"I love you, I need you, I've always been around you" - get out of my head!
Devin Townsend has some curious albums that include music ranging from breakneck thrash metal blasts to balladic serenity, and his vocals are incredibly diverse, moving from screamo growls to beautiful soft tones and melodies. On this latest album there are moments of Heavy Devy of course but it is mainly permeated with very melodic infectious soft rock songs. Some of these songs jam into the brain and are maddeningly infectious such as 'True North' that haunted me for days; 'I love you, I need you, I've always been around you.' The female vocals are absolutely angelic on this album from the golden tones of Anneke Van Giersbergen she is in fact one of the best things about this album; as she was so on Devin's 'Addicted' album. When she begins singing it is heavenly, and she balances the vocals of Devin masterfully. This is one of Devin's most accessible and enjoyable albums, as he refrains from growls and thrashy music on most songs. There are thrashy numbers though to keep us in touch with his SYL background.
'Effervescent!' opens proceedings with an a cappela harmonised vocals that have a strange religious atmosphere. 'True North' has Annneke jammoing that melody into our heads and then joined by Devin and the heavy distorted guitars; it is definitely one of my favourite tracks. The hypnotic melody and beat is perfect for the album after that odd start. It features repeated phrases such as 'where do we go from here' and some sounds that remind me of past DT albums, especially with that wall of sound generated, a bit like 'Terria' or 'Ziltoid'. It has a majestic soundscape that builds into a variety of melodies, ending with more a cappella.
This is followed by another catchy tune with the heavy guitars and vox of 'Lucky Animals'.
'Animals, animals and we're lucky hanging all around us all'. The hypno melody and rhythms are again guaranteed to lock into the brain. It took me a while to like this but now I look forward to it appearing on each listen.
'Liberation' has a powerhouse riff that grinds along with some odd Bowie like vox and then the aggressive Devy voice drives it along with more repeated phrases, 'one minute away from you.' This is as heavy as the album gets and it absolutely cranks with pounding drums and mega distortion, along with atmospherics.
So far the album is perfect and it moves to 'Where We Belong', an acoustic intro and very soft vocals from Devy, as beautiful as anything on 'Ghost'. The gentle delivery is something that Devy has become known for on his albums, ever since the softer side displayed on 'Synchestra' or songs on 'Ziltoid' such as 'Hyperdrive' or 'The Grays'. The melody is excellent and really grabs hold of the emotions, along with a blazing guitar outro.
'Save Our Now' begins with wonderful guitar chords and drums before the AOR style rhythm locks in and Devy's quieter mood continues to pervade. The sound is pleasant and when Anneke joins in the augmentation of harmonies is absolutely lovely. It is such a pleasant listening experience and a real surprise as I am used to a lot more heaviness from DT.
As if on cue there is a grinding distorted blastbeat on the intro of 'Kingdom', then a thrashy rhythm with some nice keyboard motifs. Devy goes for a high register vibrato on some of his more powerful vocals. This is a diverse detour into heavy rock, and Anneke adds her classy tones overlayed; they are a real force on this album that works with admirable proficiency. The song builds into speedy double kick drums and fiery guitar work, in signature thrash style as heard on songs of the past such as 'Ziltoidia Attax' or 'Earth Day'.
'Kingdom'is raucous but still maintains a strong melody; 'stay with me or play with me' repeated so as to log into the cranium.
'Divine' follows, with dreamy guitars and keyboard ambience. The pretty melody is well executed by Devin in his most romantic mood, 'loving you is the best thing and the worst thing in my life'. The atmosphere is ethereal and haunting with those sweet melodies and ghostly key pads. It is definitely as gentle as Devin gets, and works well to balance out the mayhem previous.
'Grace' has Anneke's crystal vocals echoing across clean guitars and key pads. It has a spacey sound wth crystalline production; astoundingly dreamy, and then extreme metal blasts crash through for the chorus that is one word 'Grace!' I love how Devin screams over the jumpy rhythm and orchestra sections. This track is a mixture of metal and Symphonic nuances. It builds into fast complex riffing and Anneke sounds more like her work on The Gathering.
'More!' is another very heavy track, belting along with manic guitars revved to the max. The riff is killer and just screams along with loud vocals sung on a high note. It reminds me of the sound on Alice Cooper's 'Brutal Planet'. I love the heaviness that balances out the next tracks so well.
'Lessons' returns to dreamy ambience with acoustics and is followed seamlessly by very gentle vocals that build to a crescendo in the chorus. The song 'Hold On' is a highlight even at this late point in the album; Devy has a magnificent timbre in his voice, such a surprise after the boisterous yelling on past albums. Anneke again adds her voice and it is a dramatic effect, hearing the high and low parts of the melody balancing each other.
'Angel' ends the album release (not counting the bonus CD), and it ends on a wonderful sweet melody, with a majestic soundscape. Anneke and Devy trade off over a killer lead riff. The lead guitar is some of the best on the album, and the ascending and descending notes actually sound like a guitar exercise but it works magnificently. It closes with a choir with religious nuances, and the positive theme of 'everyone into forever, everything a part of me' bookends the album.
Being such a brilliant album I had to get hold of the double disc Deluxe Edition. I was not disappointed as there are some fantastic tracks on the bonus. These are demos but they sound great. 'Believe' is a quiet ballad with Devin's quality vocals and gentle acoustics. 'Happy Birthday' has the gorgeous vox of Anneke over a steady beat; simply sumptuous music. 'Quietus' is a pop song with odd quirky synth effects, sounding a bit like 80s Devo, right down to the twangy guitars. I like this one a lot as it is so different than any other Devin track. It builds to a heavy sound that is abrasive and feels like a new song.
'Heatwave' is just a fun exploration of country rock; not too bad but very much a curio with a truckie theme and some out of place choruses that have a spacey quality. 'Love Tonight' has a bouncy tune and bombastic musicianship and very good vocals. 'The Mind WASP' sounds like an Arabian melody with a tinge of psychedelica and is one of the heaviest demos on offer here. 'Woah No!' has an odd title and is basically a metal blaster with some great keyboards. The harmonised vocals are dreamy balanced over the distortion and some Devin screamo. It is great to hear some more metal in the vein of 'Ziltoid'.
'Love And Marriage'
is an odd beast that throws in all styles including the kitchen sink of Sepultura growls and a smattering of burps and Anneke reacting to her imaginary husband with that's what she would have expected; it is a lot of fun really to hear them spar off. The odd mixture of pop synth and brash vocals over distorted riffs is Devin at his most experimental. Perhaps this would have worked on the 'Ziltoid' sequel better. 'Socialization' clocks 7:18 and its length flashes by with very heavy fast drums and guitars. The operatic vocals are weird over all this metal sounding more like Galahad or such gladiator metal. The frantic guitar riffs are incredible, as well as a Slayeresque lead break, and a smattering of Mortification style growls, making this definitely the heaviest song on the whole album.
'Little Pig' is last on the slab, and the worst for me meandering along a dull musical scape and over produced vocal layers. With silly bloated lyrics 'I need a Friend'; but that is Townsend having fun in the studio and he will try anything.
If this had been the anticipated 'Ziltoidia 2' it would have been a masterful followup but of course it was not to be and this is still one of the top 3 Townsend albums I have heard. Anneke is a revelation on this album and works well with Devin's screaming and gentler moods. She is always an augmentation to every track and makes this such a compelling experience. Devin is at his best in his structuring and composition of each song. The lyrics hit home perfectly that are positive and have an optimistic edge, and the catchy tunes are surely some of the best he has created over his grand tenure. Some of these songs are unforgettable and it is an absolute stand out album, far superior to his last few, and absolutely buries 'Deconstruction' and 'Ghost'for innovation and diversity. The Phil Spectorish production is crystal clear with a commercial friendly sound, and every musician is clear, especially Devin's Keys, and guitars. It has been a delight to hear such a wonderful uplifting album. It is epic, it is loud, it is one of the great albums of 2012; treat yourself to 'Epicloud'.