(Today we have reviews of the new album from the Devin Townsend Project by two of our writers. As you’ll see, neither of them was aware the other was also reviewing the album. This first one is by Andy Synn. The second one, by DGR, can be found here.)
So it falls to me to review this one then? Well, I think we all knew it likely would do, since a) I’m generally the one who enjoys Devin’s work the most, while also b) being objective enough to treat each album, each song, with a good bit of critical clarity.
Credentials established, I’m going to start the review proper by giving it a 10/10… for the name anyway. This is certainly an album that is both ‘Epic’ and ‘Loud’. So it succeeds on both fronts there. Though you’d be amazed at how long that took me to ‘get’. Sometimes I’m a little dense. Still, Epicloud has crystallised for me why it is I like Devin’s work so much, despite (or perhaps because of) its unapologetic pop leanings.
Yes it has wide appeal, but it’s clearly not for everybody. Hell, it’s not designed for everybody. It’s not made to impress people, or gain critical plaudits. It does, however, prove that you can have a poppy vibe without dumbing down or selling out. And most importantly, it’s made for the sheer love of making music.
And THAT is precisely what gets me. Paradoxically, the more extreme and blackened my listening tastes become, the more Devin Townsend’s carefree, devil-may-care approach to music-making also appeals to me, as an opportunity to just let my hair down, and just FEEL.
So what is ‘Epicloud’? The timing suggests that it serves as a career retrospective, a culmination of a certain ‘stage’ of his musical work. The problem with this is that not only does Epicloud introduce some NEW elements, and rework others, it also doesn’t FEEL like an ending. In fact for all this record is clearly looking backward, it’s still constantly moving forward.
The gloriously camp pomposity of “Effervescent” draws its vibe from Queen, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. The use of the gospel choir (who are a key feature throughout the entire disc) also shows what Devin has learned from the sybaritic excesses of Deconstruction et al, doing far more for this album with far less.
From its silken opening bars, courtesy of the always phenomenal Ms. Anneke Van Giersbergen, “True North” is a poppy, upbeat rocker with a positive vibe and a propulsive metal backbone. Devin channels the spirit of the much-missed Freddy Mercury with his heartfelt delivery and huge emotional range, while the music is a punchy collection of bouncing beats and driving guitars which even drops a bit of Deconstruction-esque controlled demolition into the second half.
“Lucky Animals” has a bit of a Synchestra vibe to it, purposefully silly, but never dumb, making absurdly profound points, in a profoundly absurd manner. Which, in fact, might just be the point. It also has more than a helping of prime-cut Meatloaf to it, particularly in Mr T’s operatic, yet tongue-in-cheek, delivery.
“Liberation” is the bastard son of “Hyperdrive” and “We Will Rock You”, a stupendously overblown heavy metal rock opera, camp as Christmas and shamelessly anthemic. It does, however, sum up the ethos of the disc, stating “the time has come to forget all the bullshit and rock”, and it also lets the criminally under-rated Ryan Van Poederooyen really thrash his skins, adding a bit of a Strapping Young Lad vibe to the song’s metallicised rhythms.
So what IS ‘Epicloud’? If it’s not an end, or even a beginning, what is it? Perhaps it’s a compilation album, of sorts. A ‘best of’ collection… made up of (99%) new material. The problem with THIS idea is that the material has obviously been carefully sequenced and selected. Yes, each song is entirely its own thing. Yes, it’s an album of potential singles. But it’s not as disjointed as a randomly selected ‘best of’ would be.
“Where We Belong” harkens back to the Terria days, and is one of the most arresting, emotionally vital songs Devin has ever written, the soothing atmosphere and fragile vocal melodies climbing to stratospheric heights, gliding weightlessly over huge, open vistas of sound and colour.
“Save Our Now” revels in its incorporation of Euro-trance vibes, without neglecting the melodic subtleties and stomping drumwork one would expect, producing a euphoric rush, akin to “Life” remixed and reworked to incorporate more chemical stimulation and physical sensation. Yet there’s a melancholy undercurrent to the track that subtly influences it throughout, making it more than just a bubble-gum sing-along.
The phenomenal re-recording of “Kingdom” finally realises the song in the way it always promised, and makes a legitimate case for Devin’s voice being deemed an international treasure. It also gives Mr Van Poederooyen, who’s quickly becoming one of my favourite drummers, more room to stretch his muscles a bit and really let rip, before the simple acoustic guitars and frail, tremulous vocals of the Ghost-ly “Divine” breeze in, like the calm following the storm.
So WHAT IS ‘Epicloud’? Well in some ways it’s a Devin Townsend tribute album… composed and written by Devin Townsend himself. It pays tribute to the many sounds and styles of his career, sometimes compartmentalised discreetly, sometimes painted in broad strokes. But it’s more than just a series of songs written “in the style of” Devin Townsend. These are songs written BY Devin Townsend, FOR Devin Townsend.
Like a post-rehab Addicted, “Grace” builds from its soothing opening into a stomping, metallic powerhouse, full to the brim with soaring vocal melodies, chiming, unstoppable guitars, and a strapping (pun intended) drumming performance from Ryan Van Poederooyen. On top of this a huge helping of Queen at their most flamboyant (yet reverential) delivers a knowing wink to the ridiculous nature of an at-times incredibly heavy metal track which insists that we “never fear love”.
“More” keeps this post-Addicted vibe going, but mixes in some added aggression and Strapping Young Lad inspired chaos. The song itself, all frenetic female vocals, whirling, mind-shredding solo, and snapping-crackling-popping drums, is nothing less than a sheer shot of adrenaline. No more, no less. Simple, but undeniably effective.
While “Lessons” is simply an odd little interlude of guitar/keyboard interplay, “Hold On” takes the spacey, naturalistic tones of Terria and processes them through a filter of pure Def Leppard stadium-filling grandeur. The quiet-loud dynamic of the track may be predictable, but it’s a proven method, and one which is employed here faultlessly. A joyous and unashamed mash-up of positive vibes and uplifting rock power, the track even has an odd little saxophone interlude just for the hell of it, and never once falters or misses a step.
Finally “Angel” is a perfect climax to the album, a fully evolved form of what Devin has been cultivating over the many years, equal parts Infinity, Physicist, Accelerated Evolution, and Terria, structured by all he has learned from making Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction, and Ghost, such that all these elements come together in one glorious, life-affirming display of beauty and grace, gorgeous transcendent melodies building to it final, disarmingly quiet and soothing conclusion.
SO WHAT IS ‘EPICLOUD’?!?
It’s a Devin Townsend album. One with no larger aim than to produce some great songs. That’s why it sounds a little bit like everything he’s ever done. It won’t convince anyone who hates or dislikes Devin’s solo work. It may not even gain him any new fans at all. But it’s not an album that’s been written simply to placate his fanbase either. It’s been written purely for the music.
There seem to have been few rules, few restrictions, and certainly no need to tick any particular boxes or impress a certain type of person. He just let the music flow. Even with this though, it’s still designed to flow as an album. There’s no distinctive storyline or concept, but there’s certainly a map of emotional peaks and valleys.
Just dive in and let go. You’ll find something to love if you go in with your eyes and ears open. Just make sure to leave your pretensions and preconceptions at the door.