Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive/Thrash Metal
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection
By: Kris Kotlarik
Steven Rosen: Were you happy with the “Physicist” album?
Devin Townsend: When I was doing “Physicist,” I had come off of that “Infinity” period where I had made so many f–kups in terms of my personal life that I was just really depressed. Because I was thinking, “I can’t believe I’m so arrogant through all this sh-t.” You know? It was a really grey period. But in that frame of mind unlike “Z2,” I didn’t hammer it home. I gave up. So “Physicist” remains a record for me that as much as I think again it was done accurately for the frame of mind I was in, I’m not proud of that frame of mind. And the main thing I’m not proud of is the fact I phoned it in at the end and the record sounds unlike the vision.
First of all, Rosen deserves a Pulitzer Prize for this interview, which has more information about Devin Townsend’s mindset for most of his albums than you can find on any number of other interviews put together. Secondly, this could have been an album that sent him into the mainstream, as it originally entailed Metallica’s Jason Newsted working with Devin on something that would have been “heavier than Strapping Young Lad.”
Instead, Physicist is often looked at as either the black sheep in Devin Townsend’s discography or the hidden Strapping Young Lad album, depending on who you ask. After all, this album did feature the entire sex contingent of everyone’s favorite pissed off extreme metal band. And on the basis of Strapping Young Lad albums, while this would be incredibly inferior to City and Alien, it easily beats out the self-titled album (unofficially known as Chickenfeather) and might be a shade better than The New Black and/or Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing.
Like those two albums, Physicist has some truly fantastic material along with a bunch of thoroughly mediocre (at least by Devin’s standards) material. What stands in this album’s way more than anything else, however, is the production. It’s the sonic equivalent of soggy Cheerios. I want the crispy Cheerios, dammit!
And yet I still can’t say I dislike this album. I don’t love it; this cannot be understated. But it’s decent enough. At the top of the crop are several songs that rank among Devin’s best, starting with “Namaste,” a lyrically uplifting thrasher of a song with some outstanding riffs. Then there’s “Planet Rain,” an 11-minute downtempo tidal wave that is memorable for its often apocalyptic feel, with some low range notes from Devin adding to the destruction. The instrumental section starting at 4:00 is fantastic, as is Devin’s screams that follow. When you think it’s going to end, it takes another go to finish you off; whether or not this over two-minute section (or the minute of rain to end the track) are necessary doesn’t even matter; I’d handily put this in my top ten list for Devin Townsend’s best tracks.
There’s also “Kingdom,” which I would talk about lengthily had it not been improved in almost every way imaginable on a rerecorded version from Epicloud. “The Complex” sneaks into your ears after a few listens; the synth layering is quite noticeable and adds a certain element to this track that might not otherwise have made it stand out much.
There are other good tracks here that could have been even better if the mix were to be reworked. Among them is “Material,” which has a highly catchy chorus. “Death” and “Devoid” work as a thrash tandem, but the former has some vocal effects that sound like a ghost trying to haunt the living which doesn’t really work. “Irish Maiden” is really good with the exception of the intro riff and the return of those haunted ghost vocal effects, both of which unfortunately go on for far too long. The start of “Victim” is promising, but the verses are really annoying. “Jupiter” has a similar problem to a lesser extent, but the chorus is also catchy. “Humble” is a haunted rework of “Bad Devil” from Infinity and holds minimal interest beyond its mild entertainment value.
I shouldn’t be this much of an asshole when it comes to production, but it really does make a difference. Listen to Terria, then listen to Physicist, and tell me that the production doesn’t at least somewhat impact your opinion on the overall quality of the album’s sound. Some people like soggy cheerios. I am not one of those people.
Overall: The standouts of “Namaste” and “Planet Rain” are as good as any song you’ll hear on Devin’s better albums. The rest is generally quite average.