Review: Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud/er

Disclaimer: I am reviewing the main album and its bonus disc as two separate entities since the latter could be constituted as a full-length album.

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive/Alternative Metal
Released: September 18, 2012
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Z2 preview

By: Kris Kotlarik

I could make another long-winded statement about Devin Townsend’s lengthy discography and all the stuff he’s done, but I’ve already done that a number of times. As promised in my review of Ziltoid The Omniscient, I decided to review Epicloud and its bonus disk, which is known as Epiclouder. This album was purported to be a smattering of the previous Devin Townsend Project albums, and it definitely delivers on that aspect; there’s the poppy stylings of Addicted (“Liberation” is a solid example of this); the softness of Ghost as seen on “Divine” and “Lessons; the heaviness of Deconstruction, with “Grace” leading the charge; and some Ki-esque material with songs like “Where We Belong.”

In many ways, both disks feel like a purge of the brain. There were so many ideas, and it made sense to try and put them all on an album and see if it works. Does it? Kind of. The production is larger than life, there’s a gospel choir, the structures are generally simplistic and occasionally repetitive (a rarity for Townsend), and Anneke van Giersbergen returns to grace (no pun intended) the world with her beautiful voice once again.

The best tracks here are the heaviest ones, which means “Kingdom,” “Grace,” and “Angel” win the prize. You may remember “Kingdom” from the wildly underrated Physicist, which is basically a hidden Strapping Young Lad album with some muffled production. “Kingdom” took on a life of its own in live shows, and that essence is captured on this remake. The vocals are what make this track come alive; Devin’s operatic singing soars above the rest of the music, and the drum sound has clearly improved from the original “Kingdom.” With that said, I’m planning on writing a review of Physicist because there are several stellar tracks on it that rank among Devin’s best, and “Kingdom” wouldn’t have made the top three for that album.

“Grace” and “Angel” show what Anneke is capable of, especially on the latter. “Grace” is a solid track with a positive message that kind of gets lost in the chugga-chugga riffing, but the song is almost impossibly catchy. Anneke’s parts in the beginning and end are stellar, but her roll on the hook of “Angel,” a midtempo wall of sound, is this album’s highlight. The gospel choir, which has memorable parts elsewhere on this album, is also used effectively on both tracks. You would think that a gospel choir being put onto a metal album is just plain wrong, but it actually works really well if it is used correctly, and it is.

I mostly feel indifference towards the remaining tracks, including “Lucky Animals,” which most people hate for its banal lyrics. If we’re looking at banal lyrics, I direct your attention to the ultra cheese ballad, “Divine.”

Loving you is the best thing and the worst thing in my life.
Loving you is entire.
And loving you is the one thing that I need right now…

Loving you is the best thing and the worst thing in my life.
Loving you is entire.
Loving you in the morning is a warning…

That is how two of the verses begin. It’s kind of cringe-worthy; if I want to listen to a Devin Townsend love song with a dual message, I’ll stick with “Storm” off of Accelerated Evolution or “Night” from Ocean Machine, or even “Love?” off of Strapping Young Lad’s Alien. In all three cases, there is clear emotion poured into the song by Devin, which just feels absent here. I also don’t care for “Save Our Now,” which Devin Townsend has admitted to being almost an exact replica of “The Island” by a club group called Pendulum. It’s an okay song, but is too dance-poppy for my taste and lacks the originality I crave from Devin. “Lessons,” meanwhile, is a minute-long interlude that could have fit on Ghost or maybe Casualties Of Cool that simply goes nowhere.

Highlights from the rest of the album include the ending section of “True North,” which helps overcome the rest of the stagnant track. “Liberation” and “Where We Belong” are both solid listens, and I like the throwback that “Hold On” provides to “Slow Me Down” from Accelerated Evolution. Meanwhile, “More” is solid musically but the lyrics are also a tad trite.

Overall: As harsh as I have been on parts of this album, even the worst parts are still pretty good in Devin’s capable hands. Except for “Divine,” which is irrevocably bad. 

Rating: 3.0*

______________________________________________________________________________________

As for Epiclouder, the good moments come in more consistent bunches, and there are no truly bad tracks here. The cheesiest track, “Love And Marriage,” is at least another solid attempt at music comedy. “Happy Birthday,” “Believe,” and “Little Pig” sound like Devin Townsend attempting to make a foray into the indie rock guild. All three have some redeeming qualities to them; “Happy Birthday” has some nice vocals from Anneke; “Believe” is a nice little acoustic number, and for such a low-key tune, Devin absolutely belts it on “Little Pig,” which at times could be mistaken for a revamped version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone.” I’m on the fence about “Love Tonight,” but I like the layering in this mix and that puts it in favorable, if unspectacular, territory.

I really like the rest of the songs on the bonus disk, starting with “Quietus,” which comes across as a significantly better attempt at “Save Our Now.” It has a slight dance pop feel to it once the intro passes, but everything clicks so much better here. Anneke and Devin roll off of each other very well, and there’s much more structural complexity to this track than just about anything the first disc threw at the listener. “Heatwave” is another attempt at rockabilly similar to “Trainfire” off of Ki, but the chorus is lush.

“The Mind Wasp” has a beautiful bass riff and feels like a truly experimental track unlike anything Devin has attempted before this. It works well here and has some stellar vocal work. “Woah No!” has the makings of a Shining (NO) with its use of a saxophone in the beginning, but turns into a powerful number with some pummeling drums leading the charge. The chorus and post-chorus (hell, all of the final 150 seconds) are solid examples of what an effective wall of sound style of production can bring to the table.

And then there’s “Socialization,” which can best be described as a happier version of “Color Your World.” In fact, it follows almost the exact same structure, with some minor nuances. It feels more like a self-parody, but it’s a good one. There’s even a mega-wank solo before Devin screams “Tonight, we dine at Denny’s!”

No, seriously, I can’t even make that up. Following the 300 spinoff, there’s a drop and a wall of Devin Townsend’s vocals layered in, before we get another four minutes of calm, soothing keyboards and ambient vocals. As a whole, the second disc, despite its lack of flow, feels more complete to me than the first disk. The good moments are more memorable, it is much more exploratory, and there is nothing anywhere near as bad as “Divine” on here.

Overall: If you’re still looking for some exploratory Devin Townsend sounds, this is the disc to listen to. Its only major flaw is the aforementioned lack of flow, and some parts (such as the rockabilly sections of “Heatwave”) might be a little too self-indulgent. 

Rating: 3.5*

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