October 1, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe
As impressive a musician as he is, you never quite know what you’re going to get with Devin Townsend. His Tetralogy series last year; Ki, Addicted!, Deconstruction and Ghost all showed the different extremes the man’s musical split personality disorders reaches. From pop and metal to new age ambience, there’s no stone left unturned when it comes to Heavy Devy’s musical direction.
Devin’s three current projects consist of a what will be an epic metal-opera concept album with Z2– the sequel to 2009’s mindfuck Ziltoid The Omniscient, some sort of country-rock effort with Ché Aimee Dorval called Casualties of Cool, and his newest release under the Devin Townsend Project, Epicloud. In the label’s catalogue, the bio reads; “It’s Epic and it’s Loud. It’s Epicloud.” and that’s pretty much a perfect review in six words. Before it’s release, Devin talked about wanting to move away from the concepts and big ideas, just for an album, and create a “big, dumb rock record”. And in part he’s succeeded; it’s big and it rocks, but Epicloud is anything but dumb.
Effervescent! kicks things off with an ode to Queen with a big choral opening before jumping straight into True North, an anthemic rock/pop number that mixes big riffs with big choruses. There’s lots of energy, mixing the sheen of Addicted! with the background chaos of Deconstructed, and after the four minutes are up we’re treated to an Effervescent! reprise. Quite quickly you realise this isn’t going to be your standard Devin Townsend album, if even such a thing exists.
First single Lucky Animals is easily the catchiest track on show. Devin has said his kids are driving him nuts with it- and he deserves it. One listen and it sticks in your head for days. It’s epic party metal in the vein of Vampira, but even more irresistible. Liberation takes the stadium rock to a another level; it’s driving rock riff backed up with a choral chorus of “let’s rock- the time has come to forget all the bullshit”. Throughout the record, it’s heavy riffs intertwined with grand melodies. It’s anthemic, grand and a screams AOR. It’s Def Leppard and the more accessible parts of Queens Of The Stone Age, with lashings of Devin’s times with Steve Vai. It’s great fun, the kind of fun where you don’t have to think, like being on a bouncy castle.
Epicloud sees the return of ex-The Gathering singer Anneke van Giersbergen, reprising her role from Addicted! as Devin’s foil. Her sweet smooth tone contrasts Devin when he’s attacking the song and gels when he’s caressing it. For the most part she plays second fiddle to Devin, there’s no Supercrush-style lead, for example, but she’s a welcome addition and adds something to many layers. As too do the choir, who’s upbeat contribution across album is very different from the drama of Deconstruction. Here their contribution sounds closer to Sister Act, rather than the end of the world.
Within a few songs one of the major things that strikes you is the song structures. Where Devy is known for his helter-skelter prog stylings, here he sticks rigidly to the verse-chorus-verse method. Combine that with the presence of Giersbergen and you may think Epicloud reads like Addicted! pt II. but you’d be wrong. While the pop-metal leanings are similar, Epicloud is bigger in every way, more focused and more bombastic. Addicted! was a prelude to Deconstruction, a mindlessly happy front for the chaos of the following release, but Epicloud is independent. It kicks the door down and screams’ I’m Here! Listen to me!” it’s the album Addicted! threatened to be but didn’t quite have enough energy or focus to achieve.
The record’s peak comes with the one-two of Kingdom and Grace. Fans may have noticed Devin has been playing Kingdom from 2000’s Physicist, and been resurrected here. Given a new lease of life, the song has more power and is easily the heaviest offering on show. It’s often easy to forget how talented Devin is as a vocalist, his huge falsetto is almost shockingly surprising, and really shows how operatic he can actually get when he wants to. Meanwhile Grace combines all the different elements of the record and condense it into six minutes of brilliance. Starting with an acoustic Giersbergen lead, it becomes a huge choir-led breakdown. It’s the closest you can to a religious experience in six minutes.
It’s not all pomp. Divine provides an ambient, Ghost-like bridge between the power of Kindgom and the grandiose Grace. Hold On and Angel bring things to a close with the kind of mid-paced stadium rock that demands lighters and swaying. You’re left exhausted and better off for the experience. There will be some who really don’t like this, Strapping Young Lad fans especially. But once you accept the addictively upbeat nature of the album, there’s very little to dislike. The songs are well crafted, 13 slabs of short, simple and at times cheesey rock, and it sounds great. The only real criticism you can level at Epicloud is its simplicity; there’s little here you won’t find elsewhere on other Devin solo/DTP albums, it’s just all condensed here into one solid 50 minute slab.
This is something remedied by the bonus disc, Epiclouder. Limited to 5000 copies and billed as a collection of demos, it’s a real treat. Far more than unfinished ideas, these are fully crafted songs that didn’t quite fit the mould of Epicloud and at the same time show the unending steam of musical consciousness that spews forth from Devin’s mind. From the country-rock of Little Pig to the metallic Woah No!, Epiclouder shows off the different facets of that split personality Devin possesses. Though the lack of songs from the shelved Ghost II project is surprising, there’s still plenty of quality music on offer. From the mellow husband/wife conversation of Love and Marriage through the sinister, Kashmir-esque Mind Wasp to the seven minutes of SYL-through-a-prog-blender of Socialization, it’s the perfect antidote of the main record. Where Epicloud was simple and straight to the point, this is a sprawling, unexpected romp through straight up acoustic pop to raging metal and back again. Easily the best batch of bonus treats this year.
However you feel about the pop-metal on offer, Devin has promised this record is no indication of where he’s going in the future, merely something he needed to get out of his system. As he said; “I don’t have the patience as a 40-year-old adult to try and figure out the nature of the universe because I have so much other shit that I need to do. You know, I need to mow the lawn for fuck’s sake.” But either way, Epicloud is a simply set of awesome songs. Just forget all the bullshit and rock. It’s Epic, it’s loud, it’s Epicloud!