Ihsahn

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*

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Review: Malsain – They Never Die

Location: Bergen, Norway
Genre: Black Metal
Released: May 23, 2005
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Diving For Treasure

By: Kris Kotlarik

They Never Die is the debut EP of this Norwegian black metal outfit, fronted by female vocalist Skumring. Her vocals on much of this effort, with a marked exception of one song, is the most likable aspect here, which isn’t saying all that much.

Production-wise, this is very raw with most of the instruments muddled in the mix. Oddly, the bass is possibly the most clearly audible instrument at any given time. After starting with an uneventful intro, “The Marsh” comes in with Skumring’s screams leading the charge. The title track is also fairly solid and features the heaviest section on the record towards the end.

“Cold Strofobia” was entirely forgettable aside from a nice bridge section midway through. The best song here is “Kvele Seg (Strangle Himself),” which features a diverse array of rhythms and tempos. This is followed by the worst track, “Brent Tre (couldn’t find a translation, but Tre apparently means “Wood”),” which bludgeons the eardrums with horrifying vocal screeches. “Lokkemann (enticing men) ends the album in an eventful way, although it is a bonus demo that was included on the reissue so I can’t fault the group too much for that.

Lyrically, this is roughly half Norwegian, half English, and entirely unoriginal. I can’t think of many great things to say about this; I will say that I should have learned my lesson on Norwegian female-fronted black metal after listening to a Peccatum album; not even Ihsahn or his wife could save that band from becoming an over-garbled train wreck. And as much of a train wreck as that was, it’s still better than They Never Die. 

Overall: Better production may have helped, but only slightly. Skip the last two songs. 

Rating: 1.0*

A Guide to Analyzing (or writing) Over The Seize’s Album Reviews

By: Kris Kotlarik

Writing album reviews is something I have always taken great pleasure in. Trying to talk about most albums is much more difficult to express in an articulate way than it is for me to write it out, although there are a few that I will talk your head off about.

Starting tomorrow (May 30), I will begin writing album reviews under the Over The Seize flag. Each week, I will aim to write at least four reviews:
-1 recently released album from a band based in the state of Ohio. This is part of the “Local Waters” feature.
-1 recently released album from any band, anywhere. This is part of either the “National Uprising” or “Global Conquest” feature.
-1 album that I had no knowledge about before acquiring, released at any time, from any location. This will always be a “first listen” review and can be part of any of the aforementioned features.
-1 album from any period of time that I have listened to a multitude of times and either love it or fell out of favor with it.

The way I rate the albums I review revolves around top-to-bottom listenability. A highly rated album is almost guaranteed to never contain lulls or filler tracks. If there are “filler” tracks, they serve a purpose. This criteria often covers musicianship, lyrical content and production, in that order. Other factors I consider include perceived originality and, if applicable, replay value.

This is done using a 5-point scale. Some sample ratings:

5.0: An album that should be widely appreciated by fans of almost every genre. Entertaining from beginning to end on every listen. Extremely innovative and/or diverse. There are only a handful of albums that I will ever give this rating to.
Example: Devin Townsend – Ocean Machine

4.5: A fantastic album with negligible “slip-ups” that prevent it from reaching the all-time greats. Will still easily fall into my top 50 albums of all time and is a mortal lock to be in my top three albums of any given year.
Examples: Anathema – Weather Systems; The Gathering – Mandylion; Arcturus – The Sham Mirrors

4.0: A good album that could have been even better if a few songs were taken out or made shorter/longer. Guaranteed to make the top 30 of any year-end list I may end up writing.
Examples: Testament – The Gathering; Vader – Revelations; Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy

3.5: Missing a few components that would have otherwise given it a 4.0 or 4.5. Still a solid listen from top to bottom, but won’t be revisited as often.
Examples: Stolen Babies – There Be Squabbles Ahead; Melechesh – Emissaries; Blind Guardian – Tales From The Twilight World

3.0: This rating has often been frequented by albums that have approximately three or four amazing songs (or approximately one-quarter of the album in length), but the rest of the album usually gets ignored.
Examples: Krisiun – The Great Execution; Napalm Death – Utilitarian; Strapping Young Lad – Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing

2.5: An album that I have no strong feelings for one way or the other. Any positive comment is often outweighed by a negative one. This is the kind of album that would probably be relegated to the NIT if there was an album tournament, or something to the effect of the Little Caesar’s Bowl in the College Football multiverse. Someone else would then say “That team got snubbed! They should have gotten in over this team!” And I wouldn’t argue with you about it at all.
Examples: Turisas – Turisas2013; Ministry – Relapse; Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth

2.0: There’s going to be a couple songs that will make me say “If the rest of the album was like this, I would’ve loved every second of it.” Otherwise, nothing special.
Examples: Alcest – Shelter; Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen; Nevermore – Enemies Of Reality

1.5: Bits and pieces of this album are good and will get some play in the right setting; the rest of the album is rather uninteresting.
Examples: The second disk of Casualties of Cool; Sabaton – Heroes; Meshuggah – Koloss

1.0: Bits and pieces of this album are decent and I guess I would tolerate it if I was in the car or something; the rest of the album is nearly unlistenable.
Examples: Steel Panther – Feel the Steel; Jorn – Lonely are the Brave; Anvil – This is Thirteen

0.5: Very few redeeming qualities. Will never play again and hopefully won’t have to talk about it again.
Examples: Sonata Arctica – Stones Grow Her Name; Adrenaline Mob – Men of Honor; HIM – Razorblade Romance

0: Truly awful. Will roast this album/band to shreds:
Examples: Emmure, Five Finger Death Punch, Miss May I, Staind, etc.

And then there’s the albums I won’t even review because it’s not anything I would ever enjoy listening to in any setting and would therefore give it, at the very best, a 0.5 if I were to actually review it.
Examples: Pitbull, Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, Lil Jon, etc.

Bear in mind that some of these bands whose albums I rated lowly are some of my favorite bands. Please don’t pick a fight with me over why I gave something such a low rating on this post. It isn’t meant to be taken seriously; just as a baseline for my own tastes.

Now, for those who wish to review albums with Over The Seize, I don’t care what your criteria is for your reviews, but I do expect it to be similarly selective. You should only have a handful of albums that you truly consider masterpieces, and only a handful of bands/albums that you consider to be truly awful. I also ask that you send an “about me and my review ratings” so that I can post it as one of the pages here. Thanks for reading. I will take some requests on occasion so feel free to pitch some review ideas.

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