(Today we’re posting two different reviews of “Epicloud” by the Devin Townsend Project. In this one, DGR gives us his take on this unusual album. You can read Andy Synn’s assessment here.)
You’re probably in one of two pretty large camps when it comes to this album. Camp A probably saw the name attached to this disc and immediately rushed to check it out, and Camp B had absolutely no idea what was going on here.
It seems that Devin Townsend has attracted one hell of a following in the past few years. Watching that fanbase grow has been amazing, especially since I got the opportunity to jump on that train in ’05 with SYL’s Alien. I’ve heard a lot of his material, from solo works to band projects to joking band projects, and now it all seems to have come to a head with this disc.
It appears that everyone who consistently listens to him loves his stuff; very few people are on the fence when it comes to this material. For many fans, the name Devin Townsend seems like an almost instant purchase these days; it definitely carries a lot of weight. Not so much with me, because I’ll be the first to admit that, yes, he has created music that I haven’t fully enjoyed, and hey, they can’t all be zingers. So when it came to Epicloud, I like to think that I approached it free of supposition or any sort of false pretense as to what this might actually be.
So, if you do happen to be on the fence here and are looking for guidance about whether Epicloud might be worth your time, allow me to offer my services. No album is perfect, but I will say this: I have listened to Epicloud a ton since I was offered the opportunity, and I have enjoyed it tremendously.
Epicloud deals in some pretty familiar themes, if you’ve followed Devin for a while — themes of love and what it does to you, as well as the idea of just letting go and enjoying life without worrying about what others think of you. It’s been a long recurring idea in his works, because man, they do pop up a lot throughout his whole collective discography, but on Epicloud they are at their most bombastic and optimistic-sounding.
The songs here are admittedly straightforward rock tunes, but they all hold up well, save for the occasionally cheesy ballad. Songs like “More!” and “Liberation” get moving really fast, and each of those plays into the recurring themes of Epicloud. “Liberation” is probably the most freeing song on this release, as it proclaims it’s time to let go and forget all the bullshit.
You’ll also find songs on the album such as “True North” and “Grace”, which are more progressive in their structures and length and really become ethereal with the backing guitars, choirs, and orchestration. “Save Our Now” is interesting, too, if only because it borrows a bit from a Pendulum song titled “The Island” that was on their Immersion release. He asked permission from the group to do so. The vocal melody is reflective of that, but “Save Our Now”, despite its somewhat gibberish title, claims its own individuality pretty fast. I’ll still find myself doing the lyrics to “The Island” in the back of my mind, but that’s due to the familiarity of that song.
“Lucky Animals”, which is the first song a lot of us heard, has some serious swagger to it, kind of like a revised take on the cockiness that DT had on “Bad Devil” from Infinity a long time ago. Of course, there’s also a bit of the repeated motif from an SYL song on The New Black in there as well, and for the few seconds that it pops up it will be immediately recognizable.
Devin Townsend is in a happy as hell mood at this moment and he’s going to share it with all of you. He has a masterful ability as a musician to get something caught in his brain and then doggedly pursue it until it is complete, whereas others might have hit the halfway point and long since lost that original feeling. By pursuing ideas to 100% completion, he has given us some great work, and this fifth disc bearing the Devin Townsend Project name is the latest result of that process.
Somewhere along the line, Devin got the idea to just do a straightforward rock album and see how epic he could make it sound. His choice of backing instrumentation and choir make the whole thing sound like a joyous experience at the surface level. At the same time, when you have Devin Townsend pursuing an idea like this you can almost rely on it being as silly as possible. While the idea of “epic rock” may not seem like anything new, you have to give it to the band (constructed of the same musicians he used for the last two DTP albums, so no more shifting lineups on that front) for being able to take that idea and make it their own by executing it to the highest quality.
The songs on this album pull from so many different styles, and when they all flow together you get a great listening experience. It’s highlighted by some of the most ridiculous vocals Devin has pulled out of his bag in a while (you do have to give it to him, he’s certainly passionate about what he does), including in the remade version of “Kingdom” (initially on Physicist). It has much better production than the original, though just as loud, and Devin just belts out each line in an insanely operatic vocal approach.
He uses that approach for a lot of Epicloud, alongside his instantly recognizable singing style. He actually has a legitimate choir from around his area participating for much of the disc, and nothing makes things more epic than adding a choir to it. They do a good job here. He also has Anneke van Giersbergen on backing vocals once again, and she gets quite a bit of time on the microphone, either complementing or dominating on a specific line. She brings down some of the cheese that Devin likes to get into when he truly lets loose without worrying about how crazy he sounds.
Epicloud is easily the least pretentious, most free Devin has sounded in years. A lot of what happened during the initial Devin Townsend Project quadrilogy of discs was done under the auspices of “Oh, Devin is a genius”, so you had all these people looking to those albums to see how nuts he could make them. The concept of four different albums with four different themes was crazy enough, and if you didn’t notice the concept, things started really flying off the rails and going in some insane directions in the music.
Now that the whole initial rush of those four discs has been completed, I think that the slate has been somewhat wiped clean. Since few of us knew where he would try to go next, he was free to try whatever he wanted. Epicloud sounds like a band who are completely at home, with Devin writing a simpler, more rock-focused album and doing it a hell of a lot better than people you hear on the radio now. It certainly has its epic moments, and the choir usage and ridiculous bombast of keys that backs a lot of the songs augment the sound well.
As I mentioned, not everything is perfect, but the album is truly a joy to hear. It’s closer in optimistic tone to some of his solo works and to the music he made when “-band” was the suffix attached to his name — and if you aren’t experienced with those and you just miss the happy sound of a disc like Addicted!, you’ll get one heck of a kick out of this. While Devin has admitted that this disc is more of a stopgap and not a sign of where he’s going in the future, there’s no need to say that like an apology. It’s a one-off that is executed incredibly well. It certainly is different and way outside a lot of our realms of metal, but if you can accept probably the most un-subtle, straightforward music we’ve heard from this batch of musicians in a while and are okay with the pleasure of just rocking out, then you will find Epicloud well worth your time.