Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive/Extreme Metal
Released: June 20, 2011
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection
By: Kris Kotlarik
I am officially embarking on a mission to review all of Devin Townsend’s albums (even the electronic ones which are the exact definition of mood music in my book). I’ve already tackled a number of them, and many are quite favorable for a reason: the man is an incredibly talented musician who is adroit with working melodies into unique compositions. But there are some of his albums that I don’t quite “get,” or parts of his albums that I just don’t like.
This…is not one of those albums. That distinction, at least in the Devin Townsend Project series, belongs to Ki and chunks of Epicloud. Deconstruction, the third album of what was originally a four-part series under the DTP moniker, is a venture into structured chaos. Unlike many of the Strapping Young Lad albums, which simply happened as a byproduct of the chaotic state of mind Townsend was in, this is his most calculated yet progressive release to date, with the possible exception of Dark Matters.
The concept revolves around a fictional man’s bizarro adventures as he tries to figure out the meaning of reality. It features the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, a 20-person choir from Amsterdam, a whole bunch of well-known metal vocals, and as one of the song titles conveniently points out, this record is masturbatory by nature, with its tongue-in-cheek lyricism wrapped around some relatively serious themes.
It all starts with “Praise The Lowered,” a weird number which I can only describe as Deconstruction’s “Olives.” Aside from some out out-of-place falsettos, I really like Townsend’s subdued vocals here. It starts with Devin acknowledging his sobriety, but then it starts taking a chaotic turn when a voice in the character’s head (or the voice of temptation) starts craving wine, acid, heroin, and crack cocaine. Then “temptation” really comes at him with this line: “Why don’t you just smoke that fucker?” From thereon out, it’s a plodding, heavy track akin to “March Of The Poozers” off of Dark Matters but with harsher vocals. It’s a long wait until we get that payoff, but a rewarding one nonetheless.
The only track that I habitually skip is the next one, “Stand.” The main reason being that It’s nine minutes long, about five of which are unnecessary. It’s also a rather slow number that takes an excessive amount of time to build up. Not even Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt, who dropped some of the last death metal growls he ever recorded, can save this one. One positive point to this track is its brief guitar solo before the six-minute mark. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a bad track, but it’s not something that I would go out of my way to listen to on its own, unlike some of Devin’s other 9+ minute songs.
Luckily, things only get more interesting from here on out, starting with the pummeling “Juular.” Originally named “Jugular” until Devin misspelled it on a working draft, Juular turned into a fictional character that basically pedals religion and damns anyone that doesn’t subscribe to his worldview. Dirk Verbeuren (Soilwork) makes a complex pattern of midtempo blast beats look like an elementary school math test on this track, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to some of the later tracks when he makes quick work of rhythms much more complex than this, but the beats he provides works well with this track’s vibe. The choir is also put to good use here, as is Ihsahn in the chorus. This is the track that SHOULD have been slotted after “Praise The Lowered,” although to the credit of “Stand” it does transition into “Juular” pretty well.
“Planet Of The Apes” will go down in infamy as the track that Townsend said he would never play again following a performance at the 2014 edition of Wacken Open Air. Even on the studio version I’m not sure what to make of this; it’s eleven minutes long, but is more than capable of holding your attention thanks to its frequent changes of melody. The guest vocals of Between The Buried And Me’s Tommy Giles Rogers also helps. If anything, I would say that this could have been cut by a couple of minutes towards the end by omitting the “I’m sorry baby/I’m sworn to miles and miles of love” section and parts of the section that follows this, but overall it’s a solid track; just not one I would listen to regularly on its own. There is also one of the more legendary vocal lines in his discography: “While we all have influences, still/We all rip off Meshuggah.” I have never understood his excessive fondness of that band, but there is a solid point to be made that the entire Djent subgenre of metal is just a glaring Meshuggah ripoff. Alas, I have no idea if that was the point he was trying to make here, but that’s my interpretation.
Anything that Gojira vocalist Joe Duplantier touches turns to gold, and that is no exception on “Sumeria.” His parts here are crushing. The choir is again used effectively, and there is more than enough variety to keep the listener entertained. Especially of note is the calm and soothing closing section, featuring Cynic‘s Paul Masvidal on vocals.
And here we are, the one and only “Mighty Masturbator.” A sixteen-minute track that deserves every second of its length, I am going to split this into five chunks:
Part one: “Twenty-Five Years” (0:00-4:31)
This part really starts to set the tone that this album is trying to make on a lyrical level. A middle-class man who has been working in a shithouse factory for 25 years, all while trying to take care of his wife and his kids, is bored as hell and is not going to take this anymore. So he has devised a plan to save himself and, by extension, the world. Instrumentally, this section is a proggy doom track with heavy choir undertones, while Townsend just belts it on vocals.
Part two: “Save the world” (4:31-7:15)
Holy shit, is this section repetitive. “Save the world, you fool, you child/You can’t ever, ever save…” is repeated more times than I would care to count. It’s okay to listen to instrumentally, but this section probably could have been cut, although it does clearly hit the point home that the main character faces impossible odds as he sets off into space trying to find other life forms that will save humanity from itself. But something goes wrong; the countdown stops at pi. And if pi is involved in anything, you know it’s going to get weird.
Part three: “Give it up” (7:15-11:47)
This section has to go down as one of the best sections Devin has ever written. Here, the character presents the human race to a group of aliens for consideration into the intergalactic community. The aliens then say something to the effect of “alright, show us what you’ve got.” Over three different stanzas, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato increases the intensity. First, he says “We praise God! He lives inside of our hearts!” The aliens call bullshit on that, so Greg comes back with “We praise ourselves; we live inside of our minds.” The aliens again call bullshit, so Greg unleashes the truth: “We praise Satan! He lives inside of our hearts!” The aliens realize that humans are an unbelievably flawed species (Satan is code for temptation, as referenced in “Praise The Lowered”) and send them packing, to which Townsend responds with what can be translated as “fuck you guys; we’ll just do things our own way.” If you’re looking for where the looping electronica/dance beat (you read that correctly) comes from, look for a song called “Traestorz.” If this section were into its own track, I would probably listen to it constantly.
Part four: “I want you…” (11:47-14:01)
I debated lumping this section in with the previous one, but it’s different enough to warrant a division. It’s a continuation of the previous part with hints of “Save the world” thrown in for good measure. It is, however, much faster than the latter section.
Part five: “Carnival du Ziltoid” (14:01-16:28)
The main character reaches an epiphany and realizes that he is, in fact, The Mighty Masturbator. This section has a carnival waltz atmosphere that is basically ripped from the track “Processional” from the Christeen single. If carnival music mixed with ramblings of Ziltoid is your thing, this is for you.
From here on out, this album is balls-to-the-wall mayhem (as if “The Mighty Masturbator wasn’t already at that point). We begin the descent into madness with “Pandemic,” a short track with Dirk beating on the drums and Devin laying down a vicious series of screams to start the track. Floor Jansen of After Forever/Revamp/Nightwish guests on this track, and while I get that she is supposed to serve as the character’s conscience or something, I’m not overly fond of her performance here. I love the rest of this, though, even with its fart humor (the implication that someone’s fart can cause a pendemic).
The fart humor continues on the title track, one that needs no introduction. It is all over the place and is even more masturbatory than “The Mighty Masturbator.” It also carries an awesome cameo from Oderus Urungus, the late singer from GWAR. The lyrics to this are hilarious and on point; Devin rambles about drugs, sex and money as if he were making a direct parody of mainstream rap. Then we journey to Hell, where the main character discovers the meaning of reality. The problem is that it is presented to him in the form of a cheeseburger (a double, not one of those wimply single burgers). He’s a vegetarian, so he can’t eat the burger, sending the character into a fit of madness. This is like “Oh My Fucking God” off of City but infinitely better in every way, with bonus wanking!
And now, we come to the end: “Poltergeist,” a bombastically brutal closer which ranks among the DTP’s best overall songs. There’s a lot to like about this album, and “Poltergeist” encapsulates this perfectly. The section at the end, in which Townsend yells “There’s glory to the brave,” is epic and has been memorialized on my copy of By A Thread.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this album is its cohesiveness amid all the chaos, especially in the back half. One could start their listening experience at “Sumeria” and go through the remaining 40-ish minutes of this album and have it feel like a summer breeze. There were a lot of ideas worked into this album that probably could have fit over several disks, and it feels a little crowded at times, but that takes away nothing from the smooth transition from one part to the next. Beneath the chaos lies a constructive message, as expressed in the title track: “Take your time; enjoy the ride.” Although I can see how people won’t enjoy this ride, I know I do.
Overall: The beginning (minus “Juular”) is a little tedious, which prevents this from being an instant all-time favorite.