Your band & Devin Townsend: you vs the guy she tells you not to worry about.
Sweet mother of eight-titted Mary, Devin Townsend just cannot stop writing, recording and releasing music! It seems that the dude has a straight up addiction to creating music - music or otherwise - as he just churns out music in any and all formats. Whether it’s for Devin Townsend Project, his solo career (two separate entities), or through his time in Strapping Young Lad and Casualties Of Cool, it seems that every 12-18 months there is something new to be had from this Canadian musician.
Seriously, Townsend’s name gets thrown around the metal landscape more than Steven Wilson's does on the Prog Snob Facebook page.
But as far as the Devin Townsend Project goes, the band’s latest and ultimately seventh album, ‘Transcendence’, was released earlier this month to vast praise and commercial success. Cue hosts of publications and websites labelling it as the band's most "transcendent" release yet. However, for a very casual listener like myself, it seems that each new album only provides fans and critics alike yet another chance to suckle hard upon the taint of this enigmatic front man and his musical creations. While I don’t quite think this album is the Second Coming of Prog Metal Christ, I must admit that that taint sucking is with good reason; the dude writes some good songs! For this album, there's some real solid flow, plenty of tight grooves, textured instrumentation & a host of tasty riffs to be gorged upon.
The album kicks off strongly with a re-recording of ‘Truth’ and 'Stormbending', the former of which was originally released from his third solo album, 1998’s ‘Infinity’. Which version is better? Well, I'd say that this updated version is a far tighter, clearer and more powerful redux of the original song. I have no doubt that this is sure to be a real kicker for the long time fans out there, as well.
Speaking of originals, the album ends with a cover of Ween's ‘Transdermal Celebration’. Not only does it do the original song justice, but it also completely shits all over Ween's version that I frankly feel sorry for that band. Yes, they’re two very different bands and two very different genres so many will argue that you can't compare it. But that's bollocks - Townsend and his bandmates have taken the initial quasi-alternative rock song to a far higher, more potent place, despite making the track five bloody minutes longer than the original.
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But cover or not, the band's symphonic metal sound and execution here is only bettered by the album's grand production. Even with an insane amount of spatial depth and reverb applied - an amount of which Phil Spector would greatly appreciate - the album still remains punchy and heavy. Having Adam “Nelly” Getgood on board with the mixing and engineering of this record has ensured that this album and every piece of the instrumentation sounds fucking phenomenal (as he tends to do with anything he puts his name on). Many times, it leaves the actual music for dead as it just sounds so goddamned polished and fleshed out. But then again, Townsend could have recorded a sheep mud orgy while a bootleg of a Death Grips set plays in the background and it still would have sounded just as lush and as wonderful!
Of the ten tunes on offer, if there is one song that well and truly stands out, then it's the album's shortest song, ‘Offer Your Light’, which wraps up at just under four minutes. With its bright synth layers, soaring female vocals, faster pace and urgent sense of getting the listener(s) to the good stuff early on makes it an instant standout. Plus, the phased (or perhaps the flanger) vocals towards the end were oh so sweet upon the ears as well. Not throwing the whole track listing under the bus, I'll say that 'Stars', another "short" offering, is a very dynamic track more and it's succinct runtime makes it all the memorable because of it.
Now, with just ten songs, the album still clocks in at the sixty-five-minute mark. But does it really need to be that long? Fuck no!
The album is only just interesting enough to warrant such length. I feel that this has perhaps always been the bane of progressive artists; not so much writing songs as they write technical exercises that are essentially musical gymnastics and tests of endurances/listener that span next five to six minutes and onwards. Camel Of Doom's latest album, for instance, had this exact same problem; good music that went on for far too fucking long that the charm wore off long before the curtain drops and the listener just bums around waiting for the band to back off on the wankery. (Insert your own snarky comments about this review being too long here).
'Transcendence' could've easily done without the four minute fade out of washy reverb that extends ‘Transdermal Celebration’. Same goes for 'Failure', which is a good song in its own right but it simply idles along during the solo and yeah, it's acting as a bridge between the beginning and end but it just should have ended sooner. 'Secret Sciences' takes a long damn time to get going. When the pace picks up just before the four-minute mark it's a great song... but it took a solid two minutes to get there! Oh man, don't get me started on 'Higher' and 'From The Heart', which are nine-minute and eight minutes long respectively. The former just goes on and on without end, whereas the latter takes its leave via a very bright four-minute instrumental section that winds down painfully slowly... before picking up for another minute before eventually wheezing its final gasp.
To give you some positives, I'd say that a great middle ground found on the record is the title track, which builds exceptionally well and is only about six minutes long. So maybe it goes without saying at this point, but if you have the patience for it, 'Transcendence' will really reward your dedication in droves.
But look, it's really hard for me to remain objective about this record when I kept checking the clock during my time with it, not that I hated the album - that above 77 score says otherwise. I must also admit that this being the first Devin Townsend Project album I've listened through fully, I have no clue how this fits into their larger discography. Considering that 'Addicted' and 'Epicloud' are the only albums of their's shorter than this record, yet still hit the 50-minute mark, doesn't enthuse me a great deal to familiarise myself with the back catalogue.
Despite overreaching its length and run time, 'Transcendence' is still a solid record by Hevy Devy and co. The grand symphonic metal scope of this record's instrumentation is only surpassed by the album's superb production and mix, which I think should become one of the rare benchmark's for any and all mixers & engineers. Also, 'Offer Your Light' is a supreme banger. So if you don't listen to this album in full, at least give that song a spin!
'Transcendence' is out now. Like, right now. Keep it around for those long train rides or flights.