June 29, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
Devin Townsend is mental. Not just a little but nutty, but full on batshit crazy. Crazy in a shave your hair, keep it in a box to show audiences, then attach some of that hair to a puppet based on an alien that invades Earth for its coffee and write a concept album about it kind of crazy. Seriously.
But along with complete insanity comes musical greatness (maybe not for everyone, but definitely here) and a highly varied and prolific career. Starting out on vocals for Steve Vai before forming Strapping Young Lad, one of the heaviest bands you’ll ever have the pleasure of hearing, all the while releasing solo albums on a regular basis that never stuck to one genre or style.
Deconstruction and Ghost are the third and fourth instalments in a four album series that started with Ki and Addicted, each album having its own style and feel. The first two were good and not too far away from some of the previous solo outings, but it’s on the last two instalments that Devin shows how skilled, versatile and ahead of the game he really is.
Deconstruction is the third chapter, and the heaviest thing Devin has done in years. Even on paper this album just feels evil, the list of guest musicians (members of Opeth, Insahn, GWAR and Gojira) reads like a who’s who of heavy and forward thinking metallers (minus maybe GWAR…). The artwork features a Steampunk heart and a creepy mechanical cat that’s enough to give you nightmares. And it’s got the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra involved so you know it’s going to be epic.
And that’s all before you start listening. Once you’ve got the balls to put the disk on it really is an experience in a league of its own. Praise the Lowered starts off slow and quiet, but gradually builds and builds before quieting down again, giving you a breather before the nine minute Stand marches out of your stereo with barely restrained aggression and then let’s the relentless Juular plays out. In three songs you’ve already been subjected to industrial rock, death metal al a SYL, a circus freak show soundtrack, ambience and some symphonic pieces. And it only gets more unhinged the further you go.
Take the two longest tracks, Planet of the Apes and The Mighty Masterbator. The first is a ten minute monster that jumps from heavy riffing and barking lyrics to soft melody and back again in the same breath. Part rock opera, part Djent, it’s mostly just a massive headfuck. The second is a whole story (something about saving the world but it’s hard to tell) condensed into sixteen minutes and straddles every kind of rock and metal you could ever wish to pigeonhole, and then goes off on a tangent or two.
Devin has always put his humour all over his music. From the weird samples to the poking fun at metal song titles (who can forget the epic ‘No Sleep Til Bedtime’?) and Deconstruction has it in spades. From the lyric ‘We all rip off Meshuggah’ in Planet of the Apes to the chorus of ‘Cheeseburger’ before the title track, the lyrics are all over the place and you’re never far away from a lyrical curveball.
The guitar work all over this album is incredible, but nothing ever stays around long enough for you to admire it, the next solo/riff/noise comes along before your jaws had time to lift itself off the ground. Fans of Devin will love this, it’s all the heaviest parts of his entire career condensed into one masterpiece. It has the pace and aggression of SYL, especially on the operatic thrash of Pandemic, and mixes it with the most manic and unhinged parts of his solo material. It’s all as whacky as his concept album Ziltoid but without being quite as preposterous.
You often see first impressions of an album put into metaphors. Like ‘this album is so heavy it’s like a stomp to the face’ kind of stuff. Deconstruction leaves the kind of impression that you’ve just seen Jesus ride through your town on the back of a dinosaur to take down Godzilla and then play a guitar solo.
For newcomers and those unfamiliar to Devin, it’s hard to put into words. But I can guarantee you that you will rarely hear an album this original, bonkers, scary, beautiful and scarily heavy.
It isn’t easy listening, it’s a challenging record, It’s fun to listen to, but if you stop listening intently for a second you’ve been left behind as it moves forward through every kind of musical jump and curve ball imaginable. All I can say is, buy this record.
Once you’ve picked up the goo that was once your brains off the floor, it’s time to put on Ghost. And it’s hard to believe these were made by the same man. Ghost is the anti-Deconstruction in every way.
Where Deconstruction is heavy, (mostly) fast, and generally doing it’s best to beat you over the head with the CD case it came in, Ghost is slow, melodic, ambient, and almost ethereal in it’s laid-back approach.
There’s no guitar solos, no blast beats. Just Pan pipes, acoustic guitars, pianos and whispered lyrics about mountains. It’s background music and the perfect comedown after the experience of Deconstruction. Devin has made ambient and relaxing records before but this is easily one of the most ‘normal’ records he’s ever made. No poo jokes, weird interludes, just straight up melody. It’s a pleasant comedown and something that you could easily fall asleep to.It just shows the scope and ability of Canada’s greatest musician. There’s stuff on here that take that would kill to write.
On its own this album might be a little dull, but in the context of Deconstruction and the other two instalments (Ki & Addicted) it makes sense. It’s the epitaph for a crazy set of albums, the kind that very few people could or would dare to make. It’s not one for people who just like the heavy side of what Devin does, it’s for people who use music to do Yoga to and the people who really get that Devin is a man who ignores every kind of genre barrier and does his own thing exactly how he wants to do it. and you’re just there for the ride.
And what’s next? Devin already has the next couple of albums planned. The first is Ghost II, another selection of ambience and a Ziltoid sequel, entitled Z², which will inevitably be just as strange as the first. But if you aren’t satisfied with these two albums you must be as crazy as Devin, and probably keep your hair in a box.