Rock

Review: Devin Townsend Project – Addicted

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Alternative Metal/Rock
Released: November 17, 2009
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devy Chronicles

By: Kris Kotlarik

I’m not quite sure who had the brilliant idea to have Devin Townsend and Anneke van Giersbergen work together, but whoever is behind it should be rewarded with all the money. 

Addicted is the first of three albums (the last one, Z2, comes out in October) to feature Anneke. With the exception of a few tracks, Anneke is essentially an extremely talented backup vocalist; she is featured far more prominently on Epicloud. If you’re listening to this and it sounds oddly like Nickelback to you, that’s because it was supposed to. Apparently, Devin really liked the sound of what was their newest album at the time, Dark Horse, but noted that every single song was about “Chad Kroeger’s penis.” So what happens when you take Nickelback’s production style and write actual lyrics? In short, it’s pretty damn catchy. 

There’s a fairly even split of great songs and good songs. And then there’s one of the worst songs Townsend has ever written, “Ih-Ah.” I really don’t understand how so many fans love this track. It’s as poppy and cheesy as it gets, and while I generally like the more poppy stuff Devin has written (I actually don’t mind “Lucky Animals” off of Epicloud, and that song was lambasted to hell and back), this one doesn’t do it for me.

Although most of my favorite tracks on Addicted heavily feature Anneke, my vote for best track goes to “The Way Home,” which features some ridiculous clean vocals from Townsend. If you’re familiar with the live/Epicloud version of “Kingdom,” this will most likely appeal to you. Finishing in a close second is “Hyperdrive,” a cover from the original Ziltoid album with Anneke taking the lead vocal duties. 

The two closing tracks, “Numbered” and “Awake,” both feature well-executed hooks from Anneke. Numbered is a more progressive number, while the latter track is more pop-oriented and upbeat but extremely effective, and boasts a solid, calm ending. Out of the five Devin Townsend Project albums, the final three tracks rank as the best consecutive slate of songs you’ll find. 

“Resolve” and “Universe In A Ball” are both merely OK; the former is led by Anneke but the structure of the song is almost an exact replica of “Vanilla Radio” by The Wildhearts. Luckily, Devin was cool enough to give the band credit for the song. “Bend It Like Bender,” while largely uneventful, has the catchiest chorus of all. The title track and and “Supercrush” both fit into the “great songs” category. “Supercrush” was a deserving pick for a single, although I would prefer to hear almost any other song from Addicted, “Ih-Ah” notwithstanding, in a live setting.

If Devin Townsend really was trying to sound like Nickelback on this record, he nailed it. Although it may not be easily noticeable on the opener, as soon as “Universe In A Ball” comes in, there’s no escaping it. Unlike Nickelback, however, Devin and company are immensely talented and are capable of writing lyrics that actually mean something. 

…just as long as you ignore “Ih-Ah.”

Overall: A simple album with a complex feel. While slightly uneven, the closing three tracks end the album on a high note. And while I generally don’t critique cover art, this is easily the worst album cover in Devin Townsend’s lengthy history. 

Rating: 3.5*

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ATF Review: Devin Townsend Band – Accelerated Evolution

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Rock/Metal
Released: March 31, 2003
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

Almost every Devin Townsend album can boast the claim that it “has no parallel,” and Accelerated Evolution (AE) is no exception. This was the first of just two albums from the Devin Townsend Band (the second also earning an all-time favorite nomination), and his sixth solo album overall, not counting the Strapping Young Lad albums.

What makes this album stand out from Devin Townsend’s other releases? There’s a lot of catchy, accessible material on here; it straddles the fine line of being “poppy” and “proggy.” If you’re asking what “poppy” Devin Townsend sounds like, you should start with Epicloud or perhaps Addicted. Both are good albums, but don’t nearly stack up to albums like AE or Synchestra.

The main reason AE makes the cut is due to the fact that it starts with five consecutive fantastic songs and another track later on makes it an even six. The rest have minor flaws with some good moments; “Traveller” and “Slow Me Down” are both quite poppy, but Townsend’s production (not to mention the lyrics to the former, which I can at least relate to) makes them listenable and are actually rather catchy. “Away” is a long, noodling instrumental that could have been cut down by a minute or three.

Now for the highlights:

Depth Charge‘s intro reminds me a bit of Seventh Wave in that it’s slow and crushingly heavy. but the similarities end there; it quickly turns into an uptempo, upbeat number driven by a simple yet effective rhythm on all instruments. I especially enjoy the chrous, as well as the layered vocals before the first chorus. The other standout moment comes in the second verse, when Townsend screams “Who’s behind the door? I’m behind the door!” A common theme for AE is the bridge section included in many songs, all of which are well-done.

Storm contains lyrical references to Townsend’s wife Tracy, which is a nice touch. Overall, this is a slower, slightly melancholic track that turns more upbeat as it progresses. In the final verse, Townsend shows off some of his operatic vocals in grandiose, epic fashion.

Random Analysis, at least from a lyrical standpoint, is self-described in the title. While it’s not the most musically captivating track, the lyrics do stand out in a remarkable way. About midway through, another great bridge section comes in and runs for over a minute and is among the best music moments on AE.

Deadhead is a titan of a track that deserves every bit of its eight minutes. It starts with Townsend setting the mood on guitar before the drums kick in. The main riff to this track is absolutely genius; if you’re not nodding your head while this song is on, then you’re doing it wrong. While the vocals are not lengthy, they are powerful, ranging from operatic to brutal; many others before me have said this is among Devin’s best vocal display, and I’m joining in on the choir.

Suicide, in 3/4 time, once again starts with a guitar intro. In general, it’s a suitable followup to Deadhead, as they have a similar feel to them. There’s a rather hilarious line which mentions the death metal band Deicide. The vocals, especially in the verses, appear to be saturated in reverb mixed with another production effect, a strange yet effective mixture. If you’re looking for a guitar solo, this is the track you’ll find it on.

Sunday Afternoon breaks up the rather mediocre (at least in comparison) second half with a nice melody. This is one of several examples from Devin Townsend’s discography in which he can create a song that bears a resemblance to a pop track while still being progressive and memorable. The lengthy instrumental section which occupies much of the middle third of this track is another mega highlight.

Overall: I’m running out of adjectives to describe how awesome most of this album is without using such cheesy words as “breathtaking” and “magnificent.” 

Rating: 4.5
Additional Thoughts: The special edition of this album comes with the three song Projeck Eko, a one-off electronica project of Devin’s. It isn’t anything that will change anyone’s minds about electronica, but it’s relaxing. The Hummer is your best bet for electronic music when it comes to Devin’s discography. You can also check out Traestorz, a 19+ minute electronic jam from the Deconstruction sessions. 

Review: Casualties Of Cool – Casualties Of Cool

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Country/Blues Rock
Released: May 14, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Recent Releases – Off The Grid

By: Kris Kotlarik

Disclaimer: This review only covers the main disc of Casualties Of Cool. Given the length of the second disc, I would consider that to be a separate release were I to review it, much like Epiclouder or the “Stuff That Was Almost Stuff” CD from the Contain Us box set. My review of the second disc would have largely been negative anyway, since there is almost nothing on it that gains my attention except for “Dig For Gold” and “Dead Eyes,” both of which are okay but not stellar, and “Perspective,” which is pretty good and reminds me of a slightly slower version of “Unity” off of Infinity. “Ghost Wives” is just awful, and “Fight” is a stripped-down rework of the brilliant “Flight,” serving no real purpose. Luckily, this disc has no bearing on the main album’s score. 

“You’re reviewing a country album? What the hell is wrong with you!?” -Meathead metal elitists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think modern FM country music is total crap that strayed away from its musical roots into poppy territory quite a while ago. Except this isn’t one of those albums. This is more of a callback to country’s earlier days, further bolstered by a highly talented lineup and a nice, innovative concept.

Casualties Of Cool is a project headed by Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval (henceforth referred to as Dorval). The latter also appeared in a more limited role on the Devin Townsend Project album Ki and had some stellar parts, most notably the ending section of “Trainfire,” which has now become one of my favorite words to say in daily conversation. Other guests on this album include, among others, legendary drummer Morgan Ågren, Shining (NOR) saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, and Kat Epple, the flautist from Ghost.

With a lineup like this, one would expect some pretty nice results to emerge. And for the most part, it is. At times, however, the overindulgence on Devin’s part is palpable. We’re talking about Devlab-esque indulgence here (Devlab is an electronic ambient album by Devin that isn’t anything special; if you’re looking for electronic stuff, however, The Hummer may be of interest to you).

The best songs on here, by a long shot, are “Flight” and “The Bridge.” The former features a nice riff and a relaxing vibe, with Dorval providing some highly memorable vocals. The second half has Devin’s trademark wall of sound, and the ending has a gorgeous Devin vocal line. Perhaps my favorite part, though, is the nice bass fill at the 5:00 mark. With that said, one of those moments of overindulgence rears its head when Dorval sings “Feed the pigeons with my collision,” with the last word being distorted by design. It makes sense, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Even so, “Flight” is in the running for song of the year.

“The Bridge” serves as the album’s climax and is the most “typical” Devin song here. He managed to get a Swedish choir to sing “Yolo” with straight faces (apparently, it just made sense to him at the time). That aside, it boasts two absolutely massive buildups with a brilliant mellow bridge section in between.

The other songs are rather mixed. Some, such as “Mountaintop” and “The Code,” are over the top when it comes to lyrical cheese. Others, including most of “Hejda” and all of “Pure” and “Pier,” can best be described as meditative music. “Deathscope” is a weird song to say the least; it starts with a straightforward rockabilly beat, but also has all kinds of crazy electronic distortion effects and also includes the only moments of heavy vocals (other than “The Bridge”). Munkeby does some wanking on the saxophone before it drifts off into ambient territory. “Deathscope” ranks as my third-favorite track.

“Moon” is Munkeby’s chance to shine, and his work is a major contribution to that track. “Broken” features the male contingent of the Swedish choir and provides a fantastic vocal delivery, but it doesn’t last nearly long enough. “Bones” is just an average song music-wise with more stellar Dorval vocals, but this track stands out as the one that progresses the album’s lyrical concept (a man lands on a planet and is attracted to a woman’s voice. That woman is trapped beneath the planet’s surface. The man tries to get both of them off the planet. Like many before him, the man dies but manages to free the woman). The concept in and of itself is fantastic and overall, it’s well-executed within the music.

The other tracks I haven’t mentioned (“Daddy,” “The Field,” “Forgive Me,” and “Ether”) are all solid and there isn’t much to be said about them that hasn’t already been said about the rest of the album: Some ambient stuff, amazing vocals by Dorval, and some calm, soothing melodies. There is far too much ambient indulgence on here for my taste, and yet I still keep going back to this album whenever I need a break from the heavier albums more than most others that would otherwise fit the bill in my library.

Overall: Taking out much of the ambient layering would have put this close to “Album of the Year” territory.

Rating: 3.5*

Additional Thoughts: Casualties Of Cool will be playing live shows in London and Helsinki. London gets just about every special Devin gig, including By A Thread and The Retinal Circus, while Helsinki had the privilege of hearing the entire Ziltoid The Omniscient album live. And it makes sense, since Devin has a huge fan base in both places and Helsinki is perhaps the best city on the planet. If I ever win the lottery, you know where to find me.

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.

Link to the Facebook page for Over The Seize: https://www.facebook.com/OverTheSeize?fref=ts