Transcendence. There really could be no better name for a Devin Townsend album; For surely this man like no other has transcended the heavy metal genre over the last quarter of a century, leaving no stone unturned in his quest not only for the perfect coffee but also for the most affecting, and effective, music ever created in the name of heavy.
Even within the first two tracks of this latest effort, the man who could well be heavy metal’s Brian Wilson lurches gracefully (can you lurch gracefully? You can now) between cold, Fear Factoryesque calculation (a reworked version of Truth) and lush, almost cinematic overkill (the glorious, spine tingling Stormbending); Ten minutes crammed with more ideas than most bands manage to get into ten albums, and yet still you get the sense that the man is not quite operating here at full pelt.
Failure has hints of the sort of over the top bombast favoured by Muse in their pomp (though they could never touch Townsend for flexibility of thought and execution) – can this really be the work of the same, scruffy urchin I saw onstage as a second guitarist for the Wildhearts at Reading Festival twenty-odd years ago? Like I said, transcendent…
Secret Sciences seems content to coast before a scintillating solo removes your eyebrows and heralds the track’s jaw dropping prog metal denouement; Higher, ushered in by strummed acoustic guitars and low, lullabying vocals doesn’t take long to become fully-formed and bellicose, resembling something that might have cropped up on 2012’s Epicloud, layer on layer of vocals, drums and guitar alternately wooing and battering the ears… If it’s true to say you pretty much know what you’re going to get from a DTP album in 2016 then the amount the listener actually gets thrown at them in every song is still an eagerly-accepted surprise, every time.
Stars is a welcome step down in pace and allows the listener to regain a bit of composure, whilst the title track also lags a little compared to the extravagance crammed into the front end of the album. It’s not bad, of course, but it does hold back from the usual carpet bombing approach used elsewhere and so just lacks a little impact.
The same can’t be said for Offer You Light, which crashes in on a wave of Euro-styled power metal aggression, guitars chugging and keyboards swirling as a backdrop to one of the most straight forward yet melodic choruses on the album. Less is more isn’t really a phrase to be associated with Devin Townsend – I realise that – but somehow the straight up heavy metalness of this track makes it a winner from start to finish.
Penultimate track From the Heart is pure, overblown, delicious grandeur; a kind of unthinkable mix of seventies album rock balladry and futuristic metallic super-indulgence, it ladles on the syrup, the schmaltz, the unmitigated theatrical emotion of bands like Styx, Boston and Chicago and mops up the resultant puddles in a lake of cold, steely-eyed metallic dynamism that yes, has to be heard to believed. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and it transcends this music we love so much to deliver the sort of results we’d never dared thought possible. There’s that ‘T’ Word again…
Strangely, the album ends with a Devinised take on Ween’s Transdermal Celebration; I say strange because many metalheads I know would dismiss Ween out of hand without even a listen, and maybe that’s Devin’s idea here; Whatever the thinking, the gambit works and the track closes the album out in excellent fashion.
I can see this album isn’t going to be a complete hit with all of Townsend’s hardcore following – there’s none of the wacky humour or sheer overkill that seems to be such a hit with the faithful – but I have to say I haven’t enjoyed one of the man’s records this much for a long, long time. Full marks, and if as is rumoured, this is the final DTP album then what a way to go out.
Transcendence is released by Century Media today.