Getting Into: Devin Townsend: Part III: The 2010s
PART I: THE 1990s
PART II: THE 2000s
Devin had made his successful return to music in 2009 with the first half of his intended four-part Devin Townsend Project series, and the concept proved so creatively lucrative that he decided to expand the universe by a few albums. Having brought him back to life at the end of the previous decade, the Devin Townsend Project became the object of Devin's focus during the 2010s, and the relative accessibility of the new series of albums helped further increase his profile. While he released fewer studio albums during this time, Devin was also touring more heavily; several carefully curated live spectacles, captured in such releases as the By A Thread collection, The Retinal Circus, Live At The Royal Albert Hall, and Ocean Machine - Live At The Ancient Roman Theatre Plovdiv, joined a wealth of other ancillary material, all of which is worth delving into in its own right. Ultimately, pressured by the increasing size and pragmatism of the DTP operation and feeling that it had run its creative course, Devin once again made the difficult decision to retire his most visible band and continue solo. His final studio release of the decade was his only one not to be part of a larger venture or collaboration.
|Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction (2011)|
One of Devin's most outright progressive and fanciful escapades, Deconstruction is the album that makes Ziltoid The Omniscient appear austere and subtle. Opening on the heels of Ki with a tranquil yet groovy mood piece, Deconstruction shortly erupts into a dense and multifaceted composition that might be considered the hallmark of Devin's esemplastic eccentricity. Some songs build infinitely around the same motifs, ploughing resolutely through muscular rhythms, while others freewheel through formless, operatic wankery in which no ten-second segment might be the same as the next. Wrapped in its many-layered wall of sound, featuring numerous guest harsh vocalists, a leg-cramping waterfall of percussion, and an angelic choir offering praise to cheeseburgers, Deconstruction revives the sheer voluminous heaviness of Strapping Young Lad while allowing Devin to indulge in as many non sequiturs and fantastical tangents as he wishes. Its callithumpian ineffability may give Deconstruction an impenetrable appearance, but it is one of Devin's most thoroughly detailed and expressive albums.
Standout Tracks: "The Mighty Masturbator," "Stand," "Planet Of The Apes," "Deconstruction"
|Devin Townsend Project - Ghost (2011)|
As delicate and demulcent as Deconstruction is towering and volatile, Ghost is perhaps the apex of Devin's forays into the genteel. Ghost is a quilt of fluttering woodwinds, balmy acoustic guitars, edulcorative synths, and soft, breathy vocals, drawing substantially on new-age, ambient, and even electronica sounds for a relaxing, 73-minute soak in serene paradise. Though utterly relaxed, Ghost is not as passive or formless as Devin's more ambient compositions; its gentle swing is still flushed with melody and the usual layers of instrumentation, and it even gives in to bursts of energy at times. The folky soundscapes are so pleasant and pacific that Ghost is almost an album of lullabies, albeit with a discernible beat and some catchy choruses.
Standout Tracks: "Ghost," "Texada," "Fly," "Feather"
|Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud (2012)|
Though immediate comparisons are always to Addicted, based on the return of Anneke van Giersbergen and the overwhelmingly straightforward, upbeat songwriting, Epicloud quickly adopts its own distinct form, introducing the idea of "the Devin Townsend Project" as a solid lineup rather than a revolving door of guest musicians. Where Addicted was fun and entertaining, Epicloud reaches beyond to achieve the absolute peak of cheese: exuberant, flamboyantly positive, and shamelessly sentimental, marrying gregarious metal grooves to the ecstatic abandon of gospel and rock'n'roll. Interspersed with hard-driving pop-metal sing-alongs are a half-album's worth of airy power ballads that ought to come with their own waving lighters; the vastness of Epicloud's sound and the sheer silliness of its puppy-like enthusiasm perfectly complement its sometimes simplistic compositions, not to mention Devin's pure vocal flexing (see the remake of "Kingdom"). Big, loud, goofy, sincere, infectious, and accompanied by the greatest music video in history, Epicloud exudes the "effervescent quality" that its opening and ending tracks sing of.
Standout Tracks: "Grace," "More!", "Hold On," "True North"
|Casualties Of Cool - Casualties Of Cool (2014)|
Casualties Of Cool takes Ki's "Trainfire" and runs with it, turning the boom-chicka-boom freight train rhythms into a blurry soundscape of minimalist country. Though at one point envisioned as an extension of the Devin Townsend Project, Casualties Of Cool eventually gained its own independent identity as a formal collaboration between Devin and fellow Ki vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval and exists in yet one more world apart from Devin's other ventures. Though even more ethereal and reserved than Ghost, Casualties Of Cool is also a much darker album; in between quirky blues jaunts and loose western atmospheres are haunting vocals and wistful melodies that counteract the deceptive calm. The quiet production and laid-back tone still make for a soothing aural bath, but the album may sometimes take a turn for the creepy.
Standout Tracks: "The Bridge," "Moon," "Mountaintop," "Broken"
If there were to be two Ziltoid albums, Z² would be both of them. Rather, if there were three, Z² would be two of them. Or Z² is one of them, but still a double album, and Ziltoid The Omniscient is the other one. Regardless, Z² is two albums. Although he first announced the project shortly after his return in 2009, it took Devin several years to pull it together; when Z² finally emerged in 2014 after a monumental effort, it was in two distinct parts: one-half Devin Townsend Project, entitled Sky Blue, and one-half solo continuation of the first Ziltoid (albeit with a band this time), entitled Dark Matters. Z² was the spearhead of a multimedia endeavor that included such projects as ZTV and Ziltoid Radio, and Devin described the album itself as a kind of retrospective of his career. Though reception was more mixed than to the first Ziltoid and previous DTP releases, Devin's assessment is not without merit, as continuity with a broad span of his past material can be discerned.
|Devin Townsend Project - Sky Blue (2014)|
Once again bringing back Anneke van Giersbergen and a stable lineup for the sixth album in the Devin Townsend Project series, Sky Blue is more of a stand-alone album than a piece of Ziltoid canon, having no explicit connection to the story. It isn't a bad candidate to be considered a career retrospective, with several tracks holding clear antecedents in albums like Accelerated Evolution ("Midnight Sun") and Addictecloud ("Universal Flame"), and at first blush it appears to belong to a particular vein of DTP sound, but despite overtures toward further accessibility Sky Blue is neither as celebratory nor as ludic as such a collection might be expected to be. The album is unusually restive, with a grungy, saturnine production rather reminiscent of Ocean Machine and a concomitant grime lurking beneath. And to diverge from the beaten path once more, Sky Blue takes significant influence from hip-hop and EDM, whether in Devin's vocal delivery ("Sky Blue"), the production ("Rejoice"), or the songwriting itself ("Silent Militia"). Despite the bursts of excitable pop, as the album progresses, it turns hypnotic, weird, and as blue as its title, leaving behind an album that is somewhat confused in its style and intention, yet it also leaves some strong compositions and another Devinian adventure that, if less sure-footed than other albums, holds its own in the DTP library.
Standout Tracks: "Silent Militia," "Universal Flame," "Fallout," "Before We Die"
|Devin Townsend - Dark Matters (2014)|
In the real "2" of Z², Devin returns to the heavy and eclectic prog metal that he perfected in the first Ziltoid, but Dark Matters is as much a Devin Townsend Project album as Sky Blue, with a fuller, grander sound, a much busier lead vocal roster (featuring multiple guest narrators and singers), and effulgent, conventional melodies. The narrative is significantly more detailed - it's more like a musical this time, despite the Planet Smasher's disdain - and that can be distracting, so fans without the patience for hammy storytelling should avail themselves of the dialogue-free version of the album. Musically, Dark Matters is not as varied as the original Ziltoid, sticking to one mode for most of its run, and despite the larger-scale production, nothing seems to hit with the same energy or feeling. Devin sneaks in plenty of arresting riffs amidst plodding plot points, and the lingering dance elements held over from Sky Blue mingle with obligatory reproductions of Ziltoid's compositional intensity for some brilliant snippets, but snippets are the best that the album can muster. Dark Matters is a victim of its own hype or volume or length; there are moments of inspiration, but they are often buried in layers of padding, and Dark Matters on the whole is weaker and staler than the album that preceded it and the one that accompanies it.
Standout Tracks: "March Of The Poozers," "War Princess," "From Sleep Awake"
|Devin Townsend Project - Transcendence (2016)|
Though more than a year passed between the release of this album and Devin's official retiring of the Devin Townsend Project, Transcendence brims with consciousness of its own liminality; with a luxuriously smooth, listenable production and a now-familiar simplicity and brightness to the songwriting, Transcendence is both proof of DTP's evaporating creative reserves and culmination of its more commercial ambitions. Though the songs tend to follow orthodox structures and rest on massive choruses that seem increasingly pedestrian for Devin, several tracks adopt an unusually serious, mature, and level-headed demeanor, and in tracks like "Higher" Devin reaches some of his heaviest non-Strapping moments. What really sets Transcendence apart is the rare confidence it exudes: Devin's vocals are unusually bold, full-bodied, and centered, and the instrumentals exhibit a well-rounded flare rarely seen in material of Devin's that isn't explicitly technical in nature. Transcendence was an important step forward for Devin personally - in a highly unusual move, he forced himself to surrender absolute control by soliciting creative input from the other Project members, and the more collaborative writing process resulted in an album that could serve as a fitting exit for DTP, even if that reality was not immediately clear at the time.
Standout Tracks: "Higher," "Failure," "Stormbending," "Offer Your Light"
|Devin Townsend - Empath (2019)|
If maturity was the hidden strength of Transcendence, for Empath it is exhilaration. As much as DTP could foster his creativity, what drives Empath is Devin's newfound freedom to experiment, meander, and dive into a colorful variety of compositions and instrumentation. Fittingly, this is one record made up of what can unambiguously be termed "progressive metal" - and not in the demented and erratic manner of Deconstruction, but in a more wholesome, naturalistic way that albums like Terria and the original Ziltoid prefigured. The folksy plod of "Borderlands," pummeling shrieks of "Hear Me," affirmative new-age metal of "Spirits Will Collide," and the six-part, 23-minute finale that is "Singularity" all point to an opened door of ambition, yet another incarnation of Devin armed with vocal techniques, textures, and outside influences not previously exposed to his trademark brand of unpredictable overexertion. Empath is easily one of the most eclectic albums of Devin's career thus far.
Standout Tracks: "Why?", "Hear Me," "Borderlands," "Sprite"
As in the previous decade with Strapping Young Lad, the 2010s saw Devin come into greater success and stability with a widely beloved musical enterprise, but what once was fertile ground eventually grew to be a burden in its own way, driving Devin to lay the theme to rest and move on. As ever, Devin has many irons in the fire to follow up his last release, and we can only imagine what unexpected directions he will take in the future; if the success of Empath suggests anything, it's that Devin has several more lifetimes of music in him yet.
For the moment, this is where we leave this article series: the premise was to cover one decade at a time, and as we have only just begun the fourth decade of Devin's career, there isn't really anything I can offer in the vein of a fourth installment. Still, while the 2020s are only months deep (and most of those swallowed by the pandemic), Devin has been hard at work, releasing several ambient albums and continuing work on a number of other projects. It will be a long time before we reconvene to discuss this content in an article context, but I'm sure we'll have a great deal of excellent music to talk about when that time comes. Thus, while it seems surreal to end a publication like this- I hope to see you all ten years from now.
This is the part of the show where I get hit by a truck and you all come back here in ten years to shake your heads and go, "How sad-"
||Written on 19.10.2020 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.|
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