place Devin as a musician past his prime. In that case the mainstream-loving yuppies can have him. 

More about Devin's fan-base: 

Hipsters love this sort of mellow, (mostly) unadventurous music, not to mention blues rock and ambient minimalism, and this current scenario in which Devin is gaining an army of lobotomized hipster fans and bored pop-bred housewives horrifies me a bit, not because I have anything against them but because their support for this (mostly) average kind of music will only encourage him to continue making even more of it, eventually abandoning fresh and original music altogether i.e. metal in favour of this bland brand of mainstream. Hopefully this isn't in the works. The cosmos can't be that evil. No, wait. It is.

The only upside to this recent influx of hipsters is that by being drawn into Devin's world through average/mediocre stuff such as COC/Ghost/Ki, these hipster yuppies and students will be exposed to Dev's back catalog - the kind of innovative, wonderful music they'd most likely never been subjected to before. Whether they will be able to comprehend it - or indeed whether the Hipster Rule Book even has any loop-holes allowing for aggressive metal - is a different matter. Being brought up on garbage such as DJ Moby and Kanye West can have a debilitating effect on the ears.

As for Dev's older fans, there is no sense in some of them forcing themselves to worship this album – just to “prove” that their taste in music is as eclectic as Devin’s extremely varied output. (I am not saying some of them can't truly enjoy it.) Many comments/reviews about COC on the net lead me to believe that some older fans are trying very hard to enjoy COC/Ghost/Ki just to avoid being angry at Devin, or to avoid being disappointed or whatever. That's friggin' childish.

Which brings me to "religious fundamentalism" in music. Some fans are starting to behave like Heaven's Gate loons. Nothing strikes me as more pathetic or silly than when these fanatically devout Devinians indulge him in anything he records, praising it to high heaven - regardless of whether the music delivers or not. Some people had decided that COC was a brilliant album before it even came out! That's the level of zealotry and insanity we're talking about here. I will have no part in that. I worship the music, not its creator. If a "god" fails, then he needs to be informed of his failure by his loyal subjects. Kissing his ass on fan pages/sites regardless of whether he releases a gem or just a regular piece of rock (pun very intentional) is frankly embarrassing. Besides, I am convinced Devin would rather hear honest opinions (such as this one) about his music than sycophancy accompanied by excessive drooling and a brown tongue. Unlike Axl Rose and others of that narcissistic "caliber", Townsend isn't in this primarily for his Ego. 

The Songs:

“Daddy” is a very catchy "up-tempo" track, definitely one of the highlights, a song that grows on you, especially when that divine chorus kicks in. Straight off the bat my assumption that he badly needed a female singer on COC is confirmed because Aimee sings wonderfully during the chorus - not to mention the fact that Devin's voice isn't really suitable to either blues or country (which is why he wisely takes more of a backseat on COC). In fact, this trend of hiring women to sing on his recent albums has proved to be a tremendous boost to his music. As long as he doesn't hire Celine Dion he can do this for all of his upcoming albums. After all, he must want female singers, not transgender police-car sirens.

“Mountaintop” is precisely the kind of “new Devin” I didn’t want to hear. It’s the uninspired and cliché Devin from the Ki phase. The chorus in particular is weak. There is however a brief nice part, 2:30-3:07. The rest is below par. 

“Flight” is a solid, pleasant, moody, sentimental-ish song, but ultimately one-dimensional, un-varied, and driven by an unoriginal guitar line. Not exactly Devin at his song-writing peak. Aimee's voice does help, however; her soft, soothing vocal delivery is just perfect for this kind of music. I suppose this is the kind of song that would gain strength if used wisely in an appropriate movie. 

“The Code” is mostly average. Another disappointment. Uninteresting vocal melodies, boring bluesy guitar parts. The 2:41-3:11 part does feature an excellent Aimee moment, however; this segment sticks out totally and begs the question: why was this melody used only once in an otherwise forgettable track? More of a "happy" song, if I can use a dumb label. Calm yuppie blues, I call this. Not a fan. 

As usual, the cover and booklet look great. Evokes memories of the movie "American Astronaut". I wonder if that movie had any influence on the writing of COC. Or perhaps he was inspired by a short Moebius comic-book (no, not "graphic novel", you dweebs) story with a vaguely similar theme; I forget the name.

“Moon” is an improvement over the previous 3 songs. Lives off its mood, broadness of sound, and good female vocals rather than the song-writing which is once again not exceptional. Partly due to its use of the saxophone, the song is reminiscent of 80s pop - at least its second half - i.e. isn't in any way, shape or form a country song. One of a number of examples that defies the misleading country label assigned to COC. "The things that I really am drawn to are songs like Moon. I think that song’s really good. That’s one of the songs that I’ve done recently – maybe once it gets a little louder I lose interest in it – but that really sparse… like, you hit a note on a clean guitar that lasts for a long time while dissonant things happen, and then the vocals don’t say anything, but the intention says something… I really like that. But I’m in the minority. It seems like people really want you to yell." We sure do. Yelling beats 80s pop any time.  Believe it or not, he picked this song as one of his 12 all-time favourite DTP/SYL songs in a 2015 interview.


“Pier” is the totally unnecessary ambiental continuation of “Moon”. A pointless track, in part also because I don’t see how on Earth it has anything to do with “Moon” musically.  It's essentially typical New Age space music that might sound great within Kubrick's "2001", but outside of a movie not that useful.

“Ether” is another track that reminds of Leonard Cohen. In fact he is a more accurate comparison to COC than Johnny Cash, whose name was often thrown around leading up to the album’s release. That whole "hey we'll keep on moving" verse is fairly bad. I'm a little baffled that Devin would actually keep these kinds of melodies instead of throwing them in the bin where they belong. The bass-line is a cliché, but then again it's obvious that he wasn't really aiming for much originality with COC. Why even release a song that is so reminiscent of many others before it from other musicians? He should have dumped this on Norah Jones - for free. 

“Hejda”, which has a slight Latin flavor (I mean the real Latin American folk music, not friggin’ Jennifer Lopez), sounds like a left-over from the Ghost sessions. Partly ambient, it offers nothing much except a decent mood i.e. background music to read a book to (or pick your nose to). Slightly reminiscent around the middle of Bjork during her more experimental moments.

“Forgive Me” features some wonderful vocals and a rather “rainy weather” type of mood (as does much of the album). Devin boosts this country/blues song during the chorus with some airy vocals. Unfortunately, the song goes on for too long. The last few minutes contribute nothing essentially, basically drifting into yet more unnecessary ambient nonsense. 

“Broken” features a wonderful part i.e. 0:47-1:21 sung by a male choir, possibly the album's highlight. What a damn pity Devin chose not to expand on this melody i.e. compose a lengthier track centered around this great tune. Bad call, just like on "The Code". I do have to chuckle a bit whenever I hear the choir sing "don't" instead of "doesn't" - a rather worn-out rock/blues/country I'm-a-grammatically-challenged-John-Doe-regular-Schmoe cliché that one doesn't get to hear from choirs normally; I'm not sure whether Devin was being funny or not. I presume he was.

“Bones” is easily the worst song here. It’s the kind of radio-friendly piffle that I’d give to a boy band such as One Direction. On the other hand, Coldplay fans should love it. A lame ballad that is totally, utterly, completely (I do realize all these adverbs are synonyms) unworthy of Devin’s talent and reputation. I’ve heard hundreds of songs that sound like this, the charts have always been full of them, so I have no clue what he was thinking by “composing” i.e. rehashing this kind of mega-cliché for the zillionth time. 

“Deathscope” is one of those “the train keeps a-rollin'” kind of country songs, with slight experimentation added in. Not terribly original nor interesting. Its low potential and interest level drop even lower once the song switches gears into ambient music around half-way through – suddenly becoming a soundtrack to a horror or sci-fi film. I am convinced Devin would make a terrific horror-film composer, but that's not what I want to listen to on his albums.

“The Field” is another Chris Rea/Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits concoction. One of the better songs, but mostly due to the great sound of the female vocals, not the song-writing which is yet again merely solid and unoriginal. 

“The Bridge”, with a slight mid-Eastern tinge, is the lengthiest and least linear/stereotypical song, i.e. somewhat more experimental. 4:01-4:18 features one of the album’s highlights, its only sort-of heavy-riff moment which kind of repeats a few minutes later. I know, that makes me sound like a braindead metalhead, but it’s not my fault this album is in bad need of some power - to make it more dynamic i.e. less lethargic and yuppie-like. The song builds up nicely and will be the favourite track for many of Dev’s older fans, that I am sure of, especially for those who won’t overall be too happy with COC. 

"Pure" is similar to "Hejda", the album's only instrumental which closes off the album.

Ultimately, this is a solid album with several goose-bump-inducing moments, but there are just too many nothing-special songs that pull it down to the rating I gave it. If you're a fan of innovative music and have an excess of money in your pocket and you're wondering what music to spend it on, don't buy this CD. Instead, buy something from Dev's back catalog, from the Golden Age of Dev, i.e. 1995-2007, which is superior to this. 

RELATED MATERIAL: The Deluxe Edition i.e. Disk 2, is reviewed here as a separate album. However, there are two songs that didn't make it there even. They were released separately to people involved in the pledge campaign. "Cold Feet" is a forgettable mellow tune very much in the spirit of Disk 2. "Thing", however, is more in line with "The Bridge"; a lengthier prog rock song that even gets quite heavy in its later parts. I am sure some fans will make a fuss over it, perhaps partly as relief that he has another COC song that isn't standard blues rock, but this song while not bad and not laden with cliches isn't exactly noteworthy either.





19. Deconstruction

 
2011

Progressive metal, avant-garde metal, symphonic metal.
 

"When I did Deconstruction, I put a fart on there, and the metal elite or whatever got so bent out of shape about the fart that I put thousands of them on , because everyone is like (changes his voice to sound like a pretentious hipster): 'well, it's such a scatological thing' - and so I said oh well here's a ton of them." - Devin once again giving a middle finger to all the self-important dorks in the metal scene. If farts is what it takes to piss off metal elitists, then he should make fart noises a staple of his live sets and albums. 

Now, don't panic! In case the label "progressive symphonic metal" startled you, there is no need to get suspicious. I get you totally; it would have scared me away as well. Nowadays, genre labels in metal are so false and so misleading that any run-of-the-mill shitty "power" metal band (and they play cheesy pop music, may I remind you, not metal) gets to be called "symphonic" and "progressive" - if they so much as fart out a fusion-style keyboard solo in their entire catalog. But no fear, this CD is nothing like a generic pop album, I assure you, like all those bloody useless quasi-symphonic metal albums out there.

Not too crazy about this album though - especially in relation to how much I enjoy many of his other heavier stuff. I still like to listen to it now and again simply because it is so interesting, plus it does have its moments. A bit overrated by some fans who consider it a masterpiece - so what do I know? Nevertheless, and I rarely say this, but even though I don't find that much brilliance on the album in terms of song-writing, I can perfectly understand why some people consider this a masterpiece. It is a glorious exercise in mania, excess, and wild experimentation. I would have thought the heaviest album in the DTP series would be its best, but it turned out to be far from being the case. Deconstruction is the earlier Ziltoid sequel that might have been.

Yes, it's quite heavy, SYL-like here and there, interesting, dynamic, extremely unpredictable, weird, full of amazing tempo changes, varied and going off into all sorts of tangents. The enormous trademark DT wall-of-sound is there as well, more complex than ever. But somehow the most important element on any album - the song-writing - isn't up to DT's usual high standards. Songs 1-3 constitute the OK intro, songs 4-6 contain nearly all of the album's highlights, and songs 7-9 are a cacophonous letdown. These three sections are quite distinct, in that sense.

There isn't any one song that I am fully satisfied with, because Deconstruction has a similar problem as Synchestra, in the sense there are songs which are very up-and-down quality-wise. This means that this is an album I'd love to re-arrange, re-mix, chuck out the weak parts. But because Devin was preoccupied with making the album the pinnacle of complexity - as he pretty much said - the song-writing and arrangements had to suffer for it. 


Just look at that empty stare. (No, not Forrest, I mean Tom.) Even Tom Gump is hip to Devin's extraordinary diversity (I actually try to avoid using this word, because it's been so over-abused by brainwashed college-campus zombies). When the news of Devin's unpredictability managed to even penetrate the mind of Forrest Hanks, then you know there must be something to it.

The songs: 

"Praise the Lowered" builds into a heavy track from its mellow, reserved start. It is essentially nothing special, and is perhaps the least adventurous i.e. most linear song on the album - along with the next piece. Normally when he builds up a song like this, i.e. one that explodes into a heavy part, it works wonderfully, but not this time. He has described his falsetto vocals here as sounding like "a castrated monkey". I certainly believe a woman would have done a better job. I am not a believer in men singing like women or the other way around.

"Stand", a 9-minute song, sounds as if it could/should have potential, but for whatever reason doesn't get to truly shine, relying too much on a not-much-better-than-average riff to carry it through. The mellow middle section is particularly weak, perhaps the lowest point on the first 6 tracks. Similarly subdued as the previous track, which was intentional.


"Juular" is where the circus comes to town. It's playful, bombastic, original and fun, but nothing to make the hair on your back stand up. Very much a song in the Ziltoid vein, only not as good. Clowns, rock operas and sci-fi cartoons come to mind for some reason. Certainly an improvement after the previous songs. 

"The Mighty Masturbator" is the highlight, without any question - hands down. I am referring to the 4-minute middle segment which Dev refers to as "the techno part". His longest-ever song. The track starts off well enough, but soon goes into shit territory (4:23 to 6:44). After this very annoying vocal melody, the song suddenly does a 180 and spins off into that amazing middle part, from around 7:18 to 11:30. I consider this section as perhaps the most powerful piece of music Devin had ever recorded. (Then again, I am inclined to say that for another dozen of his song segments.) Every time I hear it my brain goes into overdrive; this is weirdo metal at its most exuberant - doesn't get any better than this. Devin jokingly compares the main riff to Rammstein. And what a stroke of genius to get the singer from Dillinger Escape Plan to scream on it; his voice suits it perfectly. What a pity this segment doesn't get repeated! What do I compare it with? TMM is like a long Wagner opera that bores you somewhat - until suddenly its hits you with something like "Ride of the Valkyries" and sends you into ecstasy. (A vague analogy, obviously.) "This part is fun, man, this whole section is a lot of fun", Devin said about this segment, and that's an understatement. The rest of the song is OK. Without a doubt a Frankenstein-monster kind of song consisting of a whole bunch of very different parts, rather than a cohesive whole.

So in a way TMM goes from one of the worst parts he'd ever recorded to one of the highlights of his career. This is an extreme example of how the quality of the music tends to vary on this album. You never know whether you're about to be (slightly) bored or amazed. And no, the song isn't about masturbation:

“There’s a lot of reasons why I made Deconstruction, but one of the predominant ones is there seems to be a fascination with complicated music that, typically, I don’t enjoy. I certainly don’t enjoy listening to it. Deconstruction’s purpose was to make that complicated statement about the futility of complicated statements. That’s why this is called The Mighty Masturbator – it’s such a masturbatory musical thing." 

"Planet of the Apes" is a similar though less extreme example of this. An 11-minute monster (though not nearly as good as DT's best mammoth-length songs). POTA does have a few excellent parts though: 3:32 to 4:05, and the absolutely sublime slow acoustic bit, going from 5:48 to 6:42 - the album's second-best moment; it's a pity this part doesn't get used more than once in the song - especially considering its length - but then again this is such a condensed album with so many different song ideas shoved together that some great melodies take a backseat, something that hurts the album overall. I've always been a proponent of the squeeze-a-great-idea-dry school of song-arranging rather than the sparing use of great melodies.



"We all rip off Meshuggah!" says one part of the song. Now, while that part does sound great, I am not so sure about how accurate it is; perhaps "we all yawn to Meshuggah" would be more appropriate. I never understood Devin's fascination with that band's utterly overrated crap. Who the hell rips off Meshuggah's monotonous anti-melody rhythm-fetish riffs? Who even listens to them? Who can truly distinguish one Meshuggah song from the others? 

"Sumeria" is one of the better tracks, even though it starts with an awful/cheesy (though thankfully brief and unrepeated) riff right at the start (0:00 to 0:12) that would make any power metal band proud. The highlight is the slow acoustic part that starts from 5:21 and ends the song; it sticks out in a fairly fun, solid but somewhat repetitive song. The main riff, I feel, should have been utilized with greater effect, perhaps sticking it in some other song, or building an entirely new song around it. The part from 1:46-2:10 always reminds me vaguely of "Sweet Dreams" by Eurythmics - which is so frigging odd because I recently found out that Devin refers to the song's early crunchy riff as "a combination of Morbid Angel and Eurythmics". Townsend had mentioned Eurythmics once as a band he liked as a kid (as did I). The slight similarity is more in the vocal rhythm than the actual melody. 

If you've seen the By A Thread DVD (a must-have), you might have wondered, "why is there a cartoon whale singing the guest vocals?". Well, it just so happens that Joe from Gojira sang that part, and Gojira's most well-known album has a whale on the cover: From Mars To Sirius is partly about saving the whales, you see. Devin stated he hoped Joe wouldn't be annoyed by it when he saw it. Hilarious stuff, as usual, from Devin. It might be From Mars To Sirius for Joe and the guys, but for Devin it's more like From Mars To Not So Serious. As a side note, always make sure to listen to Devin's audio commentary whenever there is any on his CDs and DVDs. They're pretty fucking hilarious and quite interesting.


"Pandemic" starts off the more forgettable last third of the album. It could have easily been an SYL track though, albeit a weak one. Very bombastic, adventurous, solid, fast, technically mind-boggling, but lacking something; I guess it gets overwrought in its own chaos. The shitty quasi-operatic female vocals of pop-metal siren Floor Jansen don't help; he should have hired someone who doesn't sound like a regular cheese-producer in Europe's obnoxiously cheesy power metal scene. The choice of women to guest on his albums has been impeccable - with the very notable exception of Ms. Jansen. Her band Nightwish plays extremely generic pop layered with clean quasi-distorted guitars i.e. utterly unoriginal pseudo-metal for teeny-boppers who'd just outgrown their boy-band diapers and need an excuse to dress in black and look Goth.

Floor Jansen, portrayed as a hormonal cheerleader on the Deconstruction gig, from the By A Thread DVD. Word is out that she is quite the diva bitch, so the question isn't "was she offended by this?" but more like "how pissed off was she?" when she saw it. Hey, very few people can laugh at themselves the way Dev does.
He said he couldn't find any other female puppet. Was the Miss Piggy model sold out?
But I insult Miss Piggy. Floor, your singing stinks.

"Deconstruction" is disappointing as well; manic, experimental, interesting, but badly written. Just so many dull, atonal solos on the album. The title track is a haphazard 9-minute collection of 100 different song ideas crammed into one. There are moments of potential (such as the 4:49-5:28 part), but they're swiftly crushed by pointlessly wild arpeggios and general chaos. Sort of like if Frank Zappa started dabbling in thrash metal in one of his more exaggerated bouts of self-indulgence. The 4:16-4:34 part sounds like early Mr. Bungle.

"Poltergeist" starts off like SYL then drifts into "metal opera" or whatever. Again, too much chaos, too many meaningless atonal solos, too few musical ideas that stick in the ear. Devin pretty much admitted that he went over the top with the guitar wankery to parody it, in a way, but musically it didn't quite work out.

The 3rd album from the DTP series is definitely not one I would recommend to neophytes; 1) because of its complexity, and 2) because there are far better albums, and so many of them. I would nevertheless recommend this to any long-time metal fan, especially to musicians who are more concerned with technique than content. Certainly it's a must for true prog metal fans; true, as opposed to pseudo-prog such as those corny bands Floor Jansen sings for. It's an immensely complex album, even by DT's standards, and is great fun to watch it being performed on the excellent "By A Thread" DVD.

RELATED MATERIAL: Funnily enough, "Ho Krill" - a very good song recorded during the Deconstruction sessions - was not included. This mystifies me, because I consider this to be one of the highlights - or, rather, I would have considered it a highlight had it been included.
I certainly hope it wasn't omitted because its lyrics didn't somehow fit into the conceptual flow of the album or something of that nature; I am against music taking a backseat to lyrical considerations - and this is a conceptual album. It was released on the "Contain Us" box-set. My advice is to get this song, stick it onto this album with the rest of the stuff (unless you have it on audio CD). Btw, the song isn't about a whore called Krill. Devin doesn't do rap (I am almost convinced he hates it but is too polite to say it).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eDngElZBxQ





18. Ghost


2011

Ballad pop, adult contemporary, soft pop, ambient, New Age.


DT's most mellow album (it makes Ki sound like thrash) has absolutely zip to do with metal, or rock even, so if you're a 100% metalhead this holds absolutely no interest for you whatsoever. Strangely enough, Metal Hammer magazine described this as his "possibly best release" which means they should change their name to Ambient-&-Pan-Flute Hammer. Regardless of whether you loathe or adore this album, you should agree that it's absolute nonsense for a metal magazine to make such a ridiculous statement, especially in light of the plethora of metal classics he'd made by then. No wonder I've always hated that cretinous publication and the clueless assholes who run it; they were behind the times and full of shit in the 80s and 90s (enthusiastically supporting glam metal while barely showing respect for thrash i.e. actual metal, for example), and they still are.

Here's some concrete proof of very typical journalistic incompetence and a total lack of integrity. Even more concretely, proof that Metal Hammer always sucked. Smack in the middle of metal's Golden Age, the late 80s, whom do these nincompoops award the "Album of the Month" title? Fucking Bon Jovi, the cheesy pop group who aren't even hard rock, let alone metal, not to mention were, are and always will be the worst million-selling band of all time. So obviously Metal Hammer's opinion of Ghost should matter.

I was half-expecting this CD to be as dull as Ki. Fortunately, unlike that overrated non-event, Ghost surprised me with a few gems, namely "Fly" and the remarkable "Feather", the stand-out track and for me song of the year. These highlights are the reason Ghost didn't get a lower rating.

On the opposite side of the quality spectrum, there is the title track which is quite lame. I don't understand whom this kind of song can possibly interest. Happy-hippie-yuppie la-di-da fluff; totally glib. The fact it's the title track only adds an additional element of mystery: why is Devin all-of-a-sudden getting excited over such mediocre tunes? Baffling, to say the least.

The rest is certainly not bad, relatively listenable, but mostly too ambient-laden, repetitive, static, and with fairly average song-writing. "Blackberry" and "Texada" stick out a bit, offering a moment here and there, but nothing awe-inspiring.

"Monsoon" has a very airy kind of mood, a fairly pleasant track. Again, the sound is just right - but what about the song-writing? Nobody can tell me that the tunes in this pleasant flute-driven instrumental are particularly original or catchy. And yet, this is one of the better tracks here. 

"Dark Matters", unrelated to the Ziltoid sequel, serves as a brief, uneventful intro to "Texada". Another very average track.

"Seams", "Heart Baby" and "Kawaii" are the kind of boring, ultra-mellow ballads that probably have apathetic Coldplay fans sniffling with joy. If these songs were any mellower, they probably wouldn't even be audible to the human ear. One would need a hearing aid - which is fitting because this is music for the elderly. Personally, as someone who can't stand Coldplay and all bands that produce a similar sort of yuppie pop for the mass-market, I see these songs for what they are: cliché, mediocre tunes that go nowhere. The mega-softness alone is supposed to convey some sort of "depth" or "spiritual experience". Not a chance, because that is not how great music works. Song-writing is key. Chamber pop: who needs it? 

"As You Were" has a semi-decent chorus, but otherwise nothing special. Repetitive and with the exact same mood as most of the rest of this album. Variation isn't exactly a strong suit in this wee collection of mellow ballads, to say the least. You know you're in trouble when the sound of ocean waves and seagulls provides more for the ear than the music itself.  (I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy the sounds of the ocean and seagulls, but I prefer them first-hand, when walking along a beach.)

"Infinite" is another attempt at what I refer to as "soothing hypnosis" i.e. hypnosis-by-soft-repetition, and while it does sound very nice, it's nothing I can really latch onto and enjoy much. As a movie soundtrack this could work great - but this ain't a friggin' movie. It's an album.

A piece of advice for Dev's metal fans (and I am aware that I repeat myself here): don't force yourself to like everything he records. I have read many reviews of Ki, Ghost and COC in which fans are expressing their desire to "wish to love this album more". Now, that's hipster-talk. If you don't like something then you don't like it - there is no sense in pretending or trying hard to like it just to appease the "inner Devin". That kind of absurd devotion borders on religious fanaticism. Devin may be a music god but even gods are lead astray by their own little foibles and confusions. With Ki, Ghost and COC he has proven that he is human after all, and that not all his career decisions are kosher. Not everything he records is brilliant, people.

The production is ideal (for this kind of thing) but neither it nor the dreamy instrumentation that fortunately includes flutes (that add a lot mood-wise) can make up for the occasionally uninteresting melodies. The total lack of heavy guitars make the album one-dimensional in a sense, i.e. offering the listener a limited array of flavours - which is not how Devin used to make his music prior to DTP. 

By being persistent in his goal to create an album totally devoid of metal and rock influences he limits the music, narrows its scope, and essentially downgrades it. A heavy part here and there - even if only sparsely used - would have added some much-needed dynamism and power. Of course, heavy guitars alone would not have elevated this album enough because the song-writing is mostly mediocre.

Perhaps Ghost is more suitable as background music for while you pick your nose or channel-change (or both if you've got them down to a science and you can multitask). Perhaps it requires you to sit atop a mountain to fully appreciate it. Perhaps it needs you to shove an LSD pill down your throat to fully understand it. For what it is, the album is very well-made, but just isn't the kind of music I seek because I need music to be an experience and not just something to blend into the background, which was more the aim here. At least half of the album is merely pretty wall-paper, not much more. Because of this wall-paper quality, this material would be much more effective as a movie soundtrack. 

An indicator for future projects?

Are the soft and commercially accessible albums such as Ghost, Ki and Casualties of Cool indicators of what DT wants to do in the future? Absolutely. He mentioned several times that Ghost was his favourite part of DTP, and that COC is his most favourite project ever. In the "By A Thread" DVD interview he also said that he's pushing 40 and doesn't have the same edge that he had at 23.

So what else is new? Nearly everybody eventually runs either out of ideas or energy, or both. Let's just hope he's got a few more great (heavy) albums still in him, to ask for more than that would be almost ludicrous, considering his age and this very evident mellowing out (musically-speaking) which is frankly starting to annoy a lot of his older fans such as myself. From 2009 to COC, half of all his output essentially consists of pop albums.

His desire to ideally tour by strumming away at the bass guitar in the background is frankly typical of this gradual devolution. Why would a terrific guitarist/vocalist such as Dev waste his time playing bass?! The best explanation I have for the recent bass obsession is that the physical and emotional stress of touring as a rhythm/lead guitarist/singer for so many years is becoming a strain. This, of course, is understandable. I wouldn't last 5 gigs.

It is becoming increasingly obvious from interviews that playing accessible music places a lot less stress on him, since it is both physically and mentally less demanding i.e. draining, hence why he is increasingly looking to record that kind of stuff. That's what I refer to as the blues syndrome, i.e. it's a lot of fun to play the blues - but it's usually damn boring to listen to others play it. Simply put, he enjoys playing the mellow stuff, but it just so happens that this kind of music holds much less for the more demanding listener. His newer fans - most of whom are the earlier-mentioned new softies - should be thrilled with this musical regression though. Their ears cannot process anything heavier than a Rolling Stones song, so they have both thumbs firmly pointed up in support of the Ki/Ghost/COC direction.

If I had a way of influencing Dev's musical direction (through hypnosis, for example) I'd make him leave the Ghost/Ki/COC kind of stuff for when he's 50+. He's still far too young to go into a "metal pension", playing tunes that even grannies can enjoy.

Still, you gotta appreciate this unheard-of versatility and the very wide range of musical interests, and I can certainly understand his urge to play some "normal" music for a change, after years of extreme metal and so many tours with SYL. Speaking of which, how many musicians on this planet can boast of having albums as diverse as City and Ghost in their music catalog? They are as different from one another as music can possibly be. Sort of like ABBA having an album that sounds like Cannibal Corpse or vice versa. 

New guest singer 

The excellent female vocals are provided by the very mysterious Katrina Natale, who can't be googled and who didn't even bother to appear on the London "By A Thread" gig, which annoyed me. I can't imagine what more urgent business this totally unknown woman could have had that week that she couldn't make it to London to help Devin out - and the same goes for Ki's Aimee. Frcrissakes, duh. As a result of her very notable absence, and the nature of the music itself on Ghost, that gig is by far the least enjoyable of the four.

For fans of Devin's more mellow side, "Unplugged" is a must. It is a recording of an acoustic UK gig from 2011. It features mostly Ghost and Ki tracks. Very well produced.

RELATED MATERIAL: One of two(!) absolutely terrific songs that weren't included on the album is "Watch You". It is to be found in the "Contain Us" box-set. I don't know why he left this one out, I really can't understand it at all, since it is better than all the songs apart from "Feather". This album could really have used another highlight. "Radial Highway" is another unused Ghost song from this box-set, but that one is quite mediocre. "Saloon" is OK as background music, but unexceptional.


Furthermore, another four Ghost sessions songs, initially planned to be released as Ghost 2, ended up on the COC bonus disk. One of them is the other very good song Dev inexplicably left out, called "Perspective" - reviewed earlier - which would have been a great boon to an otherwise nothing-special album. "Perspective" and "Watch You" (substituting two weak songs), coupled with "Fly" and "Feather", would have made Ghost a far better, stronger album. So it's not necessarily that Devin forgot to write great songs for this project, as it was more a case of poor song selection on his part. An album with these 4 tracks would have received 4 stars from me. "Drench", "Mend", and "Moonshine" are the other three songs from the Ghost sessions that got released under the COC monicker. I discussed them already; they're all mediocre or crap. "Fall" is a track that's part of an unreleased Ghost 2; it's an atmospheric song, very slow, brooding and typical of these sessions. Not bad, but not above average either.

Who knows. This album might grow on me in a few years - if I become a sandal-wearing hippie or a drowsy yuppie. At the moment (aside from the highlights) I find it fairly uneventful.

Great cover.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iuwY4s7AuY



 
17. Strapping Young Lad

 
2003
 
Thrash, industrial, progressive metal, extreme metal. 

"Recorded at the same time as SYL, I frankly was about a thousand times more interested in (Accelerated Evolution) than SYL." - DT. 

It's obvious that Devin had lost a lot of his interest in playing and recording for SYL, having focused more on his other, "softer" projects. He wrote and recorded these two albums at the same time, and the results of this large dis-balance of interest are obvious; like day and night in almost every way.

The weakest SYL release. On its own, this is not a bad album at all, but after City it was a major drop.

It does have its killer highlights though: "Relentless" and "Aftermath", songs 3 and 5, are as top-notch as anything SYL had ever released, but they stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of the material, apart from the brief intro "Dire". Ironically, it was tracks 3 and 5 that were the only weaker ones on City i.e. the total reverse. 

"Aftermath" in particular steals the show. It features a lengthy fast thrash part in the second half which is one of the grandest moments in SYL's rich catalog. I recommend to any metal fan to watch it being played live on UK's Download Festival which can be found on the "1994-2006 Chaos Years" DVD. 

"Consequence", "Rape Song" and "Devour" have their moments, I guess, but lack the "wow" effect I'm so used to from this band.

"Last Minute" is quite weak. "Dirt Pride" might even be the fiercest song on the album (no, not like "Sascha Fierce") but the riffs simply aren't that interesting. "Force Fed" doesn't have much going for it either; the chorus was supposed to be grand in the best DT tradition but it somehow doesn't quite work, perhaps partly due to the atypically modest production; it's the sort of song that would have greatly benefited from a big wall of sound.


The side of Dev that certain Ki fans are in denial about.

Even the production is weaker than on the previous albums. Jed Simon and Gene Hoglan wrote some of the songs - that's how relatively disinterested in SYL Devin was at the time. Devin stated that he "wrote 95% of the material" but that he left most of the production and playing to Byron, Jed and Gene. Jed in fact recorded all the guitar parts, I believe - at least all the rhythm parts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rqn_otVoNU




16. Z² - Dark Matters


 
music

 
story & lyrics

2014

Progressive metal, avant-garde metal, comedy rock. 

Before I get to the album, let me just inform you that unlike many other early reviewers of I did not participate in the Universal Choir (I didn't even know such a thing was planned) hence might offer you a more objective i.e. less uncritical commentary about both albums. There are reviews out there that praise to high heaven every single song on Dark Matters and Sky Blue (right after the reviewer boasts about being part of the choir) - which kind of strips a review of its usefulness, right? A little more objectivity, please. I am not a journalist but a fan, so perhaps I can be trusted a little more. Just a little.

It can't make sense to anyone with a gram of common sense to review as a whole, considering the vast difference between disks 1 and 2 - in terms of style, and even quality to an extent. This is Devin literally releasing two different albums in one go, under one name. Whether he makes more or less money doing this, I don't know, but it's certainly a very unusual move. Two albums instead of one? I ain't complaining!

Some of the people who might be complaining are 18 year-old Burzum fans who actually believe that Varg's minimalist drivel is the height of metal artistry. So if you're one of those confused tards who worship dilettante Orc wannabes, do yourself a favour and stay away from Dev's entire discography. In fact, what are you even doing on this blog? 

Dark Matters has somewhat of a U-curve: it starts well with several good tracks and ends well with a few strong ones, but has a flawed middle consisting of a string of three weak songs. There is only one track on Dark Matters that is outstanding, but there are many other great parts strewn across the album: a bit here, a bit there. The album works more as an entertaining whole – which was the intention given its conceptual nature – and less as a collection of individual songs. In fact, Devin wasn't even that interested in making the music for Ziltoid; he just needed an excuse to play around with puppets and musicals again. 

There is plenty of stylistic variation, as expected, just as on the 2007 album, but is overall softer than ZTO. Certainly there is no trace of the (perhaps jokingly) announced "heaviest thing I've ever written". Dark Matters may have the zaniness of ZTO and Deconstruction, but the sound is very polished and the thrash elements are toned down - unfortunately. I would have preferred a somewhat more aggressive album which would have created starker contrasts between balladesque and very heavy segments; this contrast is to be abundantly found on its 7 year-old predecessor, less so here. This new Ziltoid record goes to show that Devin has mellowed out somewhat during his DTP phase - i.e. during these 7 years - which Ki/Ghost/COC anyway abundantly prove on their own. 

“Z²” is the appropriately bombastic opening to this circus of a metal album. That brief little melody starting at 0:49 reminds me of a part from the “After Hours” soundtrack, a 1986 Scorsese comedy; I doubt this was intentional. The song’s highlight is the fantastic-sounding choir, of course.

“From Sleep Awake” is all over the place, and contains an unfortunately much too brief but utterly beautiful melody that starts at 0:33, followed by female vocals that are - in hindsight – sorely missed on Ziltoid the Omniscient. I wish Devin had expanded on the aforementioned melody because it would have turned this song into something amazing. But, there you go; this is a musical, so some melodies and parts are just insinuated and briefly touched on rather than explored in detail. You gotta take the good with the bad when it comes to Ziltoid. Fortunately, there is little bad to have to endure. 

“Ziltoidan Empire” is another extremely colourful track that needs time to digest and sort out in one’s brain. It has some good parts but overall doesn’t have quite the quality of the two preceding tracks. The 0:16-0:28 part reminds me of the chorus in Soundgarden's "Blow Up The Outside World". It features a very brief – and in this context very refreshing – thrash riff at 5:41 that makes one wish there were more of these heavy parts to contrast with the softer bits. Dark Matters is essentially an action-packed sci-fi comedy, so additional dynamics would have helped. 

“War Princess” has the best beginning of any song on the album - and by that I mean the part starting at 0:43 when the War Princess finishes her last line of dialogue and the music starts. It is a totally simple but powerful intro to a generally very good song, especially as Dominique’s Anneke-like voice kicks in. "You're part of me" is just such a weird segment. She is ideally suited for this material, btw. After the (fun) chaos of the first three songs, WP sees the music starting to settle down into clearer, somewhat less unconventional structures; after a string of weird songs full of breaks and surprises, this is the first linear track. There is a very cute and amusing moment when the poozers all sing "we shall follow" in response to Dominique; I love that part. Is that the choir singing "Sieg heil" from 3:49? Can't be, I must be imagining things. I thought perhaps the Poozers are being jokingly compared to Hitler's stormtroopers. 

Dominique Lenore Persi, the War Princess, from a band called Stolen Babies; an appropriately colourful character to join Devin's space circus. Devin has such a knack for picking out great female vocalists - and it certainly doesn't hurt that some of them are nice to look at as well.

“Deathray” continues the album’s more simple musical approach. However, it is a problematic track because the riffs are so generic, and the vocal melodies are just as uninteresting. Unfortunately, Dev chose dull stereotypical riffs to carry this song which is why I consider it to be the album’s weakest. By no means awful, but it does baffle more than a little that this one leaked first on YouTube. To lower the excessively high expectations of Devin’s faithful legions, perhaps?

“March of the Poozers” reminds me too much of some of the weaker material on Deconstruction. Considering what fun role poozers play in the story, one might have expected “their song” to be a highlight rather than a lowlight of the album. 6 minutes of the same thing over and over (ironically on an otherwise mostly very non-uniform album) – and again Devin opts for an average melody to carry a simpler-structured song. Why? Even the powerful choir can’t help here. On the other hand, the song was written in a particular rhythmic way so as to evoke images of poozers marching off to war, so in that sense the song succeeds, I suppose.


Call me nuts, but this is how I first envisioned the poozers. Robert Crumb's sexually devious, retarded snoids.

“Wandering Eye” is mostly dialogue, not so much music, its purpose being more to serve the story than the music – which I never agree with btw, but then again this is a musical. Whatever music there is, isn’t particularly noteworthy. If nothing else, WE marks the end of the album’s fairly weak middle section.

“Earth” is perhaps the most complex song, bringing us back to yet more unpredictable structure; it's all over the place and requires countless listens in order to unfold properly in the ears of the listener. I still don’t know what to make of it, other than to say it's interesting. The song starts off with a guitar part (which repeats at 6:11) which is a variation on a fairly well-known classical-music piece – I just can’t remember which one! It might be Prokofiev or Stravinsky, but I’m just not sure if it’s either of them, let alone which composition. I am almost convinced Devin did this on purpose and would be able to tell us whose/which melody it is.

Actual poozers. They're pink.


“Ziltoid Goes Home” gives the listener a kick in the ass with its unexpected fast-thrash segments. This is followed by a powerful choir part which includes a very brief segment that reminds me of a vocal line from the first SYL album (1:47-52 & 4:01-4:07); I just can’t remember yet which song. Speaking of which, ZGH is the heaviest track, resembling SYL in spots. Only after hearing and seeing this song on the Royal Albert Hall DVD did I realize how great it is. 

“Through the Wormhole” isn’t a song; it is a dialogue piece, and quite entertaining as well. Every time I hear Dev say “I signed it with pencil, with my left hand - I mean you’re just so dumb it hurts” I have to laugh. There are other amusing parts, as well.

“Dimension Z” is a similarly melancholic yet grand-sounding ending that “The Greys” provides on the first Ziltoid album, and just like that song this one is also an album highlight, the best track even; great choir recording. Remember how the accountancy movie opens and later invades the main feature in Monty Python's "Meaning of Life"? Well, in a way it's as though Sky Blue makes its return with this song, because both in style and lyrical content the song could easily have been included on that album; musically it has nothing to do with the 9 previous songs on Dark Matters. Hence it's a suitable way to close off the double album.

Related Material: There is a disk 3 on the digipack version of . It features Dark Matters without the dialogue. In other words, Devin had anticipated some people's annoyance with the many spoken bits.
This dialogue-free version is a must-have, because focusing sometimes on just the music makes for a fairly different listen.

The narration. I am a little baffled that Devin didn't do the narration himself, because he is naturally funny, plus he did a better job on the first Ziltoid than the Dark Matters actor he hired for the job. But that's just a minor point. I also don't consider Chris Jericho's input - especially his unfunny fake English accent - to be particularly good; he does a solid job but many other people would have been better. His lines start wearing off after a few listens and start becoming irritating which isn't the case with Dominique and Dev, for example. Chris is one of those over-exposed celebs (but I could also say "media whores") who should be avoided rather than invited to guest on albums or TV shows. Dominique, however, did very well; you can tell she had a lot of fun doing this. Generally, the narration and the dialogue are very well-written and what's more important they don't get in the way of the music (except perhaps during a brief part in "Earth") - nor do they get tiresome after repeat listens.

Overall 1. Overall,  it’s a very fun listen, with the lyrics, the plot and dialogue playing an important role, even for me (who very rarely gives three shits about lyrics, themes, stories, concepts or even song titles). The story flows very well, so even a lyric sheet isn't necessary to follow what's going on. The whole sci-fi concept is so wonderfully laid-back, cheerful and unpretentious that listening to the album becomes a very comfortable experience, for lack of a better description.

Overall 2. Overall, it is clear that the high benchmark set in 2007 hasn't been reached with the sequel, at least not musically. Just as Sky Blue, this album is a bit derivative of Dev's older material; there are many parts that resemble this or that. Nevertheless, that isn't a reason to consider either album a disappointment - at all. Dark Matters is fun and that's all that matters. 

More related material: Dev's 2015 double-DVD is arguably his finest DVD yet, and that's saying something. Running at nearly three hours, the gig starts off with the entire Dark Matters set, after which the band play a best-of set chosen by fans on Facebook and Twitter. Aside from "Heatwave" and the execrable "Funny Animals", fans by-and-large made great choices. Get this fucker of a DVD, it is in fact of the highest quality in every regard.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJsNMuTQcwI




15. Strapping Young Lad: The New Black

 
2006
 
Thrash, industrial, progressive metal.

"I saw a really interesting analysis of the differences between DTP and Strapping the other day. It said DTP is like a really nice slick sports car and Strapping is the same car jumping off a cliff and getting hit by lightning!" - from a 2016 interview with The Independent

I wasn't at all thrilled by TNB when I first heard it. I felt (and still feel to the most extent) that this is a somewhat watered-down version of SYL, both in style and not-heavy-enough guitar sound. Plus, the song-writing isn't on par with what one usually got from this band. Only a few years later when I re-visited it did I find enough reasons not to consider it a major disappointment.

The problem with it is that there is only one killer track on it, "Almost Again", which is perfect from start to finish and which showcases Dev's vocal brilliance to the hilt. This song is quite different from the rest of the album; more somber, more energetic and devoid of the humour. There are a number of very good moments sprawled more-or-less thinly all over the album, kind of like Deconstruction and to a lesser extent Synchestra.

Speaking of which, a song like "Decimator" should have been on that album, or some other DTP or DTB project, as most of its parts aren't in the SYL mould at all. "You Suck" is almost as banal as its title would suggest. By no means crap, but not what I want from this band. "Hope", especially the first half, is the album's weakest song, being driven by a sluggish, dull riff. "Fucker" is certainly catchy, a little commercial-sounding for SYL, not to my taste. Too playful and "happy" for this band.

Still, there are a few other songs that can be singled out, and they are "Antiproduct" (especially the ending), "Monument", "Wrong Side" (excellent melodic part in the middle) and the title track. But none of those are without smaller flaws. I may seem like I'm nit-picking, but it's not my fault Devin raised the bar so high. 

"Plyophony", which is the intro to "The New Black", starts off with the same guitar melody as "Judgement" from Synchestra. Both albums were released in 2006, so it's probably no coincidence.

I won't include "Far Beyond Metal" because this is a much older song that had already appeared on a SYL live album several years earlier. Besides which, I prefer that version.

 



RELATED MATERIAL: I cannot talk about TNB without mentioning the VERY important EP that was recorded during the same sessions, called C:enter:###. (No, I didn't place my ass on the keyboard, that is the actual title.) It features a sublime thrash instrumental (the title track), and the best cover version that any thrash or industrial band has ever recorded of another metal band: "Zodiac" from The Melvins. DT's vocal performance on this mega-heavy song is one of his best ever, has to be heard to be believed. "Zodiac" is also featured on the Japanese version of Alien, and on the European version of The New Black. For me, song of the year.

"The Long Pig" is a very short bonus track that holds no interest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwuReRw23_0




 
14. Synchestra

 
2006

Progressive metal, prog rock.


"I actually quite like [Synchestra], but sonically it's very poor" - Devin, 2014

Synchestra is anything but "sonically poor", but this is one of numerous examples of Dev's fussiness i.e. almost deranged perfectionism when it comes to sound. If an album doesn't turn out sounding exactly as he had envisioned it, he isn't happy with the production. To us mere mortals, this production is more than satisfactory; in fact it is excellent.

If I had to compare this to any other album it'd obviously be Terria, for two reasons: both CDs are somewhat weaker than the others that had come out before them, and both are softer hence more accessible, more commercial-sounding. That's all relatively speaking, of course: this is not a pop or hard rock album and it certainly isn't weak music by anyone's standards, not even his. 

There is another similarity: both have the unfortunate tendency to blend in weak and great parts in a song. One difference, however, from Terria: Synchestra has most of its best parts somewhere around the middle of the (good) songs, whereas Terria has the best stuff usually during the early bits and/or end of the songs.

"Let It Roll" is a decent little tune, but not awe-inspiring by any means. Yet every time I hear it I get this distinct feeling as if one day I will love it; it's weird. Ki fans should warm to this though, because it's conventional and soft.

"Hypergeek" is a typical Townsend instrumental, serving more-or-less as an intro to the next track.

"Triumph" is where the fun starts. The beginning parts are merely OK, but this track really gets going at 2:28-3:43 with two brilliant melodies, one of which is fortunately repeated again at 4:54. At 5:20 there is a solid Steve-Vai-like solo, followed by another brief but nice melody. ***

"Babysong" starts off with an almost mockery of a melody, pop-sounding on purpose due to the lyrics. The song improves a bit half-way, but is nothing special by Dev's standards, though fairly pleasant. The good part starts as late as at 3:39 (when the Major scale suddenly switches to Minor) and goes on until the end of the track. Much better with Anneke on the mike, as shown on the Retinal Circus DVD.

"Vampolka" is really just a cute gag. Could have just as easily come from Secret Chiefs 3 or even Mr.Bungle. It's an intro to the following song.

"Vampira" is too heavy-metallish for my progressive/experimental taste. No fear, though: it's nothing nearly as bad as Judas Priest or Hammerfall. This song even features a brief Metallica-like riff at 1:49. One of the weak tracks though.

"Mental Tan" has DT written all over it (but don't they all?). Sort of like "Sister/A.M." from Ocean Machine, a bit on the meditative/ambient side. Works well as an intro to the next track.

"Gaia" is one of the best songs, a refreshing change after the fairly uneventful 4 to 7. Starts well, but the real fun begins at 2:25 (until 4:21) with several top melodies and a great vocal line.

"Pixillate" is a Mid-East-sounding song, not one of my favourites. Some overrated prog metal bands would love to have this on one of their albums, but for Townsend this is merely average.

"Judgment" is perhaps my favourite song on Synchestra. Unlike some of the others, one does not wait for the good stuff. It gratifies straight away. Huge guitars, and then at 1:45 some astounding screaming; if I made an "all-time Devin's scream list", this segment would be in the Top 5. Nothing new, of course; he's the best screamer there is. This part also reminds what a great ear for phonetic arrangement he has. The song gets a little diluted after the 4-minute mark with a touch too much fusion for my taste.

"A Simple Lullaby" is as grand as "Judgment" and more consistent; it works from start to finish, never lets up. A terrific, slow, Terria-like intro is followed by a typical DT explosion at 1:43. The song's highlight and one of the album's best moments comes at 3:36 and lasts until 4:30: huge sound, huge riff. This track is essentially an instrumental; it contains just a few lines of lyrics, but is layered with excellent singing parts and growls that play the role of an additional instrument. Perhaps that's why fans don't pay much attention to it, i.e. many of those who focus a tad too much on the lyrics.

"Sunset" is almost pop-chart material, at least the first part is, or at least would be were it not another almost-instrumental. Quite solid, somewhat fusion-like.

"Sunshine & Happiness", the bonus track, sounds like a cover song from some shitty band. For example Def Leppard. I could even see Elton John singing this. Pop/rock piffle, a typical example of one of the rare excursions into shit territory in the pre-Ki years. Totally commercial pap, the kind of fluff Devin's new fans - the new softies - want to hear (i.e. the fans of Ki).

"Notes From Africa" starts off with a heavy metal riff, not promising much. It doesn't deliver, either. Devin almost yodels in several parts (1:15-1:21), that whole "free-way" part, which just sounds crap. The song gets a little better later, but that's only because the yodeling stops and a little bit of screaming is thrown in.

All in all, the weakest DT solo release until that point, but still damn good. I just don't understand why he plays the weakest songs off this album on the recent live DVDs. 

*** I later found out that this excellent mid-section was written when he was only 15. I also found out that the "Vai-like solo" was played by none other than Vai himself!


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRuOtqhrlh8 
 



 
13. Epicloud

 
2012
 
Progressive metal, pop metal, pop, arena rock. 

Loudwire: "Check out the new album EPICLOUD, it is very interesting."
Devin: "Yeah... if you like gay music!"


That is hilarious; you can find it on YouTube. Obviously, there is some truth to this self-deprecating joke, because this album is quite poppy and has several ballads and ballad-like moments.
 


The two outstanding tracks here are "Angel" and "Grace", both being in the stronger second half of the album.

“I’m gonna mash these two (Grace/Angel) together. They’re healthy and spiritually significant to me but totally nothing to do with religion. I know what side of the fence I’m on. I don’t like evil shit or sadistic intentions. I like parts of humanity that are compassionate and kind, and I choose to focus on that. But I also don’t like religion, so it’s a weird dichotomy. I had a gospel choir on these tracks and I had to give them that spiel before they did it, right? 'I’m not on the team, necessarily, but I totally relate to the sentiment of spiritual connectivity, so why don’t we just do this?' And they just said yeah!” - from a 2015 interview

"Angel" is simply HUGE, with Anneke van Giersbergen doing some of the best vocals I've ever heard from a pop/metal female singer. Absolutely epic - as much as I dislike using that word. But the album is called Epicloud, and no other track exemplifies "epic" and "loud" (or at least broad) better than this one. Its pop sensibilities are obvious, but it should appeal to a number of metal fans as well.

"Grace" is the heaviest track here, quite varied, hymn-like, powerful, gigantic, excellent. Once again Devin shows that he is the best performer/producer of vocal harmonies in the world. Song of the year.

Other songs that approach that level of quality: "More" and "Where We Belong".

"More" is an uptempo, upbeat, lively sort of thing. Pay attention to the cliché but catchy thrash riff that comes out of left field at 3:31 and closes off the song; an obvious gag. Devin said it was influenced by his work as producer for Lamb of God, which I thought was a very funny remark. The riff always makes me smile, but it perfectly finishes this utterly non-thrashy song.

"Where We Belong" is a typical DT song. Broad sound, epic, just as the album title says. Again, ballad-pop layered with a vast guitar sound.

"True North" starts off wonderfully, with Anneke's voice grabbing your attention straight away with a catchy melody, but the song disintegrates somewhat after that; instead of focusing on the initial tune it drifts into needless complexity, which is ironic considering the relative simplicity of the album in general.

"Hold On" also has some good things going for it, but has a tinge of commercialism to it that slightly bothers me, what Devin would probably jokingly say is "another gay moment".

The rest isn't particularly impressive.

The utterly shitty “Lucky Animals” is his hands-down worst song, ever. I believe he said his 3 year-old nephew enjoys it - and that's exactly what this is: a kiddie-song for which you need to be 3 to enjoy. Either that, or you have to be a Bon Jovi fan. The chorus alone evokes a vomiting feeling in me, but the song sucks from start to finish. What an abortion. And this was the single! 


"Effervescent" is a pretty awful generic-melody choir intro. It's all well and fine to hire a choir - but make sure they get to sing something of value; this melody is just plain cheesy. Church choirs in particular perform excellent music at times, so it's a pity that Devin failed in tapping into some of that i.e. failed in creating a brilliant opener. I guess he was overly focused on making the opening melody very cheerful. What's the point of getting half-a-dozen schooled pros to sing a shitty melody for you? Might as well not even hire them at all, and do all the vocal tracks yourself (or abandon the melody altogether). Besides, with singers like Devin and Anneke, who the hell NEEDS a choir? 
No, that's not quite true: choirs are always a good idea. I called myself out on my own bullshit! That's how no-nonsense I am. 

"Divine", another corny love ballad, is basically forgettable. Lyrically, it's almost as if DT was having a marriage crisis so he wrote and published this in order to appease his angry wife. This whole love theme, that seems to dominate the CD, is simply not suitable for heavy music. If it were, Cannibal Corpse would have embraced the subject a long time ago. Still, that's only the lyrics; Devin could write about having sex with melons, for all I care, coz it's the music that matters. But these are all indicators that he is gradually mellowing out, which is perfectly fine and a normal thing. I'd rather he plays music that I dislike but that he feels like playing than play stuff he doesn't feel like playing just to appease his rabid metal fans. Faking it is much worse than mellowing out and writing corny ballads, I guess.

"Liberation" is better but not that great. I don't particularly like the "arena rock" touch, even though he layers it with such a massive sound that it becomes listenable. He used to like Def Leppard as a kid, and perhaps that awful early traumatic influence left its mark on Dev's psyche, infiltrating his writing on occasion (though fairly rarely). This is the next big hit song Twisted Sister could have had - with a much better singer and far grander, fuller sound. The production of this song is huge. Glam metal fans should fall into a trance when they hear this one. 

"Save Our Now" is basically a pop song. Solid but nothing special. "My reasons for writing things like Life or Sky Blue or Stagnant or Slow Me Down… I’ve been writing this pop shit for my entire career. My reason for writing it is because I like pop music. It’s not because I’m trying to get a single. The songs we put out for singles are never the pop shit. That’s just stuff that I do. So the intention that I have when I’m writing that stuff is certainly not to try and convince 15-year-old girls that some 42-year-old guy with shit teeth is their new hero. I write it because I want to hear it. Same reason I wrote Save Our Now – because I fucking really like lullaby-based pop music with electronic elements. Love it!" - from a 2015 interview with Decibel


"Kingdom" is a slight improvement over the original because Anneke sings on it, but as an old song doesn't hold much interest for me (not even when I listen to Physicist, on which it is actually not one of the highlights at all). Ultimately, a pointless inclusion on the album, unless you're totally new to Devin's music (in which case you should go straight to his earliest stuff, as your intro to his music). Then again, this is a fan favourite, so what the hell do I know. It is bombastic, huge, and does work very well in a live setting. Personally, this song would struggle to get into my top 50 Dev songs list, but that isn't saying a whole lot. I think it would have made more sense - musically - to let Anneke sing the lead vocals, even though a woman singing "stay with me girl" might have taken away some seriousness away from the song and turned it into an unintentional lesbian anthem. I assume that's why he didn't hand her the mike for the lead. 

"Lessons" is a pointless one-minute track that has nothing going for it. 

Anneke van Giersbergen. The album is an 8, her voice is a 10, she's a 9. Thank God she's hot as well as talented; it'd be fairly frustrating to watch Devin perform with someone looking like Lady Ga Ga.

Definitely a "pop metal"/hard rock album, as it had been announced, though not all of it. Devin had sporadically dabbled in this questionable genre almost his entire career, with quite varying results: from the excellent "Life" and a lot of the softer stuff on the Addicted album all the way to crap such as "Wild Colonial Boy", and the mediocre/average "Stagnant", "Traveler", "Sunset", and "Slow Me Down". It all boils down to whether one uses kiddie melodies in pop metal or catchy tunes with some substance. Pop music can be terrific just as easily as it can be abominable and atrocious.

Overall, slightly disappointing, especially that first half of the album which has just a few highlights. Nevertheless, as nearly all DT releases, it does have quite a few things going for it, and is an album very much worth your time... unless you like Bon Jovi. It's not THAT cheesy.

RELATED MATERIAL: Epicloud has a bonus CD of unreleased songs in demo form which is reviewed separately.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1Gwtep2oXw 




12. Transcendence

 
2016


Progressive metal, pop metal, ambient. 

"What I tried to do with this record was make something beautiful because the world is so f**king ugly right now, and I didn’t want to add to that pool of s**t. It seems like a lot of the time, art gets so gruesome when times are gruesome." - from a 2016 interview

He must be referring to a lot of those damn stupid black metal bands that have been almost competing in who will make the more ugly-sounding, self-loathing, more obnoxious, pretentious album. (Oranssi Pazuzu, Jute Gyte and others, here's spitting at you.) Transcendence is an antidote to both the overt commercialism of metal and its antonym, those bloody idiotic black metal bands that go over-the-top with their attempts to out-dark each other. 

This is a bit like an incomplete review still, as I continue to digest the album. I've heard it at least about ten times (several tracks a lot more than that) which doesn't yet give me full insight to the mastery or lack thereof within DT's latest album. As usual, no fanboyism from me, just my honest opinions.

No grand, pompously eloquent intro necessary, let's get straight to the chase. The songs:

"Truth": A terrific song, but a fairly unnecessary inclusion, similarly to "Kingdom" on Epicloud (but not as bad because I'm not a big fan of "Kingdom"). It is hugely ironic that a guy who has the opposite problem of huge fat lazy washed-up millionaires - the struggle to write an album every 5 years (Metallica, Slayer) - has the bizarre need to re-do old songs, when he's always got shitloads of (great) new songs up his sleeves. (He can't release them quick enough, unlike Hetfield who needs a decade to come up with a bunch of stale riffs we can all laugh at.) Worse yet, "Truth" was recorded spectacularly well for the Infinity album: what's there to improve? And as if all this weren't enough, the new version is slightly weaker than the original - due to the dis-improved "Hallelujah" chant that sounds thin on this version. So really, this is not a satisfying way to open a new album, at least not for his long-time fans. (I've known this song for 18 years now!) Although, people who haven't heard Infinity yet (probably Ki/Ghost/COC fanatics for whom Transcendence will anyway be too noisy and eccentric - like extreme metal almost) will enjoy it anyway - coz it is an amazing song, slightly weaker recording or not. On a positive note, Dev attached an ambient-like vocal bit to the tail-end of the song, which is an improvement of sorts. Enough to justify shoving it on a studio album? Hell no. As an opener - again? Weird decision - fueled doubtlessly by his extreme self-criticism and constant harking in interviews on how he should have done things differently on his past albums sound-wise.

“This song was never recorded well. It sounds like shit – a lot of my records sound like shit! I’m gonna redo Truth because it has a ton of potential; it has an energy we won’t be able to recapture but I think we can refine the purpose of the song.” - from a 2015 interview 

Shit? Perfectionism doesn't even begin to describe this kind of obsession with sound. Then again, if this song makes more uninitiated, newer fans curious about Townsend's early albums (his best material) all the better.
It's not a new song so I can't take it into consideration regarding my overall rating assessment. Even if I did, the album would still get its 4 stars.


"Strombending": Definitely a grower. At first this seemed like one of the most promising tracks, but it took many further listens to truly evolve. Dreamy, typical Devy stuff, just without hitting any obvious Devy-type peaks the way one expects Devin's music to. It has a bit of a "Stars" feel to it, if only briefly perhaps, but denser, more proggy, more varied - and somehow a little aimless too, not focused enough - at least those were my first impressions. One of many songs that end with an ambient bit - and these bits work very well, just as they did on Sky Blue. Ambient is like any food: in smaller doses very nice, but an overabundance (such as ambient albums) leads to over-saturation, anger, self-loathing and a lousy mood. Overweight people obviously won't understand this analogy. (Nor do I, come to think of it; I do occasionally binge too.) The ambient parts really add that extra bit of melancholy atmosphere to the songs.

"Failure": Nomen est omen. Failure indeed - parts of it anyway. 2nd-weakest song. My first impression didn't change even after a bunch of listens: I simply dislike the cheesy chorus. It's a tune that I'd almost equate with German Schlager or Canzone pop, or something of that very low-rung cheap-ass nature. The rest of the song is pretty solid though. The lead-up to the chorus is quite nice but... That damn chorus. Hate it. Ruins the song quite a bit - as bad choruses tend to. (Just think "Hotel California" when the crowd-pleasing chorus suddenly starts vomiting all over the otherwise great song.) There's some nice PinkyFloydish guitar-soloing to lessen the damage caused by the chorus, but I'm not a huge fan of guitar solos (because they're rarely written well enough). I don't doubt though that most fans will like it.

"Secret Sciences": The opening minute or so is just wonderful, very Devy, very Accelerated Evolution, very Sky Blue, gratifying instantly. So in that sense it isn't that original, as a bulk of the material isn't, but that's his trademark style - these types of dreamy riffs/tunes - so he has every right to copy himself a bit here and there, seeing as how he's practically the only one able to write this type of music this well; just as long as the music stays interesting I'm fine with it. The chorus really grows after a bunch of listens, it is glorious. It's just a pity that the fairly average lead-up to the first chorus is so long, but the lead-up to the 2nd chorus is better. The album's best song so far.

"Higher": Sounds good on the first listens, very promising, a bit like "Mountain" meets Metallica, if I were to make a somewhat flawed analogy, and it proves to be one of the albums most entertaining tracks. Don't be fooled by that Ghost-like intro, it's the heaviest track by far since "Grace", and the lengthiest. The most proggy track also, has a touch of Deconstruction about it occasionally. One of the highlights. Of course, some people want to convince me how they can "figure out" this type of song in one listen. Sure you can, fantasists. Hipsters and others like them can't be bothered to listen to any album more than once, and they greatly overestimate themselves as all glue-sniffing poseurs do.

"Stars": You might know this from earlier this year, from that fascinating two-hour Toontrack thingy, except that this is of course the proper polished version, with Anneke supporting. So satisfying in a sugary-poppy sort of way; it's almost too kitschy, but a good, straight-forward pop metal song. Big Devy sound, great Devy voice, and it's got those wonderful Devy guitars. I'm not complaining. One of the highlights, although I wonder whether it has staying power since it's so bubble-gummy to an extent.

"Transcendence": The grand choiry intro is probably what power metal bands try to achieve all the time: epic-sounding music. But they always fail; oh well, power metal isn't the kind of style to be dabbling in if you want "epic", now is it? A rare appearance by Anneke as a lead or co-lead vocalist, which is a bit disappointing coz I am convinced that every DT album needs to have her (or some other top-notch female singer) doing main vocal duties on at least a handful of songs. And I say this despite Dev's super-duper voice. It's just that these pop-tinged tunes suit women better. Or even better. I can't seem to relate to this song yet, but it might have potential. One of the more demanding tracks here - either that or it's simply nothing special.

"Offer Your Light": The first few seconds of the song might already elicit a WTF moment; sounds like the intro to a poopotastically crapotastic Miley Cyrus song. Far too formulaic and mainstream-like, quite underwhelming if I'm being diplomatic. Could this be the equivalent to Sky Blue's "Silent Militia" in the sense that it's an up-tempo song, the most commercial one, and the hands-down weakest track? For sure. As I first-and-foremost seek out great tunes, even the wall-of-sound production and the great Anneke-Dev voice combo can't help here. (You can package crap in the nicest colours and materials, it'll always be crap.) Borders on the Billboard-chart cheesy, which itself borders on the biggest insult I can give a piece of music. (Talking about modern Billboard charts, not the 70s or 80s, you ninnies, obviously.) Still better than power-metal cheesy, but cheese is cheese, and I've been lactose intolerant ever since unintentionally being exposed to Bon Jovi while still young. Hate this song on the first listen and I know I will always hate it. There's no way this is ever gonna grow on me, except in a parasitic sense like that monster from Basket Case. If the whole album were like this, it would be easily his worst album ever. In fact, if all the songs were like this, I'd know Dev had sold out to the corporate world. (Just picture Townsend receiving a shitty Grammy for his writing/production on a Rihanna album! What a spectacle.) To sum up: a crap song.

"From the Heart": Unlike the several proggy tracks, this one belongs to the simpler part of the album. Another commercial, somewhat cheesy song - as might be expected from the title. Very skippable - or so I thought until the chorus kicks in. Gets much better at the half-way mark when the average verse gets dropped and replaced by the dreamy vocal harmony chorus thingy which veers off into a sentimental acoustic bit that, strangely enough, works for me too. So yes, this is another positive track despite the mediocre first half with its overly generic verse.

"Transdermal Celebration": Glad I found out that this is not his song, but a cover of some damn useless indie rock band, coz it's reminiscent of some of his kitschy radio-friendly stuff. (OK, fine, so it's an alternative rock band, not indie. Because indie bands have utterly shit slacker-singers, whereas this guy can actually sing somewhat.) Weiner, I think the band is called, but don't quote me just yet. Considering how lousy their other songs are, this is a brilliant song almost, so Dev had something to work with. I've always said that Townsend has a mostly dubious taste in music, so considering what a catalog of crap bands/songs he can pick from, we should be glad he didn't choose to cover something more mediocre - or outright shit. The DT stamp of quality (wall-of-sound, instrumentation, vocals) improve this piece of irrelevant average indie poop, but not enough to turn it into a very good song. That would be alchemy, impossible. It's an OK, solid track, with a very simple structure. The song ends with an extended ambient bit: after all, this is a song about meditation, right? What do I know, I rarely pay attention to the lyrics. It could be about blue balls for all I know.
I assume Devin chose it because it's conceptually connected to the album, which isn't something I support; lyrics/concept should never take precedence over music, but I guess Dev considers this to be a great song musically as well as lyrically. Oh well, what can you do. It's not a bad way to end an album by any means.


Overall, this is not a classic - by Devin's standards, mind you. By 2016 standards however this is a masterpiece. (Metal-beggars can't be music-choosers.) You know what: it's not the most innovative album either, but even a not-very-original but well-written DT album is a lot more fun than that of nearly all other current bands. Compared to the plethora of very mediocre and outright embarrassing releases that have been bombarding the metal scene recently, this album is a gem. Anyone tired of all those dull "technical" metal albums, those awful cheesy power metal kindergarten turdballs, not to mention all those pretentious/laughable/useless "arty-wannabe" dark-depressive-self-loathing black metal bands, should definitely check this out, because this album is a breath of fresh air - despite its partially derivative nature - in a scene that is rapidly devolving into a parody of itself, and a mockery of music. The effort and talent invested in this music is obvious from the get-go, something that's not the case on 99% of other metal albums; you usually require a microscope to spot the talent on those. Here you just need an unpretentious and clean pair of ears. 

OK, now that you've read this crap, you can read a proper review of Transcendence in the comments section below. It's written by a certain Thomas Schumann, in three parts. He analyzes the album within the lyrical context as well, something I am unable and unwilling to do. In fact, write your own review in the comments section if you like. As long as you don't throw in porn links or compare the music to Kanye West or write something similarly drastically stupid or irrelevant, your comment/review will be published. 




11. Strapping Young Lad: Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing

 
1995

Extreme industrial thrash metal, progressive metal.

"I had been freshly ass-raped by the industry during the time with Vai, and wanted to scream at everybody. Definitely influenced by the likes of Fear Factory, Godflesh, Meathook Seed, Pitchshifter, NIN, and OLD, a real 'fuck you' to everyone and everything." - Devin, from the "Chaos Years" booklet 

A typical example of the pupil surpassing his teacher. By far. He went far beyond anything these bands recorded (aside from Trent Reznor's NIN which is unique in its own right). It boggles the mind that he created these songs almost entirely on his own. I sometimes refer to this CD as his first solo album, and I am in a sense correct: he did everything himself, as far as I know, and had no band at this point. He often jokes (?) how this album only sold 100 copies when it came out. If true, I was one of those 100. (No no no, I'm not boasting, you twits. Merely stating a fact.) 

Quite underrated, even now, even though Devin's debut is not far behind City. However, I've noticed that the album is simply too heavy for some metal fans. After all, the title DOES promise sonic mayhem... Many thrash fans ran away in abject terror like little schoolgirls when they heard this music. Fair enough, it's not for everyone, just like any great, bombastic, innovative music. This is the polar opposite of mainstream music; it simply wasn't intended to garner a wide audience, at all. Even Devin's most appreciative fans usually struggle with this thing, because it might just be the heaviest album ever recorded - in the sense that it's obnoxiously in-your-face and verging on chaos but without ever losing its focus and precision i.e. resorting to senseless noise, and always focused on melody even at its heaviest.

To refer to this as "senseless noise" or whatever is tantamount to proclaiming Bruce Springsteen the Father of Jazz. HAARHT is experimental, manic, ingenious, energetic and unique. Already during these pre-Ocean Machine years he put himself firmly on the progressive metal map, and has owned this genre ever since. Anyone who heard this album (all 100 of you) back in 1995 had to be surprised by the sheer level of innovation.


Not a very understood album, especially when it came out. Here is the ranking of the month's albums of German metal magazine "Rock Hard", which - though far more objective and less susceptible to corporate bribery than Mickey Mouse publications such as "Metal Hammer" or "Kerrang" - still gave the album fairly average marks (ranking it 20th out of that month's 57 albums). It is typical that innovators at first usually aren't understood hence aren't liked by many people. This was the case with many classical composers, and it's the case with many ingenious metal bands from different eras, as well. Very typically, the magazine's "Album of the Month" went to Blind Guardian, some cheesy Euro-trash power metal nonsense so very ripe for the Eurovision Song Contest.
And here is the review from that issue. "8 points for people with strong nerves, and who are in the mood to listen to something totally weird and extreme. All others should stay away." Frank wasn't born yesterday. He gets it.


Starts off with 3 year-old Devin talking about bears eating kids. What follows is one of SYL's anthems, the aptly titled "S.Y.L.". A catchy, powerful chorus immediately has your attention, but the guitar rhythms and the screaming are fantastic as well. One of the album's highlights.

"In The Rainy Season" blew me away when I first heard it: 1) The mind-boggling vocal harmonies - scream-harmonies, mind you, not clean vocal ones. I had never heard that before, and I certainly have never heard it since (done that well, at least) from anybody aside from DT himself; 2) The weird structure. The first half is dominated by blast beats and vocal harmonies, but then suddenly the song slows down into a powerful slow groove part that sounds great on the album - let alone when played live. Needless to say, another highlight, highly original.

"Goat" is a slow one, sounding a lot like Pantera, hence a forgettable song.

"Cod Metal King" is even worse. So uneventful and monotonous, it's tough to even remember, let alone like. I suppose it's weak tracks like these that make the album as a whole more easy to criticize, in the sense of ignoring the excellent stuff.


"Happy Camper" is back to business, however: the business of making brilliant extreme metal. Again, it's not so much the riffs here but the vocals that dominate and fascinate. Does he have five lungs? I have no idea how the hell he managed to pull this off. The fastest song on the album, a true assault on your ears, but in a good way. Also, an extreme example of how phonetically-precise lyrics benefit a song; the rhythm of the lyrics is so much more important than their meaning.

"Critic" is even more extreme. An insanely aggressive, fast, lunatic track. Its highlight is the excellent slow, (relatively) melodic part from 1:52-2:35. After that, it almost disintegrates into chaos. Almost but not quite. And that's the beauty of it.

"The Filler - Sweet City Jesus" is anything but a filler song. Perhaps he did consider this a "joke song" which only deserved the status of a filler track. Whatever the case may be, I love it. A slow, weird song with terrific vocals once again, different from the other tracks.

"Skin Me" completes the album's trio of weak tracks. The unnecessary distorted vocals don't help either.

"Drizzlehell" is another heavy, bombastic song. More distorted vocals, but this time there are good guitar parts to back them up. Not entirely brilliant, but has its moments.

  
 

Back side of the booklet - and of Devin. If I'm not mistaken, this is a fairly rare edition of this album, owned by the smug putz who wrote this text.

A typical pose of early Dev. It was refreshing to finally have someone make extremely heavy music yet not take themselves seriously. Self-important assholes are already in abundance in music, and Devin is the polar opposite of that.

And here it is again, after it was signed by Devin during the 2015 European tour, in Vienna; a gig I was fortunate to be part of. It was the 20th anniversary since I'd bought his first studio album i.e. since I've been a fan of his music, and this was certainly a very nice way to mark that. Hence it was quite appropriate to choose this particular CD to be signed by him, as it also marked 20 years of his solo career.

I've never sought out autographs from anybody, but Devin Townsend isn't just anybody, is he? Damn, I'm starting to behave like some demented fanboy. But that's what his music will do to ya. It messes with your head to the point where you aspire to get a signature from another man. I'm not gay though.

And this is the guy who got the CD signed. (No, he didn't sign it himself, you ninnies!) I promised I'd put his photo on the blog as a sign of gratitude. (He didn't actually ask me to, it wasn't a barter, i.e. there was no blackmail involved in the sense of "I will get your CD signed, but only if I can grace your amazing, super-important blog". Something tells me he didn't come all the way from Spain to Dev's gig just to get his face on my blog.) 

That's right, Alfredo arrived all the way from the Canary Islands (3 friggin' flights!) just to see Devin (2 flights more than me), and he'd brought along with him a meet&greet pass which he'd purchased for a whopping 100 Euros. He was kind enough to take my CD to Dev and the band and have it signed. Thanks, man, much appreciated.

And here's Alfredo a few minutes earlier, with the band. Lucky bastard! It would have been quite nice to meet Dev.

 Then again, perhaps Dev would have thrown me out of the room, ass first, if he'd found out how I mock some of his new fans? "Vjetropev?! I've heard of that son-of-a-bitch wanker! He's no fan of mine! Get him outtaaaaa heeerreeeeeeee!" 
No, not really. Perhaps he'd just get a Poozer to pee on me, nothing more drastic than that. I do go overboard sometimes in these reviews, and some form of punishment would be more than justifiable, I will admit.

 Neither Alfredo nor Ryan were quite aware what was going on right behind them, Dev trying to "sabotage" this special moment (apparently, Al and Ryan knew each other from some kind of correspondence). Alfredo's favourite DT albums are Epicloud and Deconstruction, so he definitely isn't a hipster.


Anyway, enough of the fanboy malarkey, back to the review of the album. 

Bonus Tracks: 

"Satan's Ice Cream Truck" is more of a joke-song, with some typical goofing around and a heavy part that is obviously some sort of parody of death metal excess - as indeed the whole SYL project to some extent is, i.e. a sort of weird mix of tongue-in-cheek parody and glorification of extreme metal. Homage and ridicule at the same time. As Devin put it once, "metal is by its very extreme nature always at the verge of becoming ridiculous, of drifting into comedy". Or something like that; I can't remember the exact words. This is possibly why we laugh so hard at awful metal bands who can't do it right at all - yet take themselves so damn seriously as they do it. Devin's self-deprecating humour is one of his best traits; he is too smart to get all toffy-nosed just coz he plays in a successful metal band.

"Japan" isn't really an SYL song at all. It would fit far more on the Ocean Machine album with its great chorus. Unfortunately, the rest of the song isn't anything special.

"Monday" is OK, but truly nothing more than that.

"Exciter" is as good as a Judas Priest song can get - namely when Devin covers it. Otherwise, it's the same boring, clich
é heavy-metal riffage we're so used to from the very overrated, shitty JP. His vocal delivery helps explain why he was offered to be their singer at one point. He makes Halford seem very insignificant indeed. DT covered another song of theirs called "Sinner"; I've heard neither the original nor Dev's version, nor am I in a rush to. It's on some compilation album.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwyuM0PODuY




Noteworthy Mention: Contain Us Box Set, CD1: Stuff That Was Almost Stuff
2011

Before I get to the list's Top 10, a review of an important compilation CD of unreleased material.
 

This text pertains only to CD1 of this box-set, i.e. Stuff That Was Almost Stuff, and not CD2 which is just a collection of demo recordings, or the four studio releases that are referred to as "The Devin Townsend Project" all of which are covered elsewhere on this list.

CD1 is a collection of various left-outs and bonus tracks from the sessions of these four albums, plus some different versions of already existing melodies or songs.

The CD contains two terrific songs, "Juno" (an Addicted bonus), and "Watch You" (a Ghost track).

Another notable song is "Synchronicity Freaks", a "Ki" bonus - believe it or not. It amazes me that DT would leave out the only good song from that recording session while releasing the mediocre rest. Baffling.

"Om-2011" is quite good too, an Anneke version of an older song off the Christeen EP, and so is "Ho-Krill" which was somehow omitted from Deconstruction - an album that sure could have used another strong track.

"Traestorz" is a 19-minute demo that revolves around the highlight of the Deconstruction album, namely the sublime middle part from "The Mighty Masturbator". It's too long, otherwise interesting occasionally.

"Catwalk" is another solid one, a variation of SYL's "Fucker".

The remaining few songs are average or crap.

Crap such as "Radial Highway" which is from the Ghost sessions, but sounds very much like a typical Ki track. I can almost see Elvis singing this, and that's never a good sign. The only good moments in it are when a Mr. Bungle-like melody gets played.

All in all, most bands would cut off their own balls to be able to release this kind of album, and yet for DT himself this collection of mostly high-quality material wasn't good enough, i.e. merely something to file away and leave for some box-set.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxsnUJy-hP0




10. - Sky Blue

 
2014
  
Pop metal, pop, progressive metal, ambient.

"The last two times I had to make two records at once - whether it was Accelerated Evolution & SYL, Alien & Synchestra - something always lost out... and so on the DTP record isn't as strong as the Ziltoid record, but it's still good" - Devin, 2014 

That it certainly is: good, in fact damn good. It's a wonderful collection of songs very much worth your time, and an album I hotly recommend to anyone seeking catchy tunes within a metal framework. Pop vocals with distorted guitar riffs - a style of metal I really enjoy, though I can count on one hand the bands that can pull it off. 

"There's an element of compromise. The end result is finding a way to retain my newer audience, interested in the Addicted/Epicloud material. So Sky Blue started life as a compromise, and I thought I'd be able to phone it in, just shit out another Epicloud so that I could do my Ziltoid thing. After I'd committed to it I realized it was just not resonating, but it ended up being something I'm incredibly proud of; even more so perhaps than Dark Matters." - Devin, 2014, in another interview

Aside from the fact that he can't seem to make up his mind which of the two albums on he likes more (because he seems to lean more toward Ziltoid in the other interview), we find out that Sky Blue wasn't something he was initially keen on doing, but had to be coaxed into it by the record company. 

Sky Blue, just as its twin album Dark Matters, tends to be somewhat derivative of Dev's earlier material and other music i.e. not as original as perhaps expected, but that's not a major criticism; compared to 99% of the shit that's being released out there these days, this is a milestone in originality. 

Judging from the above quote and other occasions when he talked about this double album, it's clear that Devin sees Dark Matters as the main i.e. dominant album here. He might be a little disappointed as a result, because judging from the reactions of his fans it is Sky Blue that won this particular duel.

The claims by some reviewers and fans that Sky Blue is an amalgamation of all 5 of his previous DTP project albums are largely baseless; there is fortunately no Ki-sounding drudgery here, Ghost elements are fairly sparse, and Deconstruction's heavy lunacy is nowhere in sight on this half of . SB is essentially a continuation of Epicloud’s accessible style, with its broad, soft production, and relatively simple, sometimes even radio-friendly tunes. Even Anneke is back on board which is great; admittedly though, she is a little more in the background this time around. 

SB is more melancholic and less optimistic - musically speaking - than Epicloud. Another difference is that there is less variation on Sky Blue than on Epicloud (especially during the first 7-8 songs) i.e. a bulk of the tracks sound quite similar in style. In that sense, songs often flow into one another seamlessly – which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your preferences i.e. whether you’re a stickler for variety or prefer a very clear musical direction. (Personally speaking, my interests lie only in the quality of the song-writing; I could give a damn about whether an album is complex or simple, conceptual or "just" a collection of unrelated songs: I leave that kind of puerile nit-picking to people easily distracted by irrelevant factors. Whoever is truly in it only for the music will not concern themselves with such piffle.)

As a result, some Devin fans may find the album a little one-dimensional; certainly compared to albums such as Ocean Machine, Terria or Deconstruction there is far less here to surprise the listener and there are less stylistic shifts from song to song. But this collection of mostly straight-forward pop-metal songs wasn't anyway intended to forge new territory in music or revolutionize the metal scene; the album is simply meant to be fun and enjoyable, which it is - the whole thing. 

Already after the first several listens it became abundantly clear to me that the outstanding track is "Universal Flame", while "Silent Militia" and "Fallout" appear to be the weaker songs on the album. Weaker, though, not weak. There are no bad songs here, i.e. this album is very consistent - which is a refreshing change after COC and its miserable bonus disk which have a number of mediocre and crap tunes on offer.
  

The songs:

“Rejoice” is a rather good track, my only complaint being the pervasive ya-yi-ya vocal line by Anneke which doesn't quite do it for me; it lacks the emotional punch (cheerful, melancholic or otherwise) I always expect from Dev's music. In fact, aside from Anneke's persistent ya-yi-ya-yi-yaaas there isn't much to criticize. With a different tune to replace the ya-yi-ya part, the song would have worked much better. The highlight is the "descending" guitar melody that starts at 2:27. 

“Fallout” has two versions: the promo version with Devin dominating the vocals, and the official version in which Anneke sings the verse. Needless to say, the Anneke version is better; not because Devin isn't competent - which is bloody obvious - but simply because her voice is better suited to performing these types of melodies. Not necessarily a great song by Devin’s standards, nothing special but certainly far from mediocre. This album's strongest trait is that even its weakest tracks are quite listenable, not boring. 

“Midnight Sun” is like something off the Terria sessions, sounding also like the dreamier tracks off Accelerated Evolution ("Storm", "Sunday Afternoon"; that sort of thing). Not as good as some of those songs, but very enjoyable; this is the type of music he writes better than anyone. 

“A New Reign” is very similar to the previous song, in mood as well as style, to such an extent that I barely notice when the other song ends and the this one starts. More dream-pop metal. But that goes for most songs on this album; whether optimistic or moody, nearly all songs here share a common style - one that is instantly recognizable as Dev's. It would be one of the "lesser" tracks - were it not for the immense 1:50-3:06 mid-section which might be the album's highlight, and perhaps even one of Dev's greatest-ever moments. 

“Universal Flame” is a terrific track, the album’s overall highlight. It is no coincidence that this song was the first to leak on YouTube (along with the opener). Catchy, huge, and I love how the simple guitar riff during the chorus gives the song that extra kick. It has that upbeat and straight-forward mood of the best Epicloud material, and would have fit on that album with ease. It absolutely kicks ass live, as the Royal Albert Hall Z² DVD proves. Another example of what a  ridiculously perfect fit Devin and Anneke are as a duet.

For an instant sonic hard-on, watch "Universal Flame" being performed on the terrific Royal Albert Hall DVD.

“Warrior” is an Anneke song, with Devin only vaguely in the background this time. It features a grand-sounding vocal part (0:50-1:12) that is reminiscent of “Angel” from Epicloud. Needless to say, one of the album’s better tracks, if a little too short perhaps. 

“Sky Blue” marks the beginning of the 2nd half of the album which is slightly softer and more introspective-sounding. It's basically a pop song, barely layered with heavy guitars, and another great example why I love listening to Anneke and Dev sing together. However, I am not sure whether it will please Devin’s many new fans – the hipster and mainstream fans who dislike metal – because it doesn’t sound like Ki, Ghost, or COC and it isn't crap. In fact, it's one of the best tracks. If you fail to get goose-bumps when Anneke joins in at 1:03, then you must be a Bon Jovi fan; I have no other scientific explanation for it. The chorus is sublime; Anneke's most shining moment on this album. 

“Silent Militia” marks a notable dip after a string of 5 good/great songs. It's sort of the heaviest track on the album (which isn’t saying much), and starts off interestingly, but turns out to be a weak track due to the somewhat cliché chorus. Not a bad song (especially the stuff around the chorus) but this is the closest the album comes to having a filler. Someone referred to its supposed "industrial metal vibe". I am not sure I agree with that; SM only has small touches of industrial. 

“Rain City” is slow and plodding, moody and dreamlike, the kind of Devinian pop song that can really get your imagination going. In a sense it is similar to "Sky Blue" because here also there is a beautiful airy chorus that dominates the song. Some fans might have expected something different from this track - due to its 9-minute length, but this is not one of those DT monster tracks, because the last few minutes are ambient and there isn't a plethora of different parts. This is a reference to the promo version which runs at 9:20, whereas the album version is 7:44; I have to say I prefer the promo version with its longer ambient part. (Funny, coming from someone who blasts ambient music often.)

Use of ambient. Devin fortunately uses ambient in a very effective way this time around (as opposed to its snore-wise over-use on COC), i.e. sparingly, only to heighten the earthy atmosphere and as a breather after a lengthy string/barrage of catchy tunes. Not to mention that ambient sounds suit this kind of music far better than the mostly dull bluesy pop stuff he wrote for COC; I feel blues rock and ambient aren't that compatible. This particular ambient part evokes the mood of Ocean Machine and its inclusion makes perfect sense. The promo version of SB has 2-3 minutes more ambient music than the final version; also, the promo version has much more ambient in its second half, while the final mix has it spread out a little more evenly. 

The guitar pick Devin is using on his current tour, promoting Sky Blue, possibly Dev's way of spoofing his bearded band members and their obsession with looking like intellectual Vikings, but also the modern metalhead unkempt-huge-beard fad, which ends up making its wearers/growers looking twice their age rather than as 21st-century Norsemen. Why any 24 year-old man would want to look like a middle-aged hobo is beyond me.

This pick literally fell in front of my face during the 2015 Vienna gig, so here it is, kids, an original pick played by the almighty Devin. Aren't you thrilled to see a photo of an actual pick played by Dev? He actually held it in his hand and stroked his guitar strings with it, playing all those wonderful riffs. Aren't you just a little bit jealous I've got the real thing and you don't? It's mine! It's my precious! Gollum gollum. 
 (Buying one on the merchandise stand does not count, those are just clone picks.)

What, you don't believe me? You think I'm cheating? I can always have the pick tested for DNA fingerprinting, or whatever the hell it's called, and prove to all doubters and naysayers that this pick was indeed handled by him. And while I'm at it, I will prove that he's my long-lost distant relative, because such a musical genius must have at least half of my DNA in him.
So nice to have a Canadian cousin. Gollum gollum.

"Forever” is a very mellow ballad that should please the Ghost and COC-bonus-disk fans. Damn, it pleases even me, so they should have nothing to complain about. Anneke wasn’t invited for this song, which makes sense inasmuch as that her voice would have made it more upbeat and vibrant than it was probably intended to be. A very decent track for sure. It's placement couldn't be better; it would have made little sense to set this as the 4th song, for example.

Before We Die” is one of those songs that start with the chorus. It's perhaps the most commercial-sounding track, another pop song essentially, ending with a very pleasant, emotional ambient part. It's another very pleasant song. There is a brief Anneke-sung part (0:47-0:54, then repeated several times) that reminds me of a Paul McCartney song from his The Wings phase, just can't recall which one. One ambient segment reminds me of the main theme from the Canadian movie "Possible Worlds".

“The Ones Who Love” is an airy, soothing balladesque outro, not really a "proper" song as such - an appropriate and clever way to close out this type of album, methinks. Just as COC has a lot more ambient in the 2nd half, so it is with Sky Blue as well - but with far better results. TOWL had been cut by an entire minute from its initial 2:30 promo-version length, the difference being that now it starts off without an ambient part.

Again, this is a collection of songs most of which are on a very similar level both quality-wise and in terms of style. No filler-sounding songs whatsoever, so from that perspective this might be one of his strongest albums. Certainly, to refer to this album as merely "the appetizer before the main course" (meaning Dark Matters) is asinine. DT's fans should be more than satisfied with Sky Blue precisely because it can be listened from-start-to-finish without the need to skip tracks, and that is not common, not to mention that it is the kind of musical direction that I wanted him to pursue - namely the Addicted/Epicloud brand of pop metal - after the disappointing COC album and its mostly forgettable blues rock.

It's the type of album that grows on you. Your first impression is very likely to be quite different from your 15th impression. And the fact that such a strong album didn't even make it on the top 10 of this list certainly says a lot about the sheer depth of this man's discography.

The album cover is great. Reminiscent of Terria; it's quite obvious that it must be the same artist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIMf89HG8Hs




 
9. Strapping Young Lad: Alien

 

2005

Thrash, industrial metal, progressive metal, extreme metal. 

A significant improvement over the 3rd SYL album, Alien starts off with a bang - the first three songs are all excellent. 

"Imperial" is not only the album's intro, but a track that very much sounds like one. It's bombastic, and I suspect it's the kind of track Devin would consider "not a proper song". It's got wonderful death/black metal vocals that almost sound like a parody of the genre. (Isn't it ironic that the guy who spoofs metals so often and doesn't take it as seriously as some self-important clowns in the metal scene belts out the best vocals of this kind?) And yet there is real power here, it's certainly no joke, musically speaking.

"Skeksis" is the album's standout song, and one of the band's very best. There is an amalgam of riffs, exciting tempo changes, amazing vocals, and a speed crescendo that is hard to rival in all of thrash metal. There is the exciting set-up at 3:41 that explodes at 3:57 into a speed-fest (til 5:32) which counts among my favourite music moments of the past decade. Needless to say, not only the album's highlight but song of the year. Devin had stated that this is his "favourite SYL track bar none." 

“This was a really cool achievement for me. Gene Hoglan and I had gotten together and taken an idea really far away. The melody from The Dark Crystal’s in it; Skeksis is one of the characters in that movie and Ziltoid was based on The Dark Crystal. That movie holds a massive significance to me, because it illustrated duality to me in a way that I really related to as a kid.” - from a 2015 interview

"Shitstorm" is very appropriately titled. The music here is like a storm of shit, but wonderful shit. Imagine if shit looked and smelled nice - "imagine if you can" as Lennon would say, with his ass planted on a toilet seat; that kind of shit. It's one of the most intense, action-packed and complex SYL tracks - and that's saying something. If you pay attention, you will hear several "explosions" that signal breaks/changes (0:56, 2:16), but these are hardly the only moments when riffs change. Needless to say, it's a song that requires many listens ("many" being a subjective/relative term) until one can fully appreciate it.


So don't ask me why DT decided to release "Love" as a single. It's the 4th song and a clear drop after the initial trio. Still a solid track, has its moments, but overall a bit sluggish, sounding better when played live. I don't really like the main riff, otherwise it's well-written.

The following songs, "Shine" and "We Ride", are merely OK - by this album's high standards - followed in turn by "Possessions" which is pretty good and original, its highlight being the parts sung by a girls choir.

"Two Weeks", a very short one, is a very low-key, mellow, fairly memorable acoustic piece that reminds me a bit of "Spirituality", the last song from the City album. Not in the sense that the melodies are similar, because they aren't, but in mood. Perhaps a comparison to Ocean Machine would be even better.

"Landscape" (called "Thalamus" on some versions) definitely has its moments, but doesn't stick out too much. Perhaps a little stereotypical, in the sense that it reminds of DT's previous stuff, but that's only if you're inclined to nit-pick.

The last track "Zen" starts off somewhat boring, but suddenly drastically improves around the middle. I love Dev's vocal harmonies - the best in the world, right alongside greats such as ABBA and Queen.


All in all, no filler-like tracks, a very well-rounded release with a number of fantastic moments and quite a high dose of originality. The guitar-sound itself isn't particularly heavy or crunchy, but the overall production has a crystal-clear quality to it and is a joy to listen to.

The Japanese edition contains the excellent/superb/legendary/ultra-heavy "Zodiac", but I've already covered that in my The New Black comment.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjVT0MhSNeo



 
8. Ziltoid The Omniscient

 
2007


Progressive metal, thrash metal, comedy rock.
 


Fookin' hell, did he really record, write and produce ALL of this by himself? Yup. The only problem sound-wise are the drum-machines. It's a pity Gene Hoglan wasn't hired to do this properly, although Devin does a solid job with the knobs.

An improvement after the slightly disappointing Synchestra, this album gives us an (even more) playful side to DT's music. Ziltoid is bombastic, varied, and fun. In terms of its heaviness and style, it is roughly somewhere half-way between SYL and his solo stuff. There is plenty here for thrash fans and maybe even the occasional Ki fan - at least those able to digest anything heavier and more original than AC/DC. Many memorable melodies here; interestingly enough, the best ones are often the more mellow parts. This is further proof that Devin can write excellent mellow tunes (unlike most of those on Ki/Ghost/COC) but tends to excel at them when writing them for and incorporating them into heavier tracks.

He likes to occasionally downplay the seriousness of this particular project (and some others), making it seem almost as if he'd made it as a spur-of-the-moment joke in his basement over a rainy weekend afternoon, but it's more than obvious to the true music fan how much effort he'd put into this. There are people who take some of Devin's modesty too literally, unable to read between the lines, who actually believe that this was some goofy time-filler that was intended to be a warm-up for better things. Well, after Ziltoid came the very weak Ki, so no, this was not some little test-run but the real deal. The great thing about Ziltoid is that it seems to bring out a lot of creativity out of Dev which results in a merging of plenty of different styles of music, and that's always commendable and interesting.



The 9-minute "Solar Winds" is the absolute highlight here, with its many very different amazing parts. In terms of structure and catchiness it's got to be one of his best-written songs. It starts of with a terrific balladesque segment which for some reason always reminds me of Neil Young's guitar-playing on the "Dead Man" soundtrack. At 2:28-3:05 Devin shows that he really does love Broadway musicals - but in a good way. A huge riff hits off from 4:48-6:02. Then, at 6:44, the song suddenly mellows out totally with a terrific little melody that gradually builds into a heavy crescendo that should have you jumping out of your seat (to throw the CD out the window, if you're a Sigur Rós fan).

"By Your Command" is good too. I don't particularly like the first half of the song, but things pick up a lot from the half-way mark. 1st highlight: 3:43-4:20, a beautiful melody. 2nd highlight: 7:48-8:09.

"Ziltoid Attacks" is the weakest track. The Slayer-like guitar-solo from 1:54-2:31 doesn't exactly help; the accompanying music during the solo sounds like the chaos that can be occasionally heard on the last trio of songs from Deconstruction. The castrato vocal parts would have sounded much better with a female singer, preferably Anneke, but this was before women became a staple of his music. 


"Planet Smasher" is bombastic, cartoon-like, heavy. There is more focus on the lyrics so the music takes a slight backseat here. Still, Devin's amusing interplay with his own death metal growls (i.e. the Planet Smasher) provide fun, and if you read the lyrics sheet you'll probably get more out of it. The chorus is quite nice, so this is far from dull. A better version of this song can be heard on the Retinal Circus DVD/CD, mainly because there is a guest vocalist who growls the Planet Smasher parts as well as any growler in the metal scene.

"N9" is very good, though by Devin's high standards not brilliant. Its highlight is the excellent 2:17-3:01 part. The song starts with vocal melodies that remind me of Mr. Bungle's debut album i.e. typical of what Mike Patton likes to sing, and ends with a Chimaira-like groove-metal riff starting at 4:27.

"Colour Your World" rounds off the trio of lengthy songs. Starts off with a speedy thrash part but accompanied with melodious vocals. A middle-part melody from "Solar Winds" re-appears at 3:00, reminding that this is a musical, after all. The song mellows out totally from that point, giving the Ki and perhaps even Ghost crowd a chance to hear something they can enjoy, i.e. the fairly nice guitar and vocal melodies from 3:54-5:44. (Those Ki fans really should learn to appreciate thrash metal finally and lay off the stereotypical rock.) Overall a very nice track.

"Hyperdrive" is a great song, further improved by Anneke a few years later on Addicted which means there is no real reason to dwell on this version.

The album ends on a high note with "The Greys", an excellent "heavy ballad" with thick guitar chords and melodic vocals, with the spiffin' chorus as the magnificent icing on the cake.


A word about humour in metal: Some fairly childish metal-heads out there are annoyed by Devin's meshing of heavy music and fun. The crux of this matter is that these pre/post-pubescent, zit-faced, insecure knuckleheads and metal elitists take themselves far too seriously, and most of them are probably either sword-waving power metal geeks or depressed black metal nerds who think that music should inspire you to slit your wrists - as opposed to make you feel good. Instead of thanking Devin for making metal less stereotypical and cretinous (talkin' 'bout all the bones, dragons, and Orcs out there) by allowing himself to be silly, they lambast him for it. There's just no pleasing some peasants and morons, is there?

Townsend is hilarious (especially in interviews, strangely enough), so stop bitching, shut up and just enjoy it. 

Here's an example of a typical Dev-hater commenting on this album, ranting like an abandoned, crowd-less street preacher:  
"If this wasn't the most heinous unforgivable piece of shit imaginable, I might be more forgiving of Townsend's inability to join the Larry David troop... and Townie is a dipshit who comes across as a giant arsehole in interviews. Music for fat, slovenly pasty faced virgins." 
I'd be angry at the world too if I had a pair of infected ear-drums that cried out for regular doses of Green Day, Burzum and Kanye West. Yes, this awful music is what this particular Dev hater worships. And no, Dev's music is not for peasants, much less angry ones confused enough to compare a professional sit-com comedian with Dev's totally unpretentious, off-the-cuff metal-related antics. Translated into honest English, the above statement amounts to this:
"As a sexless nerd who was, is and always will be a virgin, I am offended that this Canuck asshole stomps all over the macho metal cliches through which I live out my delta-male power fantasies. Fuck him for exposing that macho bullshit for what it is, and for making me feel like an even bigger idiot for getting boners to various Viking-wielding-a-sword-while-lopping-off-heads metal-album artwork. He bursts my fantasy land, my cozy bubble, by mocking such stuff and it's his fault I can no longer maintain my erection when fantasizing about raping Lara Croft." Am I right or am I right?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo3oddlzUYM

  

 
7. Terria

 
2001


Progressive metal, prog rock.
 


Many DT fans would place this at the top of the list. It's a fan favourite, and for very good reasons.

However, the reason I consider this the weakest of the first 5 solo albums is not because it's softer/mellower than the other releases, but due to the song-writing which is more commercial overall. Townsend also admitted that the album wasn't intended to hold a grip on your attention all the time the way Infinity does, but that it has "moments where nothing much is happening... and then a crescendo gets your attention". He wanted an album that you can have playing in the background where it doesn't require constant attention. However, that's where the album's slight weakness lies: I don't want background music - ever - but only music that is in your face and kicking ass all the time. Terria's "breaks" are the reason it doesn't get full marks. People who cannot stand to have a piece of music occupy their brain-cells 100% of the time will find more joy in Terria than for example City which grabs you by the balls and doesn't let go until the songs are all played out.


Still, Terria fortunately only hints here and there at what a profit-hungry cash-making mainstream corporate whore Devin could be if he wanted to, i.e. most of the album ranges from good to excellent. Thank God there are still great musicians out there with a soul that isn't for sale, because if he wanted to sell millions by making MTV garbage he could do it in a second. (Not sure if this came out as a left-handed compliment).

"Olives", an unusual but terrific choice for an opener, is a weird one; builds up slowly, and should evoke a "wow" effect as soon as it explodes. One of the highlights. Probably not a favourite track for those who consider "Stagnant" to be a great step forward for DT (i.e. those who want the more commercial fluff from Devin) but more for the fans of the innovative i.e. less predictable.

"Mountain" starts off well but gets lost for a while around the middle (from 1:50 to 4:10) with an uneventful soft part that kind of takes the edge away from the song.


He chose this song along with 11 others as his 12 favourite tracks, in a 2015 interview: “I was experimenting with sustaining notes on top of chords that have a lot of reason to play ball with each other and then just smeared it with echo, and the song in general has things about it that were really new for me at the time. At the time, I thought the production was good, but I listened to it the other day and the kick drum was horrible – the snare’s not defined either. Overall, though, it has a good effect.” Finnicky about sound, as usual.
 


"Earth Day", described by Devin as a "12-minute song of glory" and "the first real song on the album after the first few tracks", is another top track that features riffs that only he could come up with, hence the best part here is featured from 1:00 to 3:41 and then again after the not-so-great middle part. One of his many memorable long epic songs, but this song is typical of this album's only problem: too many great parts interrupted hence diluted by mediocre melodies that usually show up around the middle. If I could re-mix this song I'd take out that weak middle bit and turn this into one of his best songs.

"Deep Peace" is an overall terrific balladesque number which starts and ends beautifully, but its overly stretched-out hit-and-miss instrumental mid-part takes the edge off a bit. From 2:50 there is a solid, mellow guitar part but the song drifts into commercial waters at 4:30, before getting back on track at 5:23.
 


"Canada", like "Mountain", starts off very well, but gets bogged down in a ridiculous quasi-comical part. I have edited this song, cutting out this unfunny, unmelodic bit between 2:11 to 3:28 and now have a much better version of the song.

"Down And Under" is a rather solid almost-instrumental with an uplifting sort of vibe, slightly folksy perhaps, but hardly one for the history books - given the strength of Dev's other material here and elsewhere.

"The Fluke" starts off well with a pop melody, gets even better at 1:23, only to indulge in a pointless/average part at 1:38, but the song resurrects at 2:53 with an almost ABBA-like moment, to be followed up with the song's highlight at 3:26. A very good heavy part shows up at 4:26, soon to be followed with ambient music, which ends the song. In other words, this is very much a typical "Frankenstein's monster" composition with many different parts glued together, typical of this album, but overall quite successfully in this case.

"Nobody's Here", a semi-ballad of sorts, starts off well, and has a solid chorus, but the song ultimately doesn't contain much of what makes Devin's music great. (Why the hell does he say "fuck off" during one of the soft verses? It cheapens the song somewhat, the F word, but because I don't care much about lyrics, I'll let it pass.) The chorus is sung in an uncharacteristic manner.

 



"Tiny Tears" is perhaps the album's top track. This is Devin at his brilliant best. I considered "Earth Day" the best song here when I bought the album, but as the years rolled on I started to realize that this is the most complete piece. The way it builds up is majestic. So many pathetic power metal and "symphonic" black metal bands attempt "epic" but fail miserably every time because they simply don't have the sense of melody and sound that Dev has.

"Stagnant" is a pop song, but not bad. In anybody else's hands this would have been a worthless song, but with DT's typical stamp (wall-of-sound and excellent vocals) it at least becomes listenable. Too commercial-sounding overall, not innovative in any way, and stereotypical. I.e. this is what his new fans (Ki fans) want to hear on the gigs.

"Untitled": whenever Devin can't be bothered to even stick a name onto a song, you know it's crap and irrelevant, one of his close-the-album goof-offs. Ignore this one.

"Universal" is a poppy piece of crap.

This is why Terria has fans split; the metalheads consider this to be too commercial, too poppy, while the listeners of somewhat softer sounds find their true happiness in DT's more commercial, accessible hence more predictable side. 


The album needs a pair of scissors to turn it into a perfect album, and perhaps to chuck out one or two tracks. You will perhaps have noticed that some songs start and end very well but have weak(er) middle sections. Nevertheless, when it does work - which is very often - Terria packs a typical devinotownsendian punch and that's why it is an excellent album despite its imperfections. 

One of my favourite negative reviews of this album: "Devin Townsend is shaping up to be another one of those prog metal acts which I just don't get... The album seems somehow fake and insincere to me, and I can't connect to it on an emotional level... It just seems rather boring." I have to mention at this point that the ear-damaged author of these thoughts is a fan of Snoopy Dogg, Muse, and Nightwish who naturally all play extremely sincere, real, and non-boring music. Fans of such shit bands hate Dev's music, and I wouldn't want it any other way. 

Great cover. A perfect representation of the music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2n45Sutwig





6. Infinity

 
1998

Progressive metal.
 

Devin: "The best things I’ve ever done were fifteen years ago."
Decibel Magazine: "What would you consider the best things you’ve done?"
Devin: "City and Ocean Machine. Maybe Infinity."

Suck on THAT, Ki fans! (Just kidding.) 

Devin: "There’s a fire that comes with being a confused kid that people will always connect with... In a sense everything after [the early stuff] is shit, because you’ve kind of used up that fire. You’re constantly put in a position financially of trying to convince people that your new shit holds a candle to that stuff, and in the ways that people want. I’m from the mindset that it won’t, it doesn’t, and it never will."

He goes too far, of course, because so much of his output since the early albums has been terrific, but I've essentially always been an advocate of the "hungry genius kid" syndrome, the notion that - particularly in metal - the best music comes during youth. 

Before I start, I gotta say this for the millionth time: Devin Townsend is NOT for peasants, hicks, rednecks, yokels, truck-drivers or hillbillies of any kind. Neither is it for the pretentious, image-obsessed, quasi-intellectual Bob Dylan hipster crowd, and it's certainly not for those music-hating rap fans who think that yapping over a stolen sample is the height of artistic endeavor. It's not for mindless pill-popping techno fans, and it won't make many "trve black metal" fans happy. (Then again, they don't really want to be happy, right?) Some people who "reviewed" and slammed this album on various internet sites are tone-deaf mongoloids who should stick to listening to what MTV tells them is acceptably lame, safe, and trashy. Infinity is a thing of beauty, not to be tainted by the filthy hands or ears of people who treat music as if it were toilet-paper.

I had high expectations after the 1997 debut solo album, and I wasn't disappointed at all. The follow-up to Ocean Machine is similarly brilliant, but in a somewhat different way. Less consistent, sure, but more lively, perhaps, less brooding, with an even denser, fuller wall of sound - which is saying something. An album intended to pack an emotional punch, Infinity delivers, offering the kind of grandiose moments that come by rarely in music.


Top of the heap:  

"Christeen", although heavier than "Life", is its worthy pop-metal "sequel"/anthem; the verse is particularly amazing; "Running...", that whole part. Devin at his very best. 

"Life Is All Dynamics" is possibly the album's absolute highlight. It opens with a dreamy psychedelic riff which is accompanied a little later by balladesque-like vocals that lull the listener into a false sense of calm. Suddenly (watch out, Ki fans), bang: 1:31. The song goes into heavy mode; a wall-of-sound explosion in which it is difficult to say whether the vocal-line or the riff contributes more: the two blend perfectly in what is one of Townsend's career highlights, in my very humble opinion. But then, a further, even grander segment follows at 2:41 when the stunning "life is all dynamics" chorus slows down - becoming even more powerful. If you don't get goose-bumps listening to this part, your ear-wax had you beat years ago.

Other excellent material:  

"Truth" is the ideal opener, because the first few seconds already grab your attention and announce the album's greatness: a typically triffic townsendian guitar melody. The track is an instrumental of sorts in which lyrics are sparse and vocals are "merely" there for impact value and enhancement. As much as I hate using it, I have no choice but to refer to the term "epic" in this context. Power metal aficionados use and abuse that term often enough when describing decidedly un-epic songs, so why not use it when it actually is applicable?

"Unity" serves as a sort of breather after the amazing power and up-your-ass grandeur of "Life Is All Dynamics". It starts off quite mellow, reminding me slightly of The Beatles for some reason. 2:15 then suggests that the relatively "happy" mood might be changing; a mellow intro starts that serves as a slow build up to the song's highlight, which starts around 3:05 and finishes the song.

Very good songs:  


"War" has a particularly good lengthy intro which lasts until the vocals kick in at 1:42. The song only starts letting up a little at 2:57 when it changes in mood somewhat. (One of very few negative traits of Townsend is to throw in an overly weird middle section that doesn't work i.e. doesn't suit the song, like he did on Terria on a few occasions.) A minute later it improves but this new part goes on for too long, until Devin shouts "stop the noise for once, please!" which is followed by a totally unexpected, very effective, mellow castrato bit. I do think an appropriate female singer would have achieved (even) better results though.

"Soul Driven Cadillac" is all over the place. Weird, plodding, heavy, melodic, slightly ambient briefly even, definitely not an easy-going "feel-good" Motley Crue number. Its highlight starts at 3:05, i.e. that whole "don't give in" part.

Good song: "Bad Devil" is fortunately an extremely rare example of Devin using a horn section: it doesn't fit the music at all. Flutes - yes. Sax, trumpets and trombones? Definitely not. The only thing that would fit in with his music even less would be moronic rap music. Only once the vocals kick in does the song improve. The female vocals in the chorus are a boon. But overall the song is a tad too conventional, in spite of its jazzy experimentation (which doesn't quite work). Perhaps the slight rockabilly influence annoys me.

OK song: "Noisy Pink Bubbles" is an interesting but far from astounding song. A fairly strange structure, quite unpredictable. Starts off as a slightly off-center pop song, then at 2:21 it goes into a sort of Jean-Michel Jarre part. At 2:46 there is a pop segment that reminds me of Faith No More (I really am not sure why; I believe they have a song with a similar melody). At 3:01 a high castrato part starts and the song becomes mediocre; while Devin does that sort of thing well, I have never seen the point in men trying to sing like women - when women can do that better, always. I could just see Anneke singing this part and vastly improving the song.

Average song: "Ants" is the "wackiest" song on the album. Quite short but full of goings-on. Slightly reminiscent of Mr. Bungle's circus music; I can't think of a better way of describing this track.

Crap song: "Wild Colonial Boy" represents one of Devin's fortunately very rare excursions into lame/commercial pop territory. A pretty shitty track, to be blunt, sticks out like a sore thumb on the album. Perhaps the worst song he's ever recorded. It sort of sounds like something written for a very cheesy Broadway musical, bombastic but in a kitschy Andrew Lloyd Webber kind of way. A rare track about which I can say absolutely nothing positive at all. Part of the vocal melody actually reminds me of that awful Pet Shop Boys cover tune "Go West".


While we're at the subject of cheesy metal, here's a link to a detailed listing of cheesy metal bands, and an explanation of this fairly new debilitating virus that has been rapidly spreading throughout the metal scene. 

https://rateyourmusic.com/list/Qwerty100/cheese_in_metal/

Overall, Infinity is an inspired, colourful sound-scape of moods that really gets your imagination going - that is, if you've got any to begin with. While doing the commentary for Terria, Townsend slightly complained that Infinity is "always in your face, demanding your attention, which is kind of rude". I don't agree at all; great music should always be in the foreground, rarely in the background. Writing background music is easy (just ask any porn-music auteur); making it occupy your attention at all times - that's the difficult bit.

If you're a large-eared, mouth-breathing, in-bred humanoid who listens to Bon Jovi, Green Day, Kanye West, or Justine Timberlake, do not waste your unprecious time with this kind of superior music, and certainly don't bother embarrassing yourself by writing on the net about how much it sucks, because you'll end up sounding just like a frenzied creationist bitching about the Theory of Evolution and why apes can't be our relatives because they fart, masturbate and eat their own poop.

 
 
RELATED MATERIAL: The EP Christeen isn't a collection of unwanted or less relevant leftovers to be dumped on unsuspecting fans just to make additional money (as is so often the case with many bands), but a result of DT not having enough time to do all the tracks properly. And it shows, especially in the marvelous "Sit On The Mountain", a very melodic, pop-like but in a sense powerful track; one of several notable examples of DT leaving out top-notch material from main releases. "Om" is rather good, too; more on the heavy side. The 11-minute "Processional" has its moments as well. All three of these are demo versions, but sound better than many finished albums.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcfDxq8Zw5A





5. Physicist

 

2000

Progressive metal, thrash metal.

Could this be the album that (indirectly) caused Jason Newsted to leave Metallica? Explanation follows.

Ranking this album in 5th place and giving it full points is (along with Ki's placement) without a doubt the most debatable thing on this list, as far as some other fans are concerned.
The explanation to that follows as well.

Physicist is almost like the unofficial 3rd SYL album; the entire SYL line-up is featured, and most of the material is much heavier than the previous solo albums, with at least 2-3 songs that are pure SYL. Many fans consider this to be a disappointment and his worst solo album. 

And how utterly wrong they all are - including Devin himself who says it's his worst and least-favourite, a "gross-sounding record, but I still love the songs on it". Devin is sometimes extremely self-critical. This is a terrific album. People constantly complain about the sound, but there is nothing wrong with it. (They ought to hear how metal albums sounded in the 80s!) Perhaps sound-fetishists i.e. lunatics obsessed with nonsense such as whether the high-hats have the right pitch might bitch, but normal common-sense music listeners who give a shit about the song-writing first-and-foremost cannot possibly complain. There are tons of great melodies here. Don't pay attention to people who make this album out to be some sort of Roots Bloody Roots or St. Anger type of fiasco.


(Metal-heads are a strange breed; some of them autistically obsess over the production values, seeking absolute perfection and then simply dismiss any album that isn't "sonically ideal" - whatever that may be - and then there is the opposite side of the lunacy spectrum i.e. the hardcore punk and especially black metal freaks who cannot tolerate any music that sounds better than a hobo vomiting into a sewer. But neither demographic are serious music fans; they're just in it for the macho image, hipsterism or whatever other wrong reasons.)

Perhaps this masterpiece (and trust me I don't use the word lightly) is too heavy for the fans of his softer solo stuff, and too soft for fans of his heavy SYL stuff. Much of Physicist is sort of in the middle between SYL and his solo albums, heaviness-wise. The fact that the album was decried as "SYL-Lite" by the perpetually retarded music press supports this explanation. But what the hell does it matter whether Devin records a full SYL, a semi-SYL, a SYL-Lite, a 3/4 SYL, or All-Lite record? Shouldn't the MUSIC matter, first and foremost? Apparently, not everyone would agree. I never gave a shit whether he was working on a solo thing or a Strapping Young Lad album; the quality of the music is all that counts, whether mega-heavy or heavy-lite or whatever. Perhaps the fact that Devin himself has poo-pooed on the album on occasion affected how many fans hear the album (i.e. you should never listen to what the composer thinks of his music, they anyway always brag about their latest work as being their best).

This is how I picture the typical thought process of a metal fan who rejected this album before giving it a proper chance:

 
DT in YouTube Interview: 

"I wasn't happy with the sound at all. The mix is horrible, the guitar sound is muddy..."


Metal Fan Watching DT Interview on YouTube: 

"Yeah, he must know what he's talking about. I bet that album is crap. No need to waste my time on it! Besides, I have a burning desire to be just as finicky about the sound as a respected producer such as Devin Townsend, so that people respect my SONIC FUSSINESS, coz only SONIC FUSSINESS gets you respect in metal circles where many of us seem to be competing who can hear out more production flaws on any given album coz we're a bunch of bored nit-pickers, and anyway, I feel a lot more secure being part of majority opinion coz it allows me to blend in like the sheep that I am coz independent thinking sucks coz it requires too much energy."

Am I right or am I right?

OK, perhaps I exaggerate a tad, but there's no denying that many music fans are far too easily lead by what their idols say about their product. 

Apropos not paying too much attention to the song-writer's own views: Devin has named the highly overrated Meshuggah as the "best metal band on the planet", so his judgement cannot be always taken seriously - and that includes views on his own music. He has gone on record for listening to Judas Priest, Lady Ga Ga, Ke$ha, techno music, and a bunch of other shit. OK, fine, I guess there is no accounting for taste; even I must spend at least some time listening to the occasional shit (I will let you know when that happens though). 

Perhaps several very confused fans initially said they hated this, and all the others decided to hop on the bandwagon (without carefully listening to the album), hence the negative reviews gained a momentum that became an unstoppable avalanche. Devin himself provided the initial snowball; however, what fans don't realize or forget is that Devin is a producer/engineer hence someone whose job description entails being an over-the-top perfectionist with sound. He has an excuse for being fussy. What's your excuse? And anyway, a lot of the people who consider Physicist to be mediocre crap are the same people who glorify Ki - and that alone should be a warning.

The outstanding highlights are "Namaste" and "Planet Rain", the first and the last song.

"Namaste" features a truly venomous, highly original and infectiously catchy fast thrash riff; this is SYL all the way. This song is so powerful, so intense, so fookin' brilliant, it should blow away any half-way sane metal fan. That deep-end riff (debuting at 0:47-0:57) is one of the best thrash riffs of all time, no question about it; the melody might as well have been written by Stravinsky or Mussorgsky, has that dissonant touch. I think I nearly pissed my pants when I first heard this song. I was impressed, to use heavy understatement, and still am. 

The 11-minute "Planet Rain" belongs to his best epic songs. (And I try not to use the word "epic" as power metal and black metal fans tend to do.) It is on par with the likes of "Spirituality", "Solar Winds" or "Bastard". It starts off with a very slow, huge open-chord riff that evokes a plethora of images in my head, a stunning beginning. The first singing part from 1:38-2:21 might surprise some people, because it doesn't sound much like his voice; it's as if he had a guest vocalist. A little later, at 2:26, this vocal tone is accompanied in duet form by Devin's trademark scream (the best there is in all of metal) and the effect is simply stunning. And that's just the beginning. The song builds up to additional crescendos, all of which are wonderful. There is a very melodic, more "happy" bit around the middle that is much in the Terria vein, but then the song again takes a turn for the slow and heavy. The screaming starts and it is screaming that makes the hair on your back stand - unless, of course, you only give a shit about how the high-hats and cymbals sound. 7:41 then starts off yet another highlight; can any DT fan possibly be immune to this kind of power and melody? And yet most say this album is weak and that they only like "Kingdom". From the 9th minute onwards "Planet Rain" goes into a steady spiral, slowing gradually down until the guitars disappear entirely and all that remains is Devin's melodic voice, and then the sounds of rain. This song is so good, it could have been used on the Blade Runner soundtrack - and that's saying it all.


DT about "Planet Rain": "Here's my signature 12-minute epic song... and I do it just because I can... and it's a very egotistical way of getting it all out..." He goes on to explain that it's important to keep things concise, but that listening to these lengthy tracks is like being on a trip, once they're done. PR is a perfect example of that; it unfolds like a short movie, makes perfect sense in every way. 

"Victim" and "Material" are the next-best songs.  

"Victim" is practically a straight-forward Bay-Area type thrash song, except that "straight-forward" in this context doesn't mean it sounds like Dew-Scented or any of those other predictable 9th-generation thrash bands without an ounce of originality. Devin's creative use of keyboards in heavy songs is at its best here. I have to admit that I was one of those no-keyboards-allowed 80s thrash fans (I was quite young then), but Townsend has shown how much better - i.e. richer - extreme metal can sound if layered with (even) more melody. The trick is of course not to overdo it, and to compose appropriate background melodies i.e. to avoid keyboard-fondue cheese; few keyboard-utilizing metal bands do this well. 

"Material" is a fairly short song with beautiful vocal melodies, typical Townsend.

The rest is all great stuff except 5 and 6 which build a kind of notably weak middle. Why he would play only "Kingdom" at his gigs - of all tracks - from this otherwise excellent album is truly beyond me. It's a good song, but 4-5 songs here are better. Still, "Kingdom" is a fan favourite, so what the hell do I know.


"Death" is a blast-beat grind metal track, 100% SYL-worthy - but only heaviness-wise. It is a weak spot on the album.

"Devoid" is the other weaker song, but by no means bad. Together, these middle songs make up only 4 minutes of the album, so they're quite easy to ignore. It's a short and fast track that sounds more like an album intro or at least an intro to a lengthier song.

"The Complex" starts off poorly, but patience, because it takes a turn for the brilliant at 1:16 with a wonderful, airy chorus.

"Irish Maiden" is - or rather would be - a great song if only Devin hadn't decided to use some silly keyboard sound that accompanies the main/opening riff. This ruins the song for me to some extent. Essentially, without that crappy goofy noise this is a very well-written tune.

On "Jupiter" Townsend shows everyone why Judas Priest had asked him to join their dull, overrated band; he can out-scream i.e. out-halford the best of 'em. He does this at 2:59-3:21 and it's a fucker of a moment. Excellent. Overall, this upbeat song is very good, but easy to overlook considering the high quality of the album overall. Devin considers it his "least favourite song on the album".

"Forgotten" is the actual last song, but I don't count it as part of the album because it's yet another end-of-CD goof-off session, a semi-ridiculous track that isn't utter crap but isn't far from it either.

The heaviest non-SYL album, along with Deconstruction. So why wasn't it released as a Strapping album? After all, the entire band plays on it. It might have something to do with the fact that Devin originally started a project called "Fizzicist" with Jason Newsted, but when primadonna control-freak James Hetfield got wind of Newsted's "outside involvement" he got so pissed off that Jason had to quit the collaboration.

Luckily for us! Almost everything Newsted touches turns to shit (both in music and painting), so it was a blessing that Devin was allowed to go and write this thing on his own, because I am convinced that with Jason's deconstructive input the album would have been far weaker. 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuX6NDv9-jI


 
 
4. Accelerated Evolution

 
2003

Progressive metal, hard rock.


The working title was "Relationships". And that's why working titles are working titles and not final titles. "Relationships" might work for media-darling hyped retards such as Maroon 5 or Dido, coz it sounds just as shit as they do, but not for this album.

This was a kind of major return to form - or top form, even though one can hardly refer to its excellent predecessor Terria as a major dip in quality. With Devin's solo releases it's always nuances that separate the great albums from the mega-great ones, and AE is the latter.

The most memorable track is "Deadhead", one of his very best, a text-book example how to perfectly blend melody, unfaked passion and sheer power. Other amazing songs are "Depth Charge", "Storm", "Suicide" and "Sunday Afternoon". "Random Analysis" is pretty good too.

"Depth Charge" is a more-or-less straight-forward up-tempo track with a very catchy chorus.

"Storm" is the more typical dreamy DT song whose broad sound and earthy main riff evoke images of vast landscapes and nature, one of its highlights being the screaming that starts at 3:23.

"Random Analysis" has its highlight at 3:05-3:39.

"Deadhead" is one big 8-minute ecstatic highlight in itself, from start to finish, with its gigantic main riff being one of the best in all of metal. The way Devin switches from melodic singing to "it-goes-up-to-11" all-out screaming is simply magnificent and is guaranteed to give you goose-bumps unless you're a tone-deaf goose. There are many singers, especially in metalcore and nu metal, who have tried so desperately - but failed so miserably - in mastering the melodic-to-shouting-and-back-to-melodic singing technique, but Devin has them all beat by a light year. He does it with ease and it sounds natural instead of forced.

"Suicide" is more structured than the songs before it, a major track on AE. Starts off with a bass-line but then explodes with a huge, heavy riff. Its next highlight comes up soon, at 1:35-1:50, a wonderful melodic riff. The next highlight is the chorus, which appears fairly late at 3:10-3:48. The ABSOLUTE highlight, however, comes at 4:32-5:07. Again, a song with a seamless blend of melodic and scream vocals, as if that were the easiest thing to do in metal - when it's actually the toughest thing to pull off.

"Sunday Afternoon" rides on the coattails of its vocal melodies, while the guitars are "merely" there this time to provide the support. It would be a typical Terria track because just like so many songs from that album SA starts off and ends beautifully, but gets a little lost in an overly lengthy instrumental middle section - which is by no means bad. I didn't realize the excellence of this song until much later.

AE has its mediocre side as well though.

"Traveler" and "Slow Me Down" are quite commercial and bland, very similar in style, and totally different from the rest of the material here. "Safe pop" I'd call it, almost as if Devin had been planning to conquer the Billboard charts or something. Hence these songs are pretty much rubbish - at least when compared to the highlights I mentioned previously. Nevertheless, on their own they could be considered average, perhaps even OK. If he wrote tunes such as these two he could storm the U.S. charts in a jiffy; the masses love this kind of simple-to-digest shallow stuff. Of course, he'd have to hire a boy-band to perform them coz the brain-dead girlies and bored American housewives prefer young, gay 18 year-old boys to belt out such melodies.

The long instrumental "Away" is quite solid; Vai-like and with a lot of fusion solos.

Devin now considers "Deadhead" and "Sunday Afternoon" to be AE's highlights.



Sorry for yet another cheesy meme, but Boromir is so wise in the ways of this world. We can all learn a lot from him. Although, in all fairness, it was Samwise Gamgee's girlfriend who got him into metal.

My favourite negative internet comment about AE is this: "This is like sand, like atmospheric sludge metal." Isn't that just a lovely dumb analogy? Some people have ears only as head decorations, it seems.

RELATED MATERIAL: Project EKO, which is included on some versions of AE as a bonus CD, has nothing to do with the recording sessions of AE and is utterly different. It's a 3-track affair that holds no real value. It's got techno beats, some OK solos, and the odd interesting moment here and there, but sounds more like a goofing-off session of self-indulgence than a serious attempt to add something of value to his rich discography.

Just as with every DT release: NOT for peasants. And yet another top-notch album cover. 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrxmrS9FIzc





3. Strapping Young Lad: City

 
1997

Industrial thrash metal, extreme metal, progressive metal. 


"I think entertainment is lost a lot of the time in metal because it just gets so serious. People are like WE HAVE A STATEMENT WE WANNA MAKE!... (And to that I say) Yeah, but you look like a bunch of idiots, I mean we ALL look like idiots... Look at us... Look at my hair, look at me, we all look ridiculous, right? But that's the whole thing with metal, it's a parody... It's confusing, and that's what I like best about metal... It IS confusing, coz we're fully grown men going BRAGHRAGHHGHARGHR, right?" - Devin, around 2003.

One of my favourite statements from anyone in the metal scene about metal. It also neatly sums up Devin's basic attitude and explains to some extent why he is the way he is in both the way he writes music and especially his on-stage goofiness. He is one of a fairly small number of metal musicians who gets it totally, understands both the music's potential for brilliance, but also acknowledges its over-the-top bombasticness and the inherent silliness that goes with the (metal) territory. His self-deprecating jokes and hilarious comments reveal his considerable intelligence (a rarity in the music business which is brim-full of retards) but also confidence, and show that his Ego is far smaller than that of the majority of successful rock musicians - in spite of the highly ironic fact that he's probably more talented than any of them.

This exhilarating album - which was originally titled "Heavier Than The Last One" - was a slap in the face to all those who looked toward Testament, Exodus, Sepultura, Slayer and other by then washed-up old thrash bands for great new heavy material. After hearing the first two SYLs all that generic 90s stuff becomes almost banal. It's the kind of album that raises the bar for everyone else.


City was received a lot better than its chaotic predecessor. Even metal journalists, who often get things all wrong, recognized its strengths straight away, rather than underrate the album only to realize it's a classic many years later - as is so often the case with these metal-magazine scribblers. Germany's "Rock Hard", the only metal publication I could take half-way seriously when it comes to reviews, scored it in 4th place out of that month's 44 releases. They even managed not to screw up the Album of the Month, for once.

If you recall, my Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing text includes a 1995 review from this magazine. And once again it is fat Frank who gives us an accurate assessment of this album - if not exactly giving it a grade it deserves. "Devin Townsend had announced the new album would be even more extreme. Thank God that's not the case... (The band) still operates beyond all music norms and utilizes the most extreme elements that they can find... The chaos is organized, which is a result of Townsend's ability to decorate even the maddest sonic infernos with beautiful melodies..."

The only drawback is that the album is slightly uneven, and by that I mean two songs which are poorly written, too chaotic and lacking in melody. They both happen to be popular, so what the hell do I know. 

Just for fun, this time I tried to arrange the songs in order of quality, best to weakest. Not the easiest of tasks, as fans of this album will agree.

"Velvet Kevorkian/All Hail the New Flesh" is a sort of anthem song for this band. What Slayer did with "Angel of Death", SYL did with this song, if not in terms of popularity than certainly in terms of quality and it being a sort of music mission statement. No live-set was complete without it. Such an unusual track, it shows Dev's refreshing penchant for slightly off-kilter riffs. In 1997 (not to mention nowadays) it was very difficult to be original with this kind of industrial thrash - or thrash in general - and yet here it is: a song with original, monumental riffs, and tempo-changes that add an element of groove that cannot leave any metal-head cold (excluding power-metal fans). The vocal harmonies are simply astounding. Who the hell records scream-harmonies?! With 3 or more vocal tracks?! Devin does. And nobody in the world can touch him when it comes to that. This song is one extended 6-minute highlight, doesn't let up for a millisecond. A milestone.

"Underneath The Waves" is perhaps the most underrated track here, and quite possibly the heaviest. I don't think it ever - or rarely - got played live, although that might have to do with technical aspects of performing it live, I simply don't know. It was, however, selected to represent the band on a 1997 CD compilation for the German magazine Metal Hammer, so perhaps the record company did realize the potential this song had in advancing SYL's reputation and sales. This is a brutal thrash metal gem that kicks ass from start to finish (there, I used "brutal" and "kicks ass" even though I promised myself I wouldn't resort to such cheese); there is no letting up here whatsoever. And yet, in spite of the song's uncompromising start, it actually manages to get increasingly intense as it goes from one amazing riff to the next. The vocals are just as impressive, as indeed they are on the entire album. The sheer power of this song may be a little too much to handle for Ki fans. Just maybe.

"AAA" has perhaps the best first few seconds of any song on the album. It starts off quietly, almost shyly, with a slightly bluesy (don't worry, not the Load/Re-Load kind of bluesy) groove riff that explodes with typical SYL-ian vigour at 0:44 with the very appropriate "no-one fucks with me" lyric. From then on it's groove all the way; slow, powerful, huge, with very effective usage of keyboards, and of course Dev's vocal delivery is astounding, once again.

"Spirituality", the last track on the original release, might as well have come from an entirely different album, or band even; has a touch of Ministry about it. It's a slow, plodding, lengthy, epic mood-piece that serves as a suitable introduction (kind of like a bridge) to the kind of stuff Devin would make a little later on his early solo albums. In fact, Ocean Machine was released not long after City, and this song hinted at what Devin might record when he isn't being an "obnoxious" strapping young kid bent on making "noise". I absolutely love this song and don't understand fans who ignore it.

"Detox" starts off with a typical (meant in a good way) thrash riff, but in Devin's more-than-competent hands even a "standard" thrash riff balloons up to a state of sonic hugeness. (How's that for a rape of the English language?) Gene Hoglan's drumming certainly has a lot to do with it, as well; his input on the album cannot be overstated. Plus the vocals which are once again - I never tire of saying it - the best there are in all of metal. The song's absolute highlight is - and this should surprise no-one - that 2:54-3:56 part. "How did I reach this state!" I wish I could reach that state - the state of writing thrash metal of this kind.

"Oh My Fucking God" is what Morbid Angel would record if they stopped taking themselves so damn seriously for one second (or 3 minutes, in this case). It was a regular live-set piece, and I never quite understood why. Don't get me wrong; it's not a bad song by any means, but is nothing compared to the above-listed highlights. The song is interesting, powerful, that's the best I can say about it.

"Home Nucleonics" starts of with a Slayer-like riff. Another fan favourite that I am not too crazy about, simply because none of the riffs are better than average. Powerful, yes. Played with precision, yes. Great riffs and vocal melodies, no. It is also the only song on the album where I can criticize the vocals, and by that I mean that high-pitched thing he does at 0:30 and 1:03; it simply sucks.

"Room 429" is a cover song. The beginning of the vocal melody reminds slightly of - get this - the beginning of the vocal melody in Simon & Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence". You don't believe me? Listen to both. It is not a particularly original song, and I haven't heard the original version nor do I even know anything about that band or even what the name of the band is. Certainly DT could have chosen a much better song to cover. It is average, with a slight kitsch factor which I don't like having in my music - much as I don't like having a hair in my soup. The song isn't bad by any means, but next to the album's highlights it's like a forgettable filler.

Once Devin ended Strapping Young Lad in 2006, this DVD came out, and it's an absolute must-have for any fan of extreme metal. The gig at Donington is only 42 minutes long, but it's almost flawless. For more on it, and the DVD, here's a link with one helluva good review: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1200077/

RELATED MATERIAL: "Centipede" is a bonus track on the Japanese re-mastered 2007 album edition. It's also to be found as a bonus on SYL's live album. An OK track, nothing special, a bit derivative. One part of the song sounds similar to Soundgarden's excellent "Blow Up The Outside World" for a brief moment.

Speaking of Japanese editions, "Japan" is another track that I presume belongs to the City sessions or thereabouts. It also appears on the just-mentioned 1998 live album. Starts off forgettable, but the late chorus elevates it from mediocrity.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiDHtKlFIw0





2. Addicted

 
2009

Pop metal, progressive metal. 

In this day and age of rampant hipsterism and hype-slavery among music fans, it is beyond refreshing to have a musician who still places music in first place. This album, among many others he's made, is concrete proof of that. This collection of amazing songs represents everything hipsters and fashionistas hate.

What an amazing return to top form this was, after the very disappointing Ki. The 2nd in the DTP series sees Devin at the absolute pinnacle of his genius. This album gives me immense pleasure every single time I listen to it. The only "problem" is: do I put on the CD or the "By A Thread" DVD? There is only one weak song on the entire album, "Ih-Ah", which is far too commercial for my taste, too poofy, more for the yuppie and drowsy-student crowds. Fittingly enough, it's also the only track that Devin didn't write alone. The rest is sublime music, one gem following another in a seamless flow, and in that sense it would be the most complete and consistent album he'd ever recorded (were it not for another).

"Addicted!", "Universe in a Ball!", "Bend It Like Bender!", "Supercrush!", "Hyperdrive!", "Numbered!" and "Awake!" build the flawless core of this album. I don't recall the last time someone released an album that starts off with no less than FIVE perfect pieces of music.

"Resolve!" is almost as good as the above, another highlight. In fact, it's a sort of reworked version of a Wildhearts song called "Vanilla Radio". Devin used to play bass for them for a while in the mid-90s. "The Way Home!" is a great song, just not quite as good as the majority.

And, of course, there's "Ih-Ah" which is quite mediocre, a song whose inclusion prevents this from being a 100% perfect album. As you might have noticed, I have stripped it of the exclamation mark coz I don't see how this song is exciting. It should have been placed on Ki, where it might have been a highlight rather than a lowlight as it is here.

DT describes the album as almost manically optimistic pop metal, and certainly a song like "Bend It Like Bender!" perfectly exemplifies that. It could have been included on Epicloud, like a few others as well. However, "Addicted!" and "Universe In A Ball!" will easily appeal to SYL fans; these songs are heavy and with a lot of growl-vocals. The album is very melodic but layered with a heavy guitar sound - which in theory might sound off-putting considering that's the basic description of what many power metal bands do (you know... that genre of "metal" that stinks to high heaven and sounds like German Schlager music). But no fear, there is no cheese here. Metal and pop can be blended perfectly, as Devin has proven time and time again. However, he is one of extremely few who know how it's done, hence why the term pop metal annoys many metal fans.


Anneke van Giersbergen's mesmerizing, penetrating yet soft voice adds a whole new dimension of excellence to DT's music. Hiring her was perhaps the best thing about this album, although the song-writing is so good that this CD would have been top-notch even if "only" DT sang on it. Still, it's often the male-female vocal contrast that sets this album apart in many ways, something that so many male-female boneheads throughout the history of music have tried but failed abysmally.

Did I mention how much I hate male-female duets? And yet, here we have an album where that shitty clich
é had been elevated to a level of perfection that is unrivaled.

Hence why this is The Album of the Decade i.e. the 00s. Find me a better album, or one as good as this one, from that period and I will find you a duck that can write award-winning plays and plays solos like Joe Satriani. 


Anneke, before and after singing for Townsend. The difference is obvious; suddenly she looks much happier.

RELATED MATERIAL: An excellent, catchy gem that was recorded during the Addicted sessions but not included on the album is "Juno", later added to the "Contain Us" box-set. Somewhat more basic than the other Addicted tracks (and without Anneke's vocal input), it is nevertheless very similar in style to the other songs, and has real chart-potential (in a good way, sort of the way Life does) and I am puzzled that DT opted to leave it out. Perhaps he was later embarrassed to have named the song after that horrible movie about dumb teens? Or maybe the lyrics embarrassed him after a while: "I am Canadian, I am strong and free." Yes, that is the chorus. A bit cheesy, for sure.

Or perhaps the song refers to the infamous Canadian music awards show? Or maybe it doesn't, but reminds Dev too much of it? 
The retarded "Juno Music Awards" gave one of its meaningless trophies to Devin only once, and in the fairly remote "Best Metal Album" category, plus it took them until 2015 to give him an award, a full 20 years after he'd started recording his own music. 
This is further proof that one should ignore ALL music and film awards, whether they be the friggin' stupidly titled Junos, or Emmys, or The Golden Bloody Globes, or the (Bl)o(w)scars, not to mention the horrible Grammys. Don't believe the (corporate) hype.


If I were forced to nitpick about anything relating to this CD, I could only criticize the fairly crappy $3 album cover: utter shit, especially considering the excellent track record he's got in that department. I hope he didn't actually pay an "artist" to do this for him. I could have saved him money and given him a better album cover for free, just by wiping my ass on a sheet of toilet-paper.

Wondering what this piece of shit is doing here? This glorious example of canvas-rape comes courtesy of Jason Newsted. Even this bullshit, abstract, pretentious, phony-baloney "art" piece would have looked better than the CD's corporate-chart thingy enveloped in very boring white.
 
I don't know why this is the only DTP album that he performed with three guitars on the "By A Thread" DVD.


Whether Devin likes it or not, Addicted - not Ki or Ghost - is the most popular DTP album from the first 4. Most internet polls and music sites confirm this. (For once music fans get something right.) It rates highest not so much because metal fans can't stand mellow music (and some of them can't, true) but because his strengths lie in writing heavy, dynamic, lively material, and less in composing the placid, soothing, overly serious safe stuff. The chasm between the song-writing quality of Addicted and Ki is enormous. Devin might have held his fingers crossed that people embrace Ki and Ghost more than Deconstruction and Addicted but that only happens amongst his new fans - the new softies - many of whom don't have much or any affinity for metal, and many of whom were raised on fluffy crap such as Coldplay

Nevertheless, to prefer the unpretentious cheerful purity of Addicted isn't nearly as "hip" as it is to like Ki, probably due to the fact that Addicted is almost like Devin goes ABBA in a sense (a band that never got the respect they deserve), whereas Ki fits much more into the art-crowd "thinking man's" rock category which gets far more acceptance amongst high-profile music critics - who are of course by-and-large pretentious, dishonest, clueless assholes.

I do hope he uses Anneke's voice on every subsequent release. Or at least those chicks from Ki/COC and Ghost; they're very good as well. His voice and material blend in well with high-quality female singers, plus he by-and-large stays away from cheese when writing melodies for duets. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlcVhJNhF_k
 




1. Ocean Machine: Biomech

 
1997


Progressive metal. 

"When listening to Biomech, listeners should imagine an untamed but peaceful ocean... I will try to explain my music with colours: Strapping Young Lad is aggressive, energetic, evil, which is why it gets the colour red. Ocean Machine is blue, (representing) a clear, cloudless sky." - Devin in a 1998 interview

"Ocean Machine has some moments on it that I still think are valid." - Devin in a 2015 interview, in a typical moment of understatement and an even more typical display of disinterest in past material

Who records and releases two masterpieces of modern metal within the space of a year? Furthermore, two highly innovative albums that are totally different in style. I'm talking about 1997, of course: Ocean Machine and City. Some high-profile bands would give all of their wives' silicone breasts and their left nuts to have just one album of this magnitude within an entire career, yet Devin dished out a double treat, just like that. With this double gift to the metal community he defined not only 1997 but the entire second half of the decade. The year also signaled the beginning of his total domination in the (progressive) metal arena.

It is very telling of the swineish age we live in that Devin actually had problems finding a record company to release this Meisterwerk. In the meantime, the world was awaiting with rapt attention what Britney's next single was going to be like. The peasants need their shit, just like farm chickens need their corn.

The majority of his fans (not counting those that consider Ki a brilliant high-point; they tend to be his newer fans) seem to agree that this solo debut marks his hard-to-beat career highpoint. I would never say it's head-and-shoulders above the rest of his albums because that would be moronic. Let's just say it's a close "win" over Addicted and City which are similarly great.

Listening to OM when it came out was almost like a religious experience, as pathetic/trite as this may sound - coz I've heard people say this even about U2 - and as much as that's possible for a non-believer such as myself, so I'm not talking about visions of the Virgin Mary walking on clouds or overweight angels handing out leaflets. Knowing Devin, he'd use the word "spiritual" coz he's into all that New Age stuff (vegetarianism, one with nature, etc). OM was unlike anything I'd heard before, offering a whole new approach to metal and a freshness that was mostly lacking in heavy music at the time. He blended in accessible yet masterful pop melodies with power, but without creating cheese in the process - which so often happens when such styles are merged in far less capable hands and inferior ears. The songs are dreamy without being sleepy or apathetic, and powerful without relying on metal clichés.

It did take me a number of listens though to fully appreciate (nearly) all the tracks and not just the obvious and more straight-forward gems such as "Seventh Wave", "Life" and "Regulator", which pleasure the ears straight off the bat. As most metal albums that are complex, original, and ambitious, OM requires patience and attention from the listener. (Which of course means that OM is the anti-product for music hillbillies, i.e. the chewing-gum MTV generation, i.e. it's the anti-Kanye-West, the anti-Bon-Jovi, the anti-Aerosmith.)

Here is what one internet reviewer wrote about the album (he gave it one star): "I've never understood the appeal of this album. It sounds like generic post-grunge music, with some trance elements. Or it kind of sounds like Stabbing Westward. It sucks, is what I'm trying to say." A perfect - and uniquely hilarious - example of how musically deranged and ear-infected Devin's detractors are. Unsurprisingly, he turned out to be a Kanye West fan.

After several more listens I started to realize that all of the material is excellent, not just the handful of obvious gems; all, that is, except "Things Beyond Things" which is merely solid, kind of like a pop ballad without much originality. He wrote it when he was just a young teen, so that might be why. For some reason it's (supposedly) one of the album's more popular tracks, but I suspect it must be the Ki/COC fans who enjoy it most, because it is easily the most accessible and commercial song on the album. 

"Night" is slightly weaker too, but only relative to the other songs; it would be the best track on 99% of all other prog metal releases, and yet here it's almost a song to ignore. That says it all. 

"Hide Nowhere" is all great - apart from one part: 2:39-3:10, which doesn't quite fit in and which slightly reminds me of how he devalued a few tracks on Terria i.e. by throwing in mid-sections that didn't always quite work.
 



Along with the three instant gratifiers I previously mentioned, I would have to add "Voices In The Fan" and "Bastard" as the other stand-outs on this collection of stand-out songs.

"Not One Of My Better Days" is the name of the 1st part of "Bastard": a huge, plodding riff accompanied with bombastic, passionate vocals, but as great as it is, it serves merely as the lengthy introduction to "Girl From Blue City" which is one of the best pieces of music ever written. Slow, thickly layered psychedelic riffs flow into one another, one better than the other, including the occasional highly effective screams/shouts by Devin placed at just the right moments; every time I hear it I go nuts. (No, not head-banging and air-guitar.) It's one of those pieces of music that evoke stark imagery. Even if the album didn't have a body of water on the cover and the title didn't mention an "ocean", it would still evoke images of vast oceans, as does much of the album. Just generally speaking, a lot of his music evokes images of unspoiled nature. 

"Voices In The Fan" starts off with a bang. After its intro "3 a.m." it explodes into some of the best vocal delivery you'll ever get to hear in metal; first the by-now typical Dev-shouting, then the more mellow Dev, both performed with the usual perfection, tha transition from one singing style to the other never sounding forced or unnatural (which is nearly always the case with nu-metal bands, for example). If he had stretched this part to 10 minutes, it wouldn't have been too long. The song doesn't quite maintain that initial level, ending even with a dreamy opera segment, but overall it's a highlight.

"Funeral" is a very melodic song with a minimum of heavy riffage - but Devin shouts and screams over most of it, which gives it a strange kind of power. Wonderful track, from start to finish. Of course, another gem.

What can I say about "The Death of Music" - aside from pointing out to its highly ironic title? It's a 12-minute monster that starts off as baloney, essentially, but by the time it ends all the hairs on your back are standing. The first 4 minutes are almost literally ambient nonsense, with nothing much going on (as is the case in ambient music by definition); it is almost as if Devin sets up a trap to lull you into a false sense of security. Then, bang! 4:23, and you're in WTF zone. This absolutely stunning part eventually slides back into ambient at 5:41, but by this point you know that anything can happen on a Devin Townsend album, i.e. the song is far from over. Again, there's calm, not much happening. Then, at 6:51 there is the start of a slow build up into what turns out to be the second highlight, at 8:41. If you're not ecstatic by this point, or drooling with delight at the very least, you must be as lost as a headless zombie in a bad Romero movie. At 9:25 a scream signals the repeat of the chorus, the 3rd highlight. Fucking hell. This song is unlike anything I've ever heard.

When they talk about progressive metal they usually refer to bands that are not only dull or average but light-years away from anything even remotely connected to the term progressive. Queensryche? Rush? Fates Warning? Meshuggah? That vastly overrated Pink-Floyd-for-Dummies Opeth? None of these bands do anything for me; they're failed attempts at greatness, at best. For music fans who want truly innovative, mind-blowing music, you simply can't do better than this. Before Devin's grinning face reared itself on the scene, Franco-Canadians Voivod were the untouchable masters of this genre. But since his emergence, Devin Townsend has been defining and re-defining progressive metal and rock, for over a decade now, with everybody else running far behind in 89th place, red with envy, clueless, and latently desperate to figure out how the hell he does it. The immense respect he holds in the metal scene doesn't come from nowhere. Other bands and musicians are much more aware of just how good he is than metal fans.

This music will be listened to in 1000 years, long after mankind completely forgets all about Kanye West, Bon Jovi and Green Day, and OM in particular will be widely praised as a 20th-century masterpiece. Sometimes I wonder if Devin himself realizes what kind of ground-breaking and above all timeless music he is creating; he tends to be flippant about it, which is to his credit I guess. This isn't "just music" (as he likes to modestly say), it's an experience. His fans know exactly what the hell I'm talking about, while the rest can continue to scratch their empty heads in bewilderment or anger.

Somewhat childish rant: 

Canada, wakey wakey! You've got a homegrown music genius and you don't even know it. Help him out a little financially, you clueless fucking tight-wads from the Ministry of Arts & Culture. 

Even back in the relatively dark ages of the 18th and 19th century, most major classical composers had sponsors; whether kings, queens, art-obsessed aristocrats or money-dripping industrialists, there was usually someone to financially support the greatest music talents from their own (or other) countries. 

There is certainly no lack of money to go around in the West these days, especially Canada. Where the fuck does all that money allocated to Canada's Ministry of Culture go?! Fucking modern art exhibitions? Do they dish out checks to some charlatan who plasters used toilet-paper over a canvas and then bullshits about its meaning? Shitty left-wing propaganda movies? 

These retards are clueless and need to be shaken out of their stupor: I suggest two SYL songs being played to Canada's Minister of Culture, one song for each ear played at 100 decibels. Would that change their minds? Most likely not, but it would be ideal punishment for such stupidity, short-sightedness and snobism.

In the meantime, the likes of Bryan Adams are showered with lifetime-achievement awards and getting invited to universities(!) to make speeches about their fucking "art". The decline of the Western Civilization.

Along with Mr. Bungle's 1991 debut, this is the best album of the 90s. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm8uxb8Cwtk




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HOW OTHER FANS RANK THE ALBUMS:

For those of you wondering what the general consensus is, here is how these albums rank on a well-known music site. The number of people who voted per album varies from around 300 to 2,100 so it's a fairly solid hence representative sample.


25. Devlab
24. Hummer
23. Ass-Sordid Demos II
22. Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing
21. Ass-Sordid Demos
20. Punky Bruster
19. Sex & Religion
18. Physicist

17. Ghost
16. The New Black
15. SYL 

14. Casualties of Cool
13. Ki 
12. Epicloud
11. Sky Blue / Dark Matters
10. Deconstruction
  9. Synchestra
  8. Ziltoid
  7. Infinity
  6. Addicted
  5. Alien
  4. Accelerated Evolution
  3. Terria
  2. City
  1. Ocean Machine


As you can plainly see, all three of Devin's recent non-metal albums (Ki/Ghost/COC) are outside of the top 10, hence my views about them are not at all the opposite of what many fans think of them. Furthermore, it is abundantly obvious that most fans prefer the music recorded in the pre-DTP era.



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Best songs from 1970-2013:
http://vjetropev.blogspot.rs/2013/08/song-of-year-1970-2012.html 

Watch Hitler become a cannibal: 
Torn between the various, numerous fashion armies? Hippies, Emos, Punks, Goths, Skinheads or Rappers? 
http://vjetropev.blogspot.rs/2013/06/fitting-in.html 

In need of a vacation? Planning somewhere exotic? Somewhere where your basest needs will truly be met?


6.9.2016.

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