Strapping Young Lad

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*

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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
Featured image accessed via blabbermouth.net

 

 

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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.

ATF Review: Gojira – From Mars To Sirius

Location: Bayonne, France
Genre: Progressive/Extreme Metal
Released: September 27, 2005
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

Have you ever seen Gojira live? No? Here you go.

They rank as one of the few bands that I would go to great cost to see live if they aren’t playing in my home city, and with great reason. They kick just as much ass live, if not more, than in the studio. And when it comes to Gojira’s studio albums, From Mars To Sirius is at the forefront of Gojira’s five albums.

This album feels like your birthday, and every single gift you get is a $50 gift card. Most of them are for places that you can find a lot of use for, some of them are just met with a reaction of “fine, I guess I’ll spend it.” Your mileage may vary. Like the gift cards, many of the songs gain their mileage from one ginormous riff, but they exploit it in such a captivating way that it doesn’t feel like you’re listening to the same riff. It’s like getting $500 for the price of $50. Prime examples come in the middle of the album; “Where Dragons Dwell,” “The Heaviest Matter in the Universe,” and “Flying Whales,” along with the opener, “Ocean Planet,” all ride one big, huge riff to glory. “Dragons” and “Whales” are quite similar in particular, both featuring brief mellow interludes before kicking into gear, but it works surprisingly well from a technical standpoint and is extremely fun to listen to.

“Backbone” and “From The Sky” both have some truly extreme riffing in brief sections; the part in “Backbone” from 1:12 to 2:28 is immense. It basically comes out of nowhere and smacks you upside the head, but arguably the best part is the measure at 1:39 with four tightly played crash hits that signifies another round. The rest of the song is great, too, but if you’re not banging your head to that section, you may be listening to the wrong genre.

“From The Sky” is heavy and chuggish through out, but it crescendos into a ball of fire following a brief calm period. This ball of fire features yet another titanic riff and an excellent display from drummer Mario Duplantier in which he pounds away on his double bass pedals for over a minute without so much as breaking a sweat. His brother, Joe, is the guitarist and lead vocalist; the band’s current lineup has been intact since 2001, and it not only shows on this album, but their later ones, including L’Enfant Sauvage, their most recent effort. Word on the street is that they are recording a new album, and I’ll be waiting in great anticipation for it.

This is probably the closest I have given to giving an album five stars in a long time. However, it suffers from City Syndrome in that it loses a lot of the steam it had picked up by the time we get closer to the end of the album. That’s not to say songs like “World To Come” and “Global Warming” are bad songs, but both of them (especially the former) lack the punch that makes the front end of the album stand out as much as it does. Interestingly, back in 2007,* Joe Duplantier listed “World To Come” as his favorite song from this album. However, he later talks about “Backbone” as a song that sums up his life, as he sees humanity and himself as more than a physical state, something that can’t be destroyed by things like age.

Lyrically, many of these tracks are about the environment in one capacity or another, which is a very odd topic for an extreme metal band to cover. The band has been known (as mentioned in the aforementioned interview), to give money to Greenpeace, but Joe also says the band does more with their lyrics than merely saving Mother Earth from the humans; their themes also revolve around spirituality, which in and of itself is an interesting topic to sing about.

Lastly, the production on this record (and Gojira records in general) is fantastic. While many records either drown out the bass or put way too much of it into the mix, it’s right on point here. Everything is balanced out and dynamic, which makes even the songs that I don’t particularly enjoy at least listenable in a full album setting.

Overall: If you’re debating whether Gojira is better in the studio or live, the answer is yes. 

Rating: 4.5*

*Apparently, Gojira was behind Job For A Cowboy in a 2007 North America lineup. That’s cute.

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*

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: Melechesh – Enki

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Genre: Black Metal with Middle Eastern Influences
Released: February 27, 2015
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Melechesh, formerly of Israel, took a genre in black metal that had become relatively bland and decided to do something new with it by incorporating Middle Eastern themes in their instrumentation, melodies, and lyrics. As it stands, they are easily among my favorite bands of the genre, as evidenced by my declaration of Emissaries as an all-time favorite.

Enki, their first album in nearly five years, continues the band’s Middle Eastern themes of mythology. It also sees the return (at least for the studio) of Lord Curse, their original drummer. Ashmedi, who serves as the group’s frontman and has been known to play the guitar with a drumstick on occasion, explains the concept of Enki in this quirky interview.

Melechesh, at least in my opinion, is one of the best bands in metal when it comes to opening tracks. They showed it on Sphynx with “Of Mercury and Mercury,” and again on Emissaries with one of their signature tracks, “Rebirth of the Nemesis.” Amazingly, “Tempest Temper Enlil Enraged” might top both of those tracks. It takes little time (43 seconds, to be exact) to build up before activating rampage mode, subjecting the listener to a barrage of aggression spread out over a wide array of unique melodies. Just when you think the track is about to ride into anarchy, it slows down without losing its punch, throwing even more interesting melodies at you. The more I listen to it, the more I consider it a contender for my all-time favorite tracks by the band.

Of course, the problem with putting such impressive material at the beginning is the fact that the bar is set from there, and it’s hard to keep the material that strong for the rest of the album. The rest of the tracks are generally good, but don’t really come close to the opener. “Lost Tribes” features a cameo appearance from Max Cavalera (Soulfly, Killer Be Killed, Sepultura, Cavalera Conspiracy). My reaction to Cavalera’s vocals usually ranges from indifference to “oh hell, not this guy again.” But his contribution here is quite strong. Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ) also makes an appearance on “Multiple Truths,” and although I like him and his music much more than Max’s, Sakis doesn’t stand out nearly as well in his part.

All told, my complaints with this album are relatively minor. “Metatron and Man” starts with almost the same riff as “Grand Gathas of Baal Sin,” which would have to pick a bone about if not for the fact that I love that song. “Metatron” is also one of the better tracks, especially after the midtempo tracks that preceded it. “Doorways to Irkala” continues the Melechesh tradition of putting a (long) folk instrumental somewhere other than the end of the album. This is the kind of thing that makes Strapping Young Lad look good for putting “Info Dump” at the end of Alien. This is a pleasing, mellow instrumental, but the album would have survived just fine without it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “The Outsiders” closes the album at a lengthy 12:48, and while I can see how people think this might be too long, I can’t see anything that needs to be cut from here. It only gets better (and heavier) as it progresses.

The biggest concern here might be overcompression in the mix, which takes away some of the magick. As a whole, however, this is another solid album from one of metal’s more unique bands. It may not be their best, but it is damn good. Or, as Ashmedi might say, “Sonic Magick.”

Overall: A 3.5 rating might seem low, but I would rank this below both Sphynx and The Epigenesis, both of which would likely earn 4.0’s.

Rating: 3.5*

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*