For Fans Of
A new album from Devin Townsend is always an exciting prospect. Never one to follow musical trends, his releases generally offer something different when mainstream metal is over-saturated and stagnant. Even when mainstream metal is great, he still manages to sound fresh. With ‘Epicloud‘, the fifth album in the Devin Townsend Project series, he offers his take on catchy pop metal.
Wait, didn’t he already do that with ‘Addicted‘? Most people agree it wasn’t a high point in his catalogue, right? So why do it again?
After opening with the purely Gospel ‘Effervescent!‘, Townsend launches into the saccharine ‘True North‘, with vocal duties shared between himself and Dutch collaborator Anneke Van Giersbergen, who featured heavily on ‘Addicted‘. The mix of male and female vocals is an interesting choice to say the least, and is frankly annoying. Van Giersbergen has a tremendous voice, but it sounds out of place here.
‘Lucky Animals‘ and ‘Liberation‘ add a punk attitude to the album, although the former doesn’t bode well for the quality of songwriting, especially so early on. Luckily a reprieve arrives in the form of ‘Save Our Now‘, a track that represents the structure of the entire album in the contrast between its verse and chorus: moments of sheer brilliance versus moments of sickly sweet pop metal that barely hit the mark.
‘Kingdom‘ is the first of two highlights on the album. Dedicated fans will recognise the song from 2000’s ‘Physicist‘, or from its inclusion in recent live sets. This new version channels the energy of the original with updated production, and is a moment of pure heavy metal joy. Songs like this are where Townsend’s genius is apparent in his ability to craft songs of devastating brutality in a major key. This is feel-good metal for people who don’t like metal.
Stylistically, ‘Divine‘ is an obvious throwback to 2009’s ‘Ki‘, featuring a minimal production with ambience at the core, but it doesn’t deviate lyrically from the apparently simple themes of ‘Epicloud‘.
Next up is ‘Grace‘, the second album highlight. Polyrhythmic riffs in a progressive song structure, this is Meshuggah meets Sigur Rós meets your local church choir. By leaving the more progressive songs to the second half of the album, Townsend is able to appeal to new listeners with the pop metal that opens ‘Epicloud‘, and still appease hardcore fans by rewarding them for having endured so far with his typical self-indulgence.
The album closes with ‘Angel‘, another Gospel-infused progressive metal journey. I wonder whether or not these influences are indicative of a change in Townsend’s beliefs or way of life, or it it’s just a mid-life crisis. Either way, they work.
‘Epicloud’ is grand, epic, heavy, ecstatic, all of the things you’d expect from a Devin Townsend album, but most importantly for this particular release, it’s accessible. If long time fans don’t like the new age pop metal direction, they will at least be able to lose themselves in the seemingly infinite layers of lavishly produced guitars and vocals. New fans, however, will appreciate the immediacy of the songs, something Townsend has hinted at in the past, and has now put at the forefront of his sound.
2. True North
3. Lucky Animals
5. Where We Belong
6. Save Our Now
12. Hold On