Getting Into: Devin Townsend: Part II: The 2000s
PART I: THE 1990s
PART III: THE 2010s
Devin Townsend entered the 2000s at the top of his game, with two career-bests under his belt already and many more career-bests yet to come. His work both with Strapping Young Lad and under his own name had begun to garner acclaim within the metal community, and his creative energy seemed endless. Unfortunately, Devin's struggles with his mental health and self-destructive habits eventually took their toll; the increasingly unhealthy atmosphere surrounding his Strapping Young Lad material, fueled by the negative side of his bipolar disorder, led him to retire the project in 2007, and in the same year he stepped back from creating music altogether. For two years, from 2007 to 2009, Devin embarked on a detoxifying hiatus; he quit smoking, drinking, and what he characterized as a host of other addictions plaguing him. He returned to taking his medication, dedicated more time to his family, and worked behind the scenes as a producer to relieve the pressure of constant touring and recording. After a sufficient absence, he began to write prolifically again, and when in 2009 he returned to releasing music actively it was with the first stage of his new Devin Townsend Project concept: a series of four albums, each with its own distinct sound borne of his musical rehabilitation, to be released in pairs. Though Strapping Young Lad remained mothballed (and, for the most part, still does), with Devin avoiding the material out of concern for its emotional toll, the Project project proved a great success and welcomed a healthier Devin back to the forefront of the metal scene.
|Devin Townsend - Physicist (2000)|
Ironically, in spite of his running start, Devin faltered as the new millennium began: critics, fans, and Devin himself often rank Physicist as the worst entry in his discography. Sensible justifications for this assessment can be found (deleterious production, inconsistent songwriting, uncharacteristically lackluster performances), and on the whole Physicist could be considered a rare misstep. There is no reason to shrug it off entirely, however - as the only one of Devin's non-Strapping Young Lad albums to feature the SYL lineup, Physicist has an aggressive, razor-like sound and an unmistakable attitude that, if undercut by the deadened mix, make this album something of a "lost" Strapping album. Physicist also offers up a few genuinely strong tracks, and "Kingdom" would later be rescued from its unflattering incarnation by a re-recording for Epicloud.
Standout Tracks: "Namaste," "Irish Maiden," "Planet Rain," "Victim"
|Devin Townsend - Terria (2001)|
Terria is a lush world of serene natural imagery inspired by the landscape of Devin's native Canada. Sparkling canopies of keyboards lie atop patterns of rich, verdant guitar lines that meander organically into progressive soundscapes. Terria features some of the loosest, most fluid, and most inspired guitar work of any Devin Townsend album, especially on tracks like "Deep Peace" and "Down Under"; on the whole, this is an exceptional album for Devin as an instrumentalist and songwriter. At its roots, Terria is as firmly a heavy metal album as anything around it, as demonstrated by the thunderous stomp of "Mountain," the blasting mutations of "The Fluke," and the shrieking barrages of the classic "Earth Day," but it is also one of Devin's most uplifting albums, buoyed by relaxed, calming melodies and a flirtation with classic prog and ambient music that never seems to be at odds with the metal aspects. Devin's vocals are often more liminal and ethereal than on other records, preferring to let the music shape and cultivate the atmosphere without assistance; as often as he is conducting his orchestra, he is narrating the placid awakening of the album's pastoral charms.
Standout Tracks: "Earth Day," "Deep Peace," "Nobody's Here," "Stagnant"
|Strapping Young Lad - Strapping Young Lad (2003)|
The successor to Strapping Young Lad's legendary epic City took the band's sound in a different direction, away from the layered, machinist shrieking and into the realms of traditional death metal. More organic instrumental tones, a looser and less monolithic sound, and bracing, metallic riffs make SYL sound more like Morbid Angel or Autopsy than City, but with Devin's distinctive vocals and periodic concessions to melody, the album keeps continuity with Strapping Young Lad, albeit in a more esoteric fashion. SYL often receives less attention than other Strapping releases due to its departure from the unique, attention-grabbing menace of City and Alien; its uncharacteristically crude production, less humorous tone, and utilization of somewhat traditional metal structures make it something of a novelty in Devin's discography. Contained within this album, however, are jungles of punishing guitars and unfamiliar ideas that make this album a valuable adventure; a more conventional extreme metal album it may be, but "conventional" for Devin is rarely ever tedious.
Standout Tracks: "Aftermath," "Relentless," "Force Fed," "Bring On The Young"
|Devin Townsend Band - Accelerated Evolution (2003)|
Accelerated Evolution combines the heady prog pace of Ocean Machine's more cyclopean tracks with an indulgent effervescence left over from Terria, resulting in a rich mélange of heavy metal, rock and roll, and aesthetics borrowed from folk and ambient music. Though sanitized production makes the album sound flat at times, Devin's songwriting had turned another fortuitous corner in its evolution, excelling in the album's lumbering mammoths like "Deadhead" and "Storm." Lambent synths and a slight echo on the drums and vocals create the effect of ethereal space in which massive chords and choruses resound. Noteworthy for featuring some of Devin's most iconic vocal performances, Accelerated Evolution jumps from simple, driving rockers to thoughtful, meandering riffs, but its ability to synthesize these extremes (as well as the resolutely uniform sound) makes it one of Devin's most streamlined releases - possibly his most accessible album to retain a strong measure of progressive tendency.
Standout Tracks: "Deadhead," "Storm," "Depth Charge," "Slow Me Down"
|Devin Townsend - Devlab (2004)|
Devlab is frequently labeled an ambient album, but this most blatantly avant-garde work of Devin's often falls more into the category of noise, or perhaps simply experimental music. Comprising sequences of seemingly unrelated audio samples, electronic soundscapes, intermittent crooning, and roiling swaths of noise that cleanse the palate before new rounds of inexplicable aural sensation, Devlab evades classification in terms of quality as much as genre. Even on such an album with no apparent direction or structure, Devin still makes his personality shine through, and Devlab is intriguing as both a novelty and proof that Devin can perform in yet one more genre when he feels so inclined, but most fans will be satisfied after a single cursory listen, if even that much.
Standout Tracks: Hard to tell.
|Strapping Young Lad - Alien (2005)|
Alien is a caustic inferno. Scurrilous lyrics, ferocious shrieking, concussive riffs, and grotesque displays of emotion can make Alien a difficult album to consume when not in the proper mood, but it can be strikingly commercial at the same time, with "Love?" becoming perhaps the closest thing SYL ever had to a hit single. Alien's production lacks the precision and scale of City, relying more on attitude and volume to make an impact, and this album more than any other Strapping release seems to emphasize groove (not to mention hostility); still, the songwriting often reflects the same ultra-refined thrash and anthem-sized metal that the self-titled album avoided. To prepare himself for writing Alien, Devin ceased taking his medication, suspicious that it impaired his creative abilities, and the result was a highly self-destructive environment that bleeds into the vicious and unstable lyrical content. The album was a critical and commercial success for Strapping Young Lad, but also proved to Devin that he needed to escape the project's whirlpool.
Standout Tracks: "Love?", "Shitstorm," "We Ride," "Possessions"
|Devin Townsend Band - Synchestra (2006)|
Breaking away from the world-spanning emotional intensity of its immediate predecessor, Synchestra circles back around to the nature-fixated Terria, offering another eloquent, calming ode to sunlit melody while sprinkling in some of Infinity's more spontaneous and bombastic elements. Having tapped into his darkest side for Alien, Devin produced Synchestra as the spritely, joyous counterbalance, a guitar-driven collection of two-minute prog songs and seven-minute pop songs. Whimsical and mellifluous even in its heaviest moments, which are quite loud and quite present, Synchestra subsists on playful instrumentals and a bright, enthusiastic delivery; its heaviness rarely slips into aggression, functioning as merely a louder way of expressing contentment. The album does become mired in its own length later on, and its tone becomes more neutral as walls of wandering chords absorb greater portions of the songs, but the folksy and carefree attitude of the first half still sparks from time to time.
Standout Tracks: "Vampira," "Hypergeek," "Notes From Africa," "Triumph"
|Strapping Young Lad - The New Black (2006)|
For all the adamantine fury of Alien, The New Black was perhaps the one Strapping album that most of all showed Devin's hand: fascinated by the allure and potential of heavy metal, disdainful of its narrow expectations, and resolved not to be taken seriously in either respect. Bouncy, humorous, crisp, and heaving with hooks, The New Black is unusually slick, stylish, and digestible for a Strapping Young Lad album. It features more clean vocals and guitar solos than ever before, as well as an unusual frequency of gang vocals and an exaggerated "super-metal" attitude, all appended to a very infectious array of groovy singles. The production takes the wall of sound down a peg from "furious" to "compact," which hurts an album predicated on performative excess, but this is one more area in which SYL had begun to converge on Devin's other material; The New Black signals his departure from the Cityscape, as much for Strapping's lack of musical necessity as for the mental energy it demanded of him, but the ideas he had finally arrived at on this album would soon resurface under different names.
Standout Tracks: "Almost Again," "Wrong Side," "You Suck," "Far Beyond Metal"
|Devin Townsend - The Hummer (2006)|
The Hummer was Devin's second attempt at creating a release free of conventional songwriting constraints, built around incidental sounds and auras rather than instruments and melodies. Unlike Devlab, The Hummer moves with care and deliberation, taking its name from the soothing hum of its lengthy opener and title track. As its first two songs progress through gentle waves of repetitive aural stimulation, The Hummer shapes itself into an album more faithful to the ambient label, but it takes a turn for the mystical at the halfway point: the echoes of futuristic whirring take on a philosophical hue a la Star Trek, and as Leonard Cohen reads aloud from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a more esoteric sort of atmosphere envelops the album. The Hummer becomes more aggressive and hypnotic in its audience-absorption tactics, eventually coming full circle with a relaxing assortment of ocean sounds and electronic pulses to finish out. Though strange in its own way, most observers would likely find The Hummer more palatable than Devlab, and its atmospheres are certainly more refined.
Standout Tracks: "The Hummer," "Arc," "Consciousness Causes Collapse"
|Devin Townsend - Ziltoid The Omniscient (2007)|
Ziltoid The Omniscient is easily one of Devin's most visible and enduring albums, due to the introduction of his eponymous mascot character and the absurdity of the coffee-sparked-alien-invasion storyline, but Ziltoid's epic, multileveled compositions make it one of Devin's best albums musically as well. The narrative is less intrusive and more organically integrated than that of Cooked On Phonics, with several songs suggesting a layer of personal introspection beyond any literal connection to coffee or multi-dimensionality - as haphazardly goofy as some tracks are, others fall among Devin's loneliest and most delicate compositions. The longer songs are like albums unto themselves, with Devin exercising his full array of vocal techniques and reveling in his trademark scales and riffing style while journeying from industrial groove to progressive dreamscape. With only minimal outside contributions to vocals and production, Ziltoid is a true solo album, and it demonstrates some of Devin's greatest strengths as a songwriter.
Standout Tracks: "By Your Command," "Hyperdrive," "Solar Winds," "Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!"
|Devin Townsend Project - Ki (2009)|
Ki is one of Devin's most dynamic albums and one of his most effective blends of light and heavy moods, taking an artful, outsider approach to its metal moments. Initially putting on a front of atmospheric calm, Ki debuts with muted vocals and intricate, math-rock-like passages played on clean guitars; as often as the quietude facilitates relaxation, however, it also serves as the agent of austerity and tension, and guest vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval oscillates between comforting and severe to back up Ki's unusual textural subtlety. The soft tread of intimate prog constantly crescendos into burly, distorted marching and then decrescendos into chilled-out mood pieces, building on lengthy rhythmic patterns and a taut forward drive. Ki is something of an abstruse release, a reserved counterpart to the infectious mirth of what would soon follow in Addicted.
Standout Tracks: "Ki," "Gato," "Heaven Sent," "Disruptr"
|Devin Townsend Project - Addicted (2009)|
Erstwhile The Gathering vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen joined Devin for Addicted, the second quarter of the Devin Townsend Project series. This would prove to be a golden collaboration, with Anneke's smiling voice and undiluted cheer mingling harmoniously with Devin's excitable half-screeches for an effortless flow of blithe pop choruses amidst crunchy, unyielding slabs of raw riff. Devin tempers his industrial groove into a danceable stomp, liberally slathering every track with layers of keys and beautifully polished vocal lines, relishing his newfound ability to turn aggressive metal into pop tunes. Addicted can be as heavy as anything else, but also unabashedly gooey; with its wealth of hooks, positive attitude, and majestic lead vocal combination, Addicted is easily one of Devin's most fun and accessible albums.
Standout Tracks: "Addicted!", "Hyperdrive!", "Ih-Ah!", "Bend It Like Bender!"
The 2000s were when Devin really got to work, capitalizing on the musical and personal discoveries he had made on his first albums. His output during this decade demonstrates a singular capacity for extremes: volume, emotion, productivity, precision, and, of course, variety. Picking up extreme metal street cred (Alien, SYL) and total weird-guy prog street cred (Ziltoid) and even some sparks of crossover success (Addicted), Devin produced such a variegated bevy of material during this time that almost anyone could find at least one album to love and one to be challenged by. The 2000s were also a tumultuous decade, during which Devin experienced many personal trials and setbacks, ultimately having to set aside one of his best-liked endeavors, but he persevered - the guy took a two-year hiatus and still released 12 albums before the decade was through. He had already produced a handful of masterworks, but it's Devin's ability to evolve in sound, style, and philosophy - demonstrated to great effect in his output here - that makes him such a charismatic and enigmatic figure. And while the Devin Townsend Project concept would eventually find itself at odds with that capricious nature of his, its initial tetralogy was bringing him to a whole new audience.
||Written on 27.08.2020 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.|
Comments: 14 [ 1 ignored ] Visited by: 117 users
|SoUnDs LiKe PoP
|M C Vice
|SoUnDs LiKe PoP
Hits total: 2288 | This month: 7