Devin Dissection: Transcendence

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Metal
Released: September 9, 2016
Format Reviewed: FLAC

By: Kris Kotlarik

“I really wanted to knock (Transcendence) out of the park in terms of, this is what I’m trying to do with DTP. It may not be as vital as Ocean Machine, because that’s not where my mind is at, but all those things that make it what it is are in place now. I was able, through a real conscious decision, to exercise and go do a bunch of things that are outside of my comfort zone. I was able to really get some great material, emotionally, to draw from. And the whole record, Transcendence, is about getting over it and moving past it. It’s still there. It’s great. But dude, what are you going to write about next? I’ve exhausted the whole alien-coffee-drinking-puppet angle.”

-Devin Townsend in an interview with Greg Hasbrouck, found in the ProgPower USA XVII festival magazine.

First of all, let me begin this review by saying that if you live in the US and did not see the greatness and/or hilarity that was Devin’s performance at ProgPower with Anneke van Giersbergen, you missed out. But you can look at some behind the scenes shenanigans thanks to the tour’s daily mini-documentaries.

I’ve been out of the album review scene for a few months while working on other stuff (read: actual work, unfortunately), but reviewing Devin’s music as an unabashed yet objective fanboy is something that I can always get out of bed for. I’ve been listening to the album in some capacity or another frequently for the last two weeks, and now that I have officially received the CD and put it in FLAC (and listened to it another six times), I think it’s time to break this thing down properly.

The super-short version of this review would be to say that Transcendence is an amalgamation of Epicloud and Sky Blue that results in a marked upgrade over both albums. The former has this bombastic element to it but occasionally fizzles out (like on Divine, for example), while the latter is a solid effort with a melancholic atmosphere that hasn’t held up over dozens of listens as well as other Devin albums have. I think Transcendence has the right blend of bombast and dreamscape atmosphere to go along with a master-craft production across the board.

That blend is exemplified on “Stormbending,” a track that I haven’t been able to go more than a few hours without listening to since I first got it. With the winding instrumental that carries the girth of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the delightful and soothing tones of Devin’s vocals on the verses, and his operatic vocals put on full display in the outro, I can say with full confidence that this would make the top twenty list of best Devin Townsend’s songs if it were drawn up today, an achievement that should not be taken lightly.

Not far behind that beautiful track in terms of quality is “Higher.” Clocking in at nearly 10 minutes, it essentially starts off as “Grace” before turning into Devin’s proggiest track since the release of Deconstruction. A walking, talking highlight reel in its entirety, some of the best parts include:

  • The screamed “I, the destroyer!” section at about 4:15, as well as the directly contrasting “change direction” section starting at 4:55.
  • The breakdown starting at 6:05 that leaves the entire track hanging in suspense before Devin comes in with a lyrical callback to “Fallout.”
  • The instrumental section that comes in at 7:27 that sounds a bit like the end of the intro to “Love” by Strapping Young Lad. Am I the only person who hears it? Regardless, I love that sound.

And then there’s the chorus, where the drums and guitar get heavier with each progression. “Higher” is truly a stellar track for anyone that has the patience to invest ten minutes into a song (dozens of times).

The title track took a while to grow on me; it begins with a march beat and takes quite a while to build up with a male choir before Devin asks that poignant question: Who transcends this? Sung in an operatic voice slightly lower than the ending of “Stormbending,” the chorus is great, but that’s not what makes this song stand out; it’s the ending over the final 1:15 that is relentless and makes the prolonged buildup much more meaningful to me.

Anneke van Giersbergen is used much more sparingly in this album than she was on any of her previous three appearances with the Devin Townsend Project, as she is mostly relegated, albeit with great effect, to providing vocal fills and ambiance in songs like “Secret Sciences” and the ending to “Stars.” But she does get one song on lead vocals; “Offer Your Light” is the “Silent Militia” of the main disc. That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you feel about cheese; whereas Silent Militia was kind a revamping of “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” by Dead Or Alive, Offer Your Light is more of a power metal number that, like Silent Militia, is extremely difficult to get out of my head. Anneke sounds excellent here, even with rather simplistic lyrics, but the production around her blends marvelously with her voice.

The final two tracks could be where the album falters for some people; they combine to take up 16:50 in length and nine of those minutes are ambient sections that close out each song. To top it off, one song is a cover and the other is essentially an 80’s ballad that borrows its structure from a Hindi meditation track by Krishna Das. And yet, both tracks still have some solid moments; the chorus and outro to “From The Heart” is sung in Hindi with a beautiful vocal line that is inescapable. What follows the prolonged final chorus is a luscious ambient jam that was apparently done in one take and is worth a few listens.

“Transdermal Celebration” is easily the least interesting track on the album, this in spite of the fact that I am quite partial to Ween. It’s a fun way to close off the main disc, but otherwise doesn’t do all that much for me. The best part of this track is the ambiance that comes after it, with Devin adding some soothing vocals and a small section of spoken words on top of it. Other tracks I’m not overly fond of include “Secret Sciences,” mainly because it takes too long to build up with only a modest payoff, and “Stars,” the ToonTrack demo that is gloriously poppy and is starting to grow on me, but has a limited ceiling. The distinction between “least interesting” and “most terrible” is important, as there are no bad tracks on this album, and many other fans have liked the aforementioned tracks. Tomato, potato, gazebo, am I right?

Much has been made about Devin’s decision to re-record Truth from Infinity and open Transcendence with it. While I would never have changed a thing from the original recording, the new version makes a lot of sense in the context of the album. The unrelenting grandeur of the “Hallelujah” section was replaced with more subtlety, but the overall production is airtight, and that new ending induces goosebumps. It was the first of several such moments, an effect that only a select few artists can achieve on me. Devin does it over and over again.

OVERALL: Perhaps the best DTP album to date in close competition with Addicted, as well as the best production from a Devin Townsend album since Ghost (or Casualties of Cool depending on whether you count the collaborative project with Che’ Aimee Dorval, who makes an appearance on the second disc, as a traditional Devin Townsend release).

Rating: 4.0*


Who transcends this? The Devin Townsend Project, that’s who. The digipak and booklet were signed by all five members of the DTP at ProgPower USA in Atlanta on September 10, 2016. The show was the first to have Anneke van Giersbergen join the band on stage in the United States and, despite some technological hiccups, the set was a great way to cap off a stacked four-day lineup featuring Haken, Green Carnation, The Gentle Storm, Blind Guardian, Spock’s Beard, and Stream of Passion, among numerous other great acts.

Coming soon: a review of Holding Patterns, the second disc of this album.

Buy the album at this link.
Listen to Stormbending, Failure, and Secret Sciences on YouTube courtesy of InsideOut Music
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Review: Strapping Young Lad – The New Black

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Groove Metal, Hard Rock
Released: July 11, 2006
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Imperiumi: Is the the gap between SYL and your solo material becoming closer?

Devin: “It feels like I’m less and less angry all the time. Even THE DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND will put out softer stuff in the future, so the SYL material feels even harder now compared to my solo material. My next recordings will probably be something like this (points out the beautiful nature of Finland’s Provinssirock festival), something [representing] beautiful scenery. Beautiful things. I don’t have to be hard/tough (heavy) anymore. I’m 34 years old, I’m already old.”

This is actually pretty mild in comparison to some of the other things that Devin said about Strapping Young Lad in this interview with Finnish publication Imperiumi; he further explains that he no longer has the motivation or emotion that Strapping Young Lad relied upon to continue the project, and that he no longer had anything to say through this band.

Contractually obligated to release a fifth SYL album, The New Black was released during a time when Devin was reevaluating his priorities after his wife became pregnant with their first child. As a result, this album sounds little like the albums that SYL was known for, namely City and Alien.

But that raises the question: Did Strapping Young Lad’s fan base really want to see Devin try to top those two albums? If they did, they’re delusional. Alien is the kind of album that can only happen in the most extreme mental conditions (going off one’s bipolar disorder medication, for example), which proved to be very unhealthy for Devin. City, meanwhile, fits the mold of his other solo albums in that it perfectly captured his mood at the time: Pissed off and existential.

The New Black fits the latter condition; as he was no longer massively pissed off, Devin’s material began shifting into a more positive direction that would culminate in 2012’s Epicloud release. This release feels like the wedge in between Synchestra, which was released six months before this album, and Addicted, released in 2009. While there are some explosive moments, they are overshadowed by excursions into utter silliness.

That silliness is best captured on the track “You Suck,” a self-deprecating number in which Devin yells “Hell yeah, we fuckin’ suck!” while also saying that your band, girlfriend, and a number of other people just fucking suck. It’s utter nonsense, and it’s hilarious, but it’s hard to take this album seriously with tracks like that and “Far Beyond Metal,” a long-time live staple that was adapted into a studio recording. The lyrics to this track are basically “The Metal” by Tenacious D with a nonsensical chorus that doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the song. It also features a fun cameo appearance from Oderus Urungus (GWAR). Then there’s “Fucker,” a bouncy pop-rock type of track that has a fun instrumental that was later released on Devin Townsend’s “Contain Us” box set but doesn’t have much else going for it.

Those three tracks are on one extreme; on the other end are some of Strapping Young Lad’s best songs, most notably “Almost Again,” a song that showcases the band’s dynamic range in a flawless fashion. The closing two tracks, “Polyphony” and the title track, combine to form a marching metal anthem that works on a far better level than “Far Beyond Metal.” The former track, in particular, feels quite emotional while building into “The New Black,” which maintains its intensity throughout and commands you to turn up the volume. But it eventually collapses on itself towards the end.

Meanwhile, “Wrong Side,” released as the album’s lead single, is probably the closest to being a traditional Strapping Young Lad song in terms of its heaviness and boasts some remarkable high clean notes from Devin in the chorus.

The rest of the songs are even more inconsistent than the highlights and lowlights of this release. “Hope,” for instance, starts as a slow and uninteresting plodder that morphs into a chaotic blaster, a la “Critic” from Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing. That section is utterly fantastic, and there’s nothing else like it on this album, but I’ll stick with “Critic,” which is strong from start to finish.

I can’t help but think that the lyrics to “Monument” were at least partially inspired by Weezer’s pop-rock gem, “My Name Is Jonas.” Unlike that song, however, “Monument” doesn’t really go anywhere. “Decimator” is decent enough but pales in comparison to every single Strapping Young Lad album opener by a considerable margin. And then there’s “Antiproduct,” a song that fancies itself as something more interesting than it is by featuring spoken word samples and a brass interlude to cover up repetitive lyrics.

The short version of this review is that there’s some good material on here, but it’s inconsistent and generally just average. What confounds my feelings about this album even more is the existence of the C:enter:### EP which contains two amazing songs: The title track instrumental that slots in with their best tracks, and a fucking perfect cover of The Melvins’ “Zodiac.” This EP was recorded at around the same time as The New Black, and it beats down anything on the actual album.

To call this album bad would be an overreaction, but it’s uneven and lacks the elements that comprise the best Strapping Young Lad releases (pure, unadulterated rage) and Devin Townsend’s best solo work (cohesiveness and auditory aesthetics). One could also argue that this album is among his most important works; what looks like a throwaway release on the surface helped spawn better releases down the line.

Overall: The New Black is to Devin’s solo work as Physicist is to Strapping Young Lad. Make of that what you will.

Rating: 2.0*

Buy the album here.

Review: Devin Townsend – Physicist

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.

Rating: 3.0*

ATF Review: Devin Townsend – Infinity

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Rock
Released: October 21, 1998
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

Carl King: Briefly describe the contents of the Infinity project.

Devin Townsend: 80 tracks of vocals, chaos, tip o’ the hat to JCSuperstar, 8 tracks o’ guitar, Gene (Hoglan) on drums, 1 yam, 1 trip to fun-ville hospital, 400 happy pills, 8000 strands of hair — in toilet, 300 cups of high-grade jasmine tea, 15,000 Canadian dollars ($174.63 American).

From a hilarious 1998 interview with Carl King, it encapsulates the project so effectively that a review is almost unnecessary. I mean, we’ve all been there: you’re trying to write a big paper, but there is so much fog in your head, or you’re just mentally drained, and nothing seems to be working. But all of a sudden, everything clicks and you turn in something stellar and unique.

This is basically what happened to Devin Townsend; after checking into a mental institution (voluntarily), he received a bipolar disorder diagnosis and everything made sense to him. That led to the creation of Infinity, an album containing many elements while never being completely “metal.” Whatever the fuck that means, right? One of those elements includes Broadway (as mentioned in the above quote), so if that offends you for some reason, run to the hills (and run for your life).

What this record is, as one could guess from the aforementioned vocal and guitar tracks, is a wall of sound. To some, this might be considered overwhelming. As a standing rule of thumb, I tend to like “overwhelming” music; it makes you think and gives you more things to focus on. And Infinity is overwhelming in a remarkable way.

The best track? “War.” It has some great lyrics (“We can see the enemy; they say, ‘Hey! We don’t want your war!'” I take that as a metaphor for your own internal struggles and facing them. The line “You can’t fight a war without losing blood” also points to this), Devin doo-wopping with himself, a burst of sound, and some excellent solo vocals to close out the song. The other absolute standouts are “Christeen” with its hard rocking pop goodness, and “Dynamics” for being the epitome of a wall of sound.

Weak songs? There aren’t any. “Wild Colonial Boy” is the closest thing I can find to a weak song, but it also fits that Broadway motif that works so well on “War” and “Bad Devil,” a demented jazz number complete with brass instruments and a choir. “Unity” is a bit long, but is a good way to decompress following “Dynamics.”

The others range from heavy instrumentals (“Truth”) to short wankfests (“Ants”) to one of Devin’s better goof-off album closers (“Noisy Pinkbubbles”). The main obstacle for people when it comes to this album will probably be its heavy production. If you can get past or even embrace it (like I do), there will be a lot to enjoy here.

Overall: Arguably Devin’s 2nd-best album ever released, making it a candidate for the top 10 albums of all time.

Rating: 4.5*

Review: Devin Townsend Project – Ki

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Rock/Ambient
Released: May 25, 2009
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Look at any album review for this album, and you have about a 90% chance of seeing the word “restrained.” If you look at vjetropev’s semi-infamous review, you’ll see him rip this album, as well as anyone who likes it, to shreds.

He’s not entirely wrong (although his methods of going about it might be) here; the reason why I like Devin so much is because he has almost always been unbridled in releasing whatever crazy idea happens to be in his head at the time. Ocean Machine, City, Alien, Terria, and Accelerated Evolution, all of which have been reviewed on here with high marks, are all evidence of this process. Imagine being a lifelong fan of a band like Dream Theater, which is well-known for using time signatures that probably don’t even actually exist (I’m just kidding here…but seriously), decides that they are burned out with their current process and wants to make an album that is exclusively in 4/4. Some (many) fans probably won’t like it. Ki has the same effect.

However, Devin’s restraint on Ki is still part of his “do what comes to mind” mentality; after over ten years of drug-and-alcohol-induced insanity, Devin gave all that up and wanted to control his anger for one album with the knowledge that anything after that was open season. So yes, I respect Devin’s mindset here. But a lot of the material on this album doesn’t stand out for me.

So I know what you’re probably thinking: “I bet this asshole hates Ghost and Casualties Of Cool, too.” No, those albums are fine. They are both only listenable in the right mood, but feel much more cohesive than this one does. There is so much discombobulation here, often caused by Devin himself, especially in “Heaven Send,” a song in which he engages in dialogue for about fifteen seconds, all well after the song should have actually ended. There is no way that song should be nine minutes long. Other non-starters here include the fluff jams of “Ain’t Never Gonna Win,” “Demon League,” and “Quiet Riot.”

My overall favorite song here is “Disruptr,” which fits the whole “coffee lounge metal” vibe that has been thrown around quite a bit when describing this track. But this track thrives in a live setting, right up there with some of his live staples such as “Deadhead” and “Juular.” It has the right composition to be thoroughly crushing if played in a certain way. As it stands, it’s still a great track.

Other good moments are mostly orchestrated by Che’ Aimee Dorval, who is a collaborator on the Casualties Of Cool project. Her voice is heavenly; there’s no other way to describe it. Her part on the end of “Trainfire,” a rockabilly track with tinges of Elvis and themed around the perils of porn, is brief but great. She also has other small parts throughout the album that are always pleasant. Meanwhile, “Winter” has a pleasing melody that goes on way too long, and the title track is rather dull up until around the 4:00 mark when he busts out a happier version of the arpeggio Ziltoid riffs and bursts into a massive wall of sound.

“Coast” is an all-around solid track that is probably right behind “Disruptr” in terms of ranking. The rest of the tracks here, and this album in general, can best be classified as a moodscape. “Terminal” might be the best example; it’s a lovely track with a relaxing melody, but it’s not what I usually would go for unless I am trying to go to bed. The same can be said for “Lady Helen.”

Overall: Since I am completely on the fence on this album, it should get a corresponding rating.

Rating: 2.5*

Review: Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction

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.

Rating: 4.0*

ATF Review: Devin Townsend – Terria

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Metal
Released: August 22, 2001
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik 

I am going to refer to Devin Townsend’s commentary of Terria several times while dissecting this album, in part because it is incredibly insightful, and also because he just seems kind of downtrodden while talking about it. It’s clear that there is a lot of emotion put into this record, as the least amount of insight he provides on the commentary is towards the lyrics, which he did not want to talk about at all because they are “too personal.” He talks about the imminent loss of close family members, as well as his dog, Happy, who was not doing well, and leaves it at that. There are also several references on this record to Devin’s bipolar diagnosis and his adjustments to it in the years leading to this record.

Given its somewhat dark and emotive nature, Terria could be labeled as a “mood” album. For example, let’s say that you’re in your 20’s, and you one day have an epiphany that your job is a dead end. The only thing you want to do is quit and go as far away as humanly possible, doing just about anything else, but you can’t. As a result, you search for some fitting music to help you cope with it. And this album absolutely nails it. In spite of its “moody” label, many of these songs are fully capable of standing on their own, especially “Tiny Tears,” “Earth Day,” and “Deep Peace.”

The introduction, “Olives,” can only fit in the context of the full album. It is mostly ambient, as if it were set in a spooky old-time lounge. A creepy voice-over offers you a martini (stirred, not shaken) with an olive. There is a rather heavy but plodding buildup at the end that signifies the “official” start of the album. Again, this is entirely avoidable if you’re just looking for single songs, but in the context of the full album, it sets the stage for a bizarre journey, and “Olives” is a bizarre introduction that would be very difficult to pull off on other albums.

This segues into “Mountain,” which begins with an explosion and some surprisingly harsh growls. I consider this track to be among the most underrated tracks in Townsend’s discography; it’s every bit as heavy as “Spirituality” from City, with an absolutely sublime chorus that can be heard about a minute in, before we hear a lengthy instrumental passage that is relatively minimalistic in comparison to some of Devin’s other long jam sessions. In the midst of this, there is a vocal passage with no lyrics that grabs your attention, and a bunch of abstract samples in the mix that include Happy howling while begging for food in an attempt to “immortalize him on record.” The lines where Devin screams “It’s just another mountain” at the end are also excellent.

Following a brief interlude at the end of “Mountain” that includes some more samples, “Earth Day” comes in much like the former: Heavy as all get-out with a somewhat sinister feel to it. And yet I can’t really decide what to make of the lyrics; in the commentary, Devin says the lines “Eat your beets, recycle/Don’t eat your beets, recycle” are about making a choice and sticking with it. There’s also another rather puzzling lyric, sung with no instrumental accompaniment: “And music…well, it’s just entertainment, folks!” Make of that what you will. My interpretation, given his somber commentary, is that music is just an outlet of expression and shouldn’t be taken so seriously. And here’s me, doing the exact opposite. C’est la vie.

Clocking in at 9:35, “Earth Day” doesn’t let up for a second, as it is quite heavy from start to finish. Devin’s vocal performance on this entire track should go down as one of his best, as it gives one of the widest single-track examples of what he can do, ranging from calm, to operatic, to screaming. Meanwhile, the widely-renowned Gene Hoglan provides some of his finest drum work on this track.

“Deep Peace” has one of the more calm beginnings of this album. It eventually builds up, only to be interrupted by a lush instrumental section in which Townsend plays a relaxing melody over limited instrumental backing. In particular, the section at 3:30, which boasts a soaring melody and some supporting cymbals, is almost guaranteed to grab the listener’s attention. The lyrics in this track come across as saying that it is perfectly acceptable to retreat from everyone else and focus on you as a person for a while before trying to solve everyone else’s problems. Who can’t relate to that?

The next track, “Canada,” fits Devin’s description of this album being partially written as a result of taking a closer look at his home country during a recent tour, which would explain this intriguing line: “It’s oil, it’s wheat; it’s soil, it’s beef.” As a stand-alone song, it’s really good. Stack it up against the top tracks from recent albums such as Epicloud and this would easily be among the best on that album. Here, however, it feels only slightly out of place. What does fit in is the ending instrumental outro, along with the fifteen seconds of French samples at the very end.

Looking for a break from the not-so-uppity lyrics? Good news! “Down And Under” is a rather happy instrumental. It seems like it was slotted in as a bit of a break, and I’m fine with that because it’s a fun track. Cue “The Fluke,” with an intro that reminds me of “Closer To Free” by the Bodeans. The intro riff is where the similarities end; lyrically, they couldn’t be any more different:

I am a fluke in the world/
I haven’t spoken a single word/
I’ll have to wade through the bullshit/
Baby just to find my own vision of pearl…

Somehow, this feels more like a triumph against the world’s curveballs than a downer. The two minutes of ambient music following the main track are quite interesting, particularly the section with the pulsating bass beat with some guitars buried deep within the mix. “Nobody’s Here” is exactly as depressing as it sounds. Much like “Canada,” it’s more than adequate as a song, but is right up there with “Olives” as a song I almost always skip unless I am listening to the full album.

Terria‘s main triumph is “Tiny Tears,” a track that feels somber yet empowering at the same time. Essentially breaking down the anatomy of an existential crisis, everything about this track is a shining example of how music can be powerful without being “metal.” Especially of note is a complete wankfest of a solo played over the simplest drum beat in history and an even simpler bass line. There is also a part where Devin chants “Kyrie eleison” to himself before the outro that is quite poignant.

The closer, “Stagnant,” comes off as a purge of the negativity, as it is the most lyrically and musically upbeat tune on this album. It could easily be placed into Sky Blue and nobody would bat an eye. “Humble,” meanwhile, is a typical pre-DTP goof-off track that features an ambient loop. Relaxing, but nothing special.

As a whole, this is an absolutely massive record in terms of its production. It’s less “noisy” than Infinity and Deconstruction, but right about on par with Ocean Machine in the way it’s mixed. One of the reasons why this album resonates with me so much, as with most of Devin’s other albums, is because it reflects the experiences he was dealing with at the time. At one point, Devin says in the commentary:

“A lot of it was trying to teach myself patience, because I have none. With this one, I didn’t try to push it even though I was excited about getting the record finished. I was like ‘no. Just get it done on its own time. Be happy with the progressions that you make, but there’s always more to be made so just take it easy and let it flow.’ And I think it worked to a certain degree.”

He goes on to talk about how he escaped reality and entered a fantasy world from ages 19-27 (as “Tiny Tears” points out, Townsend was 29 during this album’s recording), and how this album was based around snapping out of that fantasy world and learning about the perils of the real world. There is no questioning the effort that was put into this, and it clearly shows in the end product. Is Terria Devin’s magnum opus? It depends on who you ask. I know some Devin Townsend fans who enjoy almost all of his discography but cannot get into this album. Others will claim that no other albums compare to Terria and the mood it creates. From my standpoint, there are four complete gems (Earth Day, Mountain, Deep Peace, and Tiny Tears), a bunch of good tracks (Olives and Humble are great ways to open and close this album; Canada, The Fluke and Down And Under are all great tracks on their own) and two that I feel mixed about (Nobody’s Here and Stagnant) that I still like from time to time. That’s a pretty good success rate.

Overall: While it doesn’t top Ocean Machine, it may leapfrog Accelerated Evolution depending on how I’m feeling that day. Ranking the All-Time Favorites should be interesting when the time comes.

Rating: 4.5*