I often talk of expectations when it comes to music. As in several of my recent reviews, sometimes they are met (Black Crown Initiate), sometimes exceeded (Elm Street), and sometimes the product falls short (Withem). For The Devin Townsend Project, they are sky high, but with some reservation because we never really know what this Canadian madman is going to give us.
I think the album title, Transcendence, sets things up with respect to what we might hear. Now I’m no yoga practicing or drug using Metalhead, so achieving some kind of transcendentalism is going to be purely due to the music and Mr. Townsend has been able to do that on his latest release on his own Hevy Devy Records. This isn’t just a close-your-eyes-and-meditate kind of album, but it seems that parts of it are more on the reflective side of things than normal. I also would be reluctant to say that it’s an immediate attention grabber. Sure there are some tracks that are more urgent than others, but overall, Transcendence is one that should be allowed to grow over time.
Undoubtedly a Devin Townsend product, opening track Truth has the elements of his songwriting that I’ve come to expect: his style of chord structures, the melody lines, the wall of sound production, the presence of Anneke Van Giersbergen. It’s a huge sounding song that essentially acts like an intro track to the experience that is Hevy Devy. Stormbending seamlessly follows Truth, acting more as the first proper song on Transcendence. An expansive song in its own right, with flowing soundscapes and soaring melodies. Heaviness increases along with a level of complexity and progressiveness in Failure. Townsend‘s vocals take on an edge for the first time on the album, yet retaining his unique timbre and style. The instrumental approach is somewhat different too, using non-standard time signatures and some syncopation. Always putting on an impressive performance, here Ryan van Poederooyen shows why he is the DTP drummer. He keeps things simple embellishing in just the right places. Secret Sciences takes a while to build then ebbs and flows between heavier aggressive sections and more subtle passages. Perhaps the weakest song on the album so far.
DTP follows up with Higher, the longest track and probably the best of the entire album. Not only is it the heaviest song, it is also the most intense and varied track on Transcendence. Difficult to sum up in words, Higher is a song that just needs to be heard. As complete of a Devin Townsend song as you’ll hear. Toning things down slightly is Stars, almost a companion track to Higher, albeit with a lighter approach. It’s essentially a slow to mid-paced song that sort of drifts along with a slight amount of heaviness during the latter half of the track. The title track continues the more relatively subdued style that Townsend has embraced over the last few years. A close second as the best song is Offer Your Light, which happens to be the shortest song. The trade off vocals between Townsend and van Giersbergen work to perfection above the straight ahead Metal of the instruments.
The last two songs comprise a quarter of the album’s run time. From the Heart, though slow and sort of plodding, manages to be interesting for the first half of its 8 minutes then it loses me. It’s not poorly done by any means, but becomes a song that i find it easy to drift away from while its playing. Probably not one they will want to play live. Closing track Transdermal Celebration is in much the same mode although more focused than the previous, at least for the first few minutes. After that it gets rather new-agey – not really my thing.
Here is Stormbending:
Much of Transcendence flows from one song to the next with little interruption. This makes for a listening experience that almost requires an hour of dedication rather than picking out a random song. Although Metal takes on different forms and functions, it seems that Townsend has developed his sound precisely and allowed it to mature to this point. Sure there is plenty of heavy in the Metal, but there is also an identifiable amount of growth. Not his best album, nor his worst, there are the Devin Townsend elements present that we love. He may not have completely met my expectations, but they are so high with Townsend, I’m not sure he can.
I hear the sound in a Metal way.
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