If the ratings on Prog Archives are any indication, then 'Terria' is the apex of Devin Townsend's solo career efforts before he went and formed a proper band, Devin Townsend Band, for his song-writing efforts outside of Strapping Young Lad. Disregarding the Punky Brewster band project of the mid-nineties, 'Terria' is his fourth solo album and it follows one of his most critically spurned albums, 'Physicist'. However, while 'Physicist' was for the most part a very thrash-based, aggressive album that suffered from a production that even the supporting band (the Strapping Young Lad dudes) disliked, 'Terria' delivers a greater diversity of sound in a warm, well-produced sonic atmosphere. It is as though the fruit went a bit sour with 'Physicist' but has reached perfect maturity here.
Typical of many of Devin Townsend's pre-Devin Townsend Project solo albums, 'Terria' integrates a variety of styles and influences. The opening track 'Olives' is very much post-metal / experimental with a spoken dialogue slowed down, sound effects, and a musical theme that takes time to build to a powerhouse of simple heavy chords. 'Mountain' begins with an intense pounding of heavy music with Devin singing in his softer, higher register. But the music then goes of exploring in a non-aggressive vein with a melody of 'whoa-whoa' before returning to the thunder of the beginning with a trademark scream. It's interesting to point out at this time that the guitar sound is not Devin's usual rich distortion tones but a simpler sound more like seventies proto- metal. If you are familiar with Captain Beyond's debut album then that is more like the guitar sound you will find here just with more bass backing it. It strikes me as having a very earthy feel to it, and in the song 'Canada', which almost has a slow and heavy country vibe to it, the guitar sound really suits the music. Of course, there are other songs and moments with really loud guitar distortion and production.
Other styles to be found on 'Terria' include the unusual (for Devin) simple but classically influenced guitar solo in 'Deep Peace'; an 80's power ballad-styled number with 'Nobody's Here' which comes complete with an emotive guitar solo; an 80's hair-band song with 'Stagnant' that sounds like it could have been the closing track on an album by Cinderella or London Quireboys; and the pretty instrumental number 'Down and Under', which begins with some acoustic strumming and gradually moves to a heavier theme but not without returning to its upbeat sound at the conclusion.
For a Devin Townsend album (or Strapping Young Lad for that matter), 'Terria' includes an unusual amount of guitar soloing. According to the article on Wikipedia, Devin doesn't like shredding and only includes a guitar solo is he feels it can work within the musical framework of a song. Thus it is possible to find few if any proper guitar solos on many of his albums. Yet 'Terria' includes solos on five tracks, and Devin proves that he is capable of soloing in different styles that do indeed suit the music. In fact, listening to 'Accelerated Evolution', 'Deconstruction', and Strapping Young Lad's 'The New Black', Devin proves that he has worked very hard to be able to pull off some excellent guitar solos. But again, typical of him, he only employs any of his particular skills when he feels it belongs in a song or instrumental piece.
No early Devin Townsend album would be complete without nature sounds, radio broadcasts, background music, and other sonic decor. We can hear a Chinese radio broadcast at the conclusion of 'Mountain', a French-Canadian radio broadcast at the end of 'Canada' and also in 'Canada', a curious slowed-down recording of the beginning of a story about a bird in a nest. This recording was included at normal speed and in a longer version at the end of the 'Detox' '96 demo, which appeared as a bonus track on the reissue of Strapping Young Lad's 'City'. I have read that this is actually a recording of a story written and read out by a very young Devin Townsend.
There are two additional points to mention about the music here. The first is the curious and for me disappointing conclusion to 'The Fluke'. The song begins almost in a pop punk / 90's radio rock style which veers more into a progressive metal direction. Then the guitar and band abruptly get cancelled and some ambient / experimental keyboard sounds take over for a moment. This gets supplanted by some quick notes that play like a seventies electronic album, and this in turn drops out to be replaced by a low pulsing tone. Static fades in over the low tone and a clean guitar sound over the static brings us to the end and leads us into the next track, 'Nobody's Here'. The other bizarre track is the hidden one at the end, 'Humble' which begins very promisingly with some strummed guitar backed by bass guitar and string synthesizer. It sounds like the makings of a demo, the early framework of a song. The music attempts to move in a new direction, there's a mistake, someone laughs, the recording breaks to silence for a second, and returns. The song is abandoned for another take but then a backwards recording runs on repeat until the end of the track. This lasts for about three minutes, and at one point some water drop sounds come in. Weird.
I gave the Devin Townsend Band's 'Synchestra' four and a half stars and at first I was sure that I would give this album four, in spite of it being Devin's most highly rated album on Prog Archives. However, with each subsequent listen, the album grew on me more. I now feel it makes for a very good companion album to 'Synchestra', namely because the albums both sound very earthy to me though different in guitar sound and overall musical approach. Still, they share a commonality in that they both feature some simple heavy music in a progressive vein and some more complex music at times. The vocals cover nearly all of Devin's diverse range of ability and the music styles also spread out. In fact, if these two albums share any direct bond it can be found in a riff in 'Earth Day' which sounds very similar to a riff that surfaces in 'Baby Song' on 'Synchestra'. In style alone, 'Synchestra' makes for a good logical successor to 'Terria' even though there is a five-year gap between the two that is filled with Devin's first ambient / experimental album 'Devlab', the Devin Townsend Band's first album 'Accelerated Evolution', and two Strapping Young Lad albums!
If you are interested in progressive metal that includes traditional metal, hair metal, experimental and post metal, with a bit of aggro-metal thrown in, topped off with a twinge of heavy country on 'Terria' and world music on 'Synchestra' then I recommend buying both of these albums together.