Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence – Album Review

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Artist: Devin Townsend Project

Album Title: Transcendence

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 9 September 2016

Like many I’m sure, Mr Devin Townsend came into my life around 1997. It was a subtle introduction via the laid back and soothing sounds created under the moniker of Strapping Young Lad and their opus ‘City’. I found myself blown away both metaphorically and literally by an album that demonstrated the brutality and aggression of a hungry bear that had just been poked with a stick. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, at the time, this was the heaviest thing I’d ever heard. It’s still up there now, nearly 20 years later.

In the intervening period, Devin has worked as hard as anyone in the music industry, if not harder. The discography is huge with albums appearing left, right and centre over the years. Prolific therefore he may be, but crucially, the quality has always remained of the highest standard. Never settling for second best, Devin would appear to be his own worst critic and some might utter the word ‘genius’ too. I could never profess to like everything Devin has released equally, but that’s just down to personal taste rather than calling into question the quality. Bad music and Devin Townsend are two entities that never meet.

One of the most interesting factors around Devin Townsend above all else, is his willingness to experiment and go in directions where his inspiration takes him. Beginning as an out-and-out metal head with Strapping Young Lad, he has gone on record to say that his tastes have changed over time, even suggesting that the metal genre had an effect of him personally that he wasn’t happy with. The upshot was a sequence of releases that were far removed from the early heavy days, instead exploring more ambient and chilled sounds. In my opinion, ‘Ghost’ is one of the best recordings of his career.

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So what of ‘Transcendence’ then? It is certainly heavier than much of Devin’s more recent work, that’s for sure, but heaviness is only part of the story. You see, Devin has been gradually morphing his music in a certain direction and I believe that ‘Transcendence’ is the strongest and most engaging culmination of his personal vision to date.

With this record, Devin has managed to blend the metal elements with his more relaxed style of output almost seamlessly. What it means is that ‘Transcendence’ is one of the smoothest, uplifting and oft-times euphoric-sounding heavy metal albums I’ve ever heard. Very few other artists are able to create music that immediately sounds so epic, all-encompassing and downright serene. It’s crazy.

As before, the Devin Townsend Project is ostensibly a solo project but is ably assisted by a cast of talented musicians. The ‘project’ is comprised of drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen, guitarist Dave Young, bassist Brian ‘Beav’ Waddell and keyboardist/programmer Mike St-Jean. And then there are the guest musicians, namely vocalists Anneke van Giersbergen, Che Aimee Dorval (Casualties Of Cool), Katrina Natale as well as Mattias Eklund (ambience) and Niels Bye Neilsen (orchestration). If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a five-piece choir by the name of Tigers In A Tank. However, at no time to these guests dominate proceedings; instead, they simply enhance the material and add extra colour to the already vibrant pallet by doing what they each do best.

Those already familiar with Devin’s work will instantly recognise the unmistakeable reverb-heavy guitar tones that are used to open up the album via ‘Truth’. That highly melodious and welcoming sound segues into a monster riff backed up by a thunderous rhythm section before choral vocals and huge synth effects add that epic and grandiose sheen to the composition. It is also suitably quirky and catchy whilst offering echoes to the SYL days via the uncompromising guitars and wonderfully powerful vocals that verge on those famous screams from Devin. The ending then has a kind of gospel church feeling as the foot is taken off the pedal.

‘Stormbending’ follows and is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It is a bona-fide anthem, full of power before exploding into a chorus that is truly beautiful. Led by choral vocals, a slow-paced drum blastbeat and an understated melody, it frequently stops me in my tracks. There are moments within of quieter contemplation before that chorus returns to carry the listener off to a place of almost spiritual utopia. I can only suggest that the song offers something close to an aural religious experience.

There’s a djent-like edge to the overall slower-paced ‘Failure’ within the stop-start verse riffs and the surprising inclusion of an almost operatic voice at points. To my mind, this is one of the most progressive sounding tracks on ‘Transcendence’ by virtue of the shifting ideas and the expert use of light and shade. In addition, some of the lead guitar work is gorgeously emotive and soulful, to compliment the melodic intent of the entire song.

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Moving deeper into the album and for the first time (but not the last), the soothing and calm strains of an acoustic guitar can be heard within the opening segment of ‘Secret Sciences’, complementing Devin’s distinctive softer vocal delivery that I personally love. ‘Higher’ again begins in more ambient acoustic territory before blasting into something altogether heavier. Frenetic, blast-beat fuelled extremes are juxtaposed with more restrained and chilled passages to great effect, and I just adore the groove-tastic breakdowns that begin at just over the half-way mark, not to mention the anthemic closing passage that raises goosebumps on my skin.

‘Stars’ is a delightful track that is shorter and a little more straightforward in terms of construction. It is equally as captivating however with more superb melodies. Indeed, much the same can be said of ‘Offer Your Light’, the shortest and the most modern-sounding track on the album thanks to a bold keyboard sound reminiscent of Amaranthe, a no-nonsense attitude and hooky chorus. The title track on the other hand, takes that whole soundtrack approach to a completely new level with the choir working overtime to devastating effect, interspersed by quieter, more contemplative passages. The guitars are an utter joy on this particular track, although the same could be said elsewhere.

The album then ends with an impressive duo of songs, both of which clock in at over eight minutes apiece. Up first is ‘From The Heart’, a sumptuous track that has the feel of a ballad thanks to the lyrical content, the slower, more measured pace and the tangible warmth that it exudes. It’s a bittersweet composition that conveys a sense of wistfulness and contentment, enhanced by the injection of a protracted ambient section from the midway point to the close of the song that beguiles and soothes in equal measure.

The clue is most definitely in the title for ‘Transdermal Celebration’ because it’s a gloriously upbeat piece of music that comes across as a celebration of what Devin is all about in 2016, eventually unravelling into more chilled territory before it gives way to an ending that explores subtle ambient soundscapes, allowing the listener time and space to ponder life and process everything that has gone before.

I’m a fan of Devin Townsend and have been for some considerable time. However, I’m having a hard time remembering when an album by the great man has had quite such an effect on me. The depth, the sophistication and the power that ‘Transcendence’ displays means that this is right up there with the very best that Devin has ever put his name to. And to think that there was a time when this album may never have been created. I shudder at the very thought and thank the Gods that I have ‘Transcendence’ in my life.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

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