Devin Townsend

Live Show Review: Kishi Bashi and Guster

Location: Columbus, OH
Venue: Newport Music Hall
Date: April 16, 2014
Cost: $29 ($25 + $4 in “convenience” fees)
Merch purchases: One Kishi Bashi t-shirt ($15)

By: Kris Kotlarik

This is probably something I should have done long ago, but Over The Seize is rolling out a new live review format, the guide to which can be found here.

When it comes to acoustic shows, there is rarely a middle ground; I either love it or am completely disinterested by it. And it is a really odd that I, a “metalhead” by most metrics, would start a live show review feature with an acoustic set and an indie rock radio staple, but:
A: The upside to not thinking about genres is that you’ll always surprise those who do.
B: Kishi Bashi (a pseudonym for Kaoru Ishibashi) is amazing.

I became enthralled by Kishi Bashi’s music last year and since then missed an opportunity to catch him at the Fashion Meets Music Festival (FMMF) later that summer. And even though I was having an epically awful series of days and mostly wanted to cover the whole week in gas and set it on fire, I dragged myself out and was treated to a performance that exceeded my already-lofty expectations.

Watching Kishi Bashi play “acoustic” is a sight to behold; he has one violin, which he is quite proficent at, as well as two microphones, an adept beatboxing skill set, and an outlandish gear armada that helps to loop all of this together. On top of this highly advanced getup is his on-stage personality, as he comes across as an extremely genuine performer. Things got off to a rocky start when he spent a little bit too much time trying to get the crowd to clap with him, but something seemed to click from there and he managed to get the audience engaged without making frequent use of the typical live cliches.

The other quirk to his set was the frequent improv breaks, most notably one section towards the end in which he reached for his phone in order to record his latest looping creation. He apologized profusely and acknowledged how unprofessional it probably looked for a musician to be putzing around with their phone onstage. But he has absolutely nothing to apologize for, as his improv was just as captivating and entertaining as the songs themselves.

Among the best cuts was the closing tune, “Manchester” off of 151a, which, while good, was merely a slight letdown from some of the ludicrously amazing live video footage of this track. Nonetheless, the payoff is immense and rewarding. While setlists matter, it doesn’t really matter in a case like this. Even songs like “The Ballad of Mr. Steak” and “Bright Whites,” two typically upbeat indie dance tracks, were presented in a way that was enjoyable for the most casual of listeners. Songs that were already solid in their studio form, like “It All Began With A Burst,” took on a different and exciting feel with Ishibashi looping loops within loops on top of loops to create a coherently chaotic concoction. His vocals were also stellar, never wavering.

As an added bonus, Ishibashi is quite enjoyable to talk to offstage; he spent a rather large amount of time at the merch table talking to fans and posing for pictures. He seemed to be, for lack of a better word and meant in the best way possible, inquisitive of my Strapping Young Lad hoodie. Next time, I’ll bust out my Skeletonwitch shirt and see what he says.

Overall: Kishi Bashi puts on a vivid, quirky, and downright excellent performance.

Rating: 4.5*

Out of full disclosure, I should probably mention that I had little to no prior knowledge of Guster, who shipped up here all the way from Boston, prior to this show. Having already received everything I came for, I became quite delighted by their live setup: A small battery of guitars, one glockenspiel, one trumpet, an electronic double-decker keyboard, and most interestingly, two different percussion sets. One of the drum sets was equipped with bongos and congas, while the other was a more traditional kit.

Brian Rosenworcel, the band’s chief percussionist, could often be seen playing the entire bongo/conga kit with his hands, including the snare drum and cymbals. His showcase track was “Come Downstairs and Say Hello,” which features some especially swift handwork from Rosenworcel that fired up the crowd. This was my favorite track of the set; it reminds me somewhat of the title track to Devin Townsend’s Ki, which starts off slow and meandering but builds up into a powerful but nuanced sound. The trumpet had a somewhat limited usage rate, but its presence on tracks like “Red Oyster Cult” and the very prog rock-ish “Ruby Falls” added a unique flavor to the band’s generally airy sound. They also invited Kishi Bashi to the stage to play on two tracks to further add some unique energy to the show.

Guster is noticeably more subdued on stage than Kishi Bashi, but they were still quite adept at keeping the crowd interested. While I can’t say their (almost two-hour) setlist completely won me over (their offerings are generally far more mellow than I usually go for, especially in a live setting), they clearly care about their fans and/or see absolutely no need to try and push record sales. At the merch table, their CDs were all priced at X, where X = whatever you want it to be. That’s my kind of math. The ticket also came with a downloadable code for their newest album, and they are streaming their recent full-length album, Evermotion, on YouTube in high quality, complete with an interesting background video. The shirts and other merchandise (I even saw some Guster oven mitts in the crowd) were all reasonably priced at $15 or less, which is far better than what I can say for the vast majority of metal shows that I attend.

Three of the members of this band have been in the group since 1991 (the other since 2010); at this point, it feels like their concerts are a celebration of their evidently large fan base. Assuming they stuck to what they said at the beginning of the set, they played at least one song from six of their albums, only leaving out their debut. That’s what I call a celebration.

Overall: Longtime fans of the band had to have been happy about this set, and the venue is nearly perfect for them. As for me, I’m intrigued. Even if I don’t like what I find on the studio albums (and so far, I generally like what I am hearing), they still deserve plenty of acclaim.

Rating: 3.5*

Advertisements

Review: Devin Townsend – Physicist

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive/Thrash Metal
Released:
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*

Review: Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

Location: Kitee, Finland
Genre: Symphonic/Power Metal
Released: March 27, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

Third time is the charm, right? With Floor Jansen now at the mic for Nightwish, it just might be.

Finland’s largest cultural export (other than the indestructible Nokia brick phones and Angry Birds) decided to go Dutch by bringing in Floor (After Forever, ReVamp, and a ton of Arjen Lucassen’s projects) after the departure of Anette Olzon (who herself is Swedish). Marco Hietala, the band’s bassist and vocalist, called Floor a perfect fit for the band, and it’s not hard to see why. Although Anette did an admirable job with the more ambitious direction Nightwish wanted to take, Nightwish is at its best with a classically trained soprano on board.

Tuomas Halopainen, the leader of Nightwish as well as the man who brought you The Life and Times of Scrooge, wants the listener to hear this album from front to back, and that goal is reflected in the album’s rich composition. There isn’t a single track here that isn’t at least somewhat enjoyable. I might have made an exception for “Élan,” which served as the lead single*, but it built up into a worthwhile number towards the end. I’m also not a huge fan of “The Eyes of Sharbat Gula,” an instrumental that I’m told was originally supposed to have vocals before the band called an audible, but I don’t have any legitimate complaints about the track other than the desire to hear what Floor can do with this song.

“Weak Fantasy” and “Yours Is An Empty Hope” both have a strong Symphony X vibe to them, especially the latter. The band grabbed Wintersun/Swallow The Sun drummer Kai Hahto to fill in for this album’s recording, which might help explain some of the album’s heavier elements. Floor particularly shows well in “Empty Hope” and a later track, “Alpenglow.” Even the ballads, which have been boring on previous albums, are enjoyable here. “Our Decades In The Sun” holds the flag for the ballads, while “My Walden” has a very interesting male vocal solo in the introduction that sets the stage for the rest of the track.

The biggest standout here is not any particular song (and most of them are quite good), but rather the production. It’s the closest to a flawless production mix that I’ve heard this year, and the balance of folk instruments along with the usual metal instrumentation in the mix is fantastic. The only noticeable slip-up is in the 24-minute (!) finale, “The Greatest Show On Earth,” which has loud bursts of sound in the beginning that sound like they were recorded during a building demolition. That song, while good and powerful in some places, is unequivocally too long for its own good. I understand the Symphony X influence here, but trying to out-Odyssey The Odyssey isn’t going to get you many victories.

Minor gripes aside, this is a by-and-large enjoyable album that should be quite accessible both in and out of the metal community. The general concept of the album, mostly revolving around the meaning of life and how short it is, adds to that feeling of accessibility.

Overall: The best Nightwish album since Oceanborn. Seriously.

Rating: 3.5* 

*What is with this trend of bands and/or labels putting the worst song of the album as lead single? I’ve called Nightwish, Devin Townsend, and Blind Guardian on it within the last five months, and they aren’t the only ones. I thought the purpose of putting out singles was to get people to buy your albums, not bore them into submission.

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*

ATF Review: Devin Townsend – Ocean Machine: Biomech

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Rock
Released: July 21, 1997
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

Casualties Of Cool has been something I’ve been working on for years, a real passion project. Not since Ocean Machine (my first record) have I had the opportunity to do music for the sheer sake of the love of it. It represents a fair bit to me.

-Devin Townsend

Canada’s cult hero has had one hell of a career. He has built a wall of sound over the course of the last 18 years, dating back to Strapping Young Lad’s debut album, Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing. This was Devin’s first actual solo album (no, the Punky Bruster parody punk album doesn’t count as a solo album, although it is pretty goddamn funny). Much like his Casualties of Cool project, as well as Ziltoid The Omniscient, he had virtually no outside interference in the direction of his work for this album. Not that external influences, as limited as they were, have stopped him from coming up with some great albums, but this one takes the cake.

This is not a “metal” album in the textbook sense. Hell, this is barely metal at all. The only thing this can adequately be called without coming across as more masturbatory than this review is probably going to sound to most of you is that this is a progressive work of art. It spans too many genres to try and break down on the basis of an entire album. Indeed, this is going to be another one of those song-by-song reviews that many blogging editors hate. But if there ever was an album that deserved a track-by-track review as if I were calling a football game from the press box, it is this one.

Some openers in Devin’s albums, especially on Terria and Epicloud, are quirky in some way or another, and the first eighteen seconds of “Seventh Wave” is no exception. You’ll here a digitalized recording of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” that fits in perfectly with the ocean metaphor that this album portrays. What follows is a riff that starts somewhat lightly but builds up over the next 80 seconds into a powerful groove that carries on for the rest of the track. What I really like about this song is the final chorus, with a meticulously recorded multi-layer mix of Devin’s vocals coming in loud and clear through the rest of the track. Using one of many samples spread out during the album, it fades into “Life,” the upbeat, poppy track that should have been on the Billboard charts of 1997.

In A Dose Of Buckley’s list for the worst songs of 2013, he commented that the “worst year of music” would always be 1997. And let’s be honest, that year was pretty damn terrible in the world of pop (Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” did not qualify for this list, but it was released in 1997). But while everyone was trying to gouge out their eardrums with a pickax, they could have been listening to this weirdly worded song about the struggles of life and how humanity needs to gain a new perspective on a finite measurement of time. My favorite line in this track is easily “Wouldn’t you rather live it on your own, even when it bends you over?” It makes me chuckle every time I hear it because it just makes so much sense to me.

I consider “Night” to be the most underrated song on this album; it stands as one of Devin’s more dynamic vocal performances. The loopy synth melody also adds an element of catchiness to it. This track really kicks into gear at around the 2:15 mark, with a powerful Devin scream and a heavier guitar-driven melody behind it. There’s a breakdown of sorts before picking up once again. I also like the lyrics of this song; they come off as a reflective piece about being in a relationship that is both rewarding and utterly exhausting.

While the first three tracks, along with “Regulator,” are among the more straightforward tracks on this disc. The rest have a bunch of quirky features that will either be endearing to you or just turn you off; it is an exploratory album, after all. “Hide Nowhere” continues the string of upbeat tracks; this one starts with a triumphant beat and a great vocal line in the verses, but contains a vocal line in the chorus and bridge that initially turned me off to this song. I would say this track took me far more listens to appreciate than the rest of the album. The difference between tracks like “Hide Nowhere” and other songs that don’t initially register with me, however, is that the music is so good that I want to give it multiple chances because of its complexity. Amaranthe’s Massive Addictive simply did not register with me at all because there was nothing special about it that separates it from the field.

“Sister” and “3 a.m.” are mainly an ambient interlude with airy vocal melodies. “Sister” is propelled by an acoustic riff, while the latter is exclusively ambient with some unidentified voice samples slotted in. These are not tracks I would usually listen to on their own unless I were attempting to put myself to sleep, but fit well within the grand scheme of the album. The lyrics to both tracks are simple, yet poignant, especially in “3 a.m.” This fades into “Voices In The Fan,” which is one of the better examples of using screaming vocals as a melody that I have ever come across. Like “Hide Nowhere,” this took me a while to appreciate but I really like this track now. You may recognize the lyrics from the first verse as the same lyrics from “Color Your World” from Ziltoid The Omniscient. Perhaps the most unique feature of this track isn’t the aforementioned melodies, or the electronic rhythms that back up the more lush-sounding clean vocals later on, but the sampling of a choir piece from Orlando di Lasso. As if that wasn’t strange enough for a “metal” album, anyone who is fluent in Morse code might be able to understand the feint clicking that goes on during this minute-long section.

The guitar melody for “Greetings” is simply enchanting; it is the kind of riff that I could listen to for hours and not get bored with it in the slightest. And that’s a good thing, because this melody occupies much of the first half of this song, complete with a key change. The second half is also great, and much heavier, with more stellar vocal lines from Devin. The lyrics in this section are among my favorites of the album:

I believe we’ll lose our world for them/
I believe we’d throw up arms before them/
And bore them/
So call it home…

What does that mean? That’s anyone’s guess, but I like to think of it as an internal metaphor for sticking to your own principles and making the best with what you have. Different interpretations for different folks, right? “Regulator” is the conventional headbanger of this album, if such a thing exists. It’s one of the most fun songs to listen to on its own right (that title goes to Seventh Wave, which I played nightly before going to bed for upwards of a year), but also among the least memorable. This song makes a lot of sense for Devin to play in the live shows that he doesn’t headline, as it can get a lot of people into his music with how fun this song is to listen to.

The next four tracks could have easily been placed on their own album and we’d have been none the wiser; three of them are eight minutes or longer, and the closer is a great conclusion to this album. It starts with “Funeral,” a track that some prefer to be heard acoustically instead of its electric version on this album because it feels more emotionally charged in an intimate setting. As it stands, it’s already an emotional track that carries a religious metaphor with it. I particularly gravitate to the guitars in this track; they’re not overly technical in any way whatsoever, but I cannot imagine hearing anything else in place of them. The ending of this track is quite memorable, with more sample loops placed over ambiance and a rather ghostly guitar sound that segues into “Bastard.”

Technically split into two movements, I consider “Bastard” to be the best track in this album. It’s also somber, much like “Funeral,” without being depressing. It’s a 10-minute song that feels like four minutes. The first movement, “Not One Of My Better Days,” lasts about six minutes, while “The Girl From Blue City,” which seems to be about a prostitute, is only a slight variation from the first movement. I know this song (and album) is already long, but I would have liked to see this part explored for longer than it was. Regardless, it’s a great track to listen to on most occasions, something that most 10-minute songs can’t claim.

I don’t even know how to begin describing “The Death Of Music.” For starters, this is an electronic ambient track that carries no traditional percussion (except for a vibraslap and some other minor instruments) and very feint guitars. Secondly, this behemoth of a track is twelve minutes long. And lastly, Devin belts out some utterly impressive vocal lines that nobody else, with the possible exception of Mike Patton, can deliver. This is especially noticeable in the sections where Devin sings “It’s like a death becomes musical.” There’s another section between 5:40 and 6:30 in which Devin manages to make an effective use of whispering, and the four minutes that follows this is a stunning piece of music driven almost entirely by Devin’s vocals. Considering the fact that this beat is essentially a jazzless bossa nova that drones on for almost the entire track, this song is a work of art. Other excursions into ambiance from Devin haven’t done much for me, but this one nails it.

Lastly, we have “Things Beyond Things,” a track that picks up where “The Death Of Music” left off; it feels like the immediate aftermath of that track. This fits in with a more somber Alice In Chains track instrumentally, with Devin delivering some more gorgeous vocal lines. Look out for the vicious scream that occurs about 15 seconds before the track ends; it is an ear killer. Perhaps he put that scream there to exercise some demons or something, but it scared the crap out of me.

Many people have an album in their library that hit them like a ton of bricks, and they can’t put that album down for more than a week or so without feeling some kind of withdrawal symptoms, begging them to come back for more. For me, this is that album. I don’t listen to this album every day, but several times a month, I have to listen to it to remember why I love this so much. There’s so much going on; so many different moods, so many sounds, and so many genres being cooked in a big pot. It all comes together to form one of the most uniquely coherent albums that has ever been released.

Overall: From start to finish, a masterpiece.

Rating: 5.0*

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*