Ten Minute Review: Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

devin-townsend-project-transcendence

I can’t think of a better way to come back to Audio Orbital than with Devin Townsend.  The first word spoken in the first track off this wonderful album is “Hallelujah” and that’s what I felt like when listening to this.  Strange to think it’s been almost two years since his last release, especially after a blitz of albums released in the past few years in Z2, Casualties of Cool, Epicloud, and Deconstruction/Ghost.  I appreciate that he took some time off to recharge his batteries, because the wait was truly worth it.  He’s back, ladies and gentlemen.  Devin Townsend is back and is as big and bold as ever.  I have three tracks for you off this album, being the second, third and fourth tracks on it, and they encompass this album fairly well.

Before I get into music that you can hear, the first track on the album, Truth, is actually a reworked version of a track he released in his solo album, Infinity, back in 1998.  This version has a much greater scale and is more atmospheric and engrossing.  Sonic walls, or walls of sound, are frequently referenced with Devin Townsend, and what they are describing is a musician/band making layer on top of layer of music to where it feels like an audio crescendo hitting you at once.  Hallelujah.

This album is not heavy.  It is very complicated, in excellent Devin Townsend fashion, and you can hear that right off the bat with Stormbending.  Put simply, this track is cosmic and expansive.  It’s quite complex, and I’ve gotten different things out of the track after multiple listens.  I can hear the pain of Devy singing about rainy days, the slow and melodic percussion carrying the song forward, and the fading guitar at the end of the track which sound a bit like if a guitar tried to make the sound of rain.  It’s emotional and like all great prog metal tracks, builds up as the track progresses.  It doesn’t have the climax of a traditional prog metal song that builds to a point and explodes, but there are plenty of other tracks on this album that give us that sweet prog release.  See, for example, the next track I am going to discuss.

Of all the tracks off this album, Failure feels like one of the two heaviest tracks alongside Higher.  The immediate crunch of the guitar riff – dare I say djent-like (I don’t know why it’s a dirty word for the prog metal community) – sets the tone right out of the gate.  I will point this out because I found out by accident while writing this: this song sounds completely different when listening to it loud compared to at normal polite “I live with people but have a big stereo” volume.  I have a completely different impression when the volume is up, because I felt a greater amount of depth between the guitar and the bass.  The bassline is very low and quiet compared to the rest of the instruments, but it is important nonetheless.  The keyboard lending some higher notes (and the other guitar kicking in at 2:30) provides decent contrast for the deep and heavy combination of the percussion and riffs.  The guitar solo that goes on for about 90 seconds has a vibe reminiscent of Pink Floyd and King Crimson with the lightly distorted sound of the guitar.  In addition to the instrumentality I keep highlighting, Devin’s vocals are as good as they get on this album.  They aren’t overwhelming, they don’t often try to stand up and above the rest of the music, and actually very fitting with the music.  This provides for a harmonious effect that is pleasing to listen to.

The first two or three seconds of this track, I heard the intro to the song Temptation by the band The Tea Party, if you’re familiar with the track you may hear it too.  After those few seconds, it goes into a very different direction and feels more like post-rock for the first 30 seconds or so.  From there, we hear the heavy guitar kick in for a second and pull in Devin’s vocals once again.  These vocals are different from the previous few tracks, and they are a lot clearer and more in line with something we’d hear from his previous albums like Ki and Epicloud.  In this track at least, the vocals mostly stick to a range, and don’t jump around to something operatic or harsh for long.  What I’m trying to say is that when he sings in a particular stanza, the notes are similar, until the next one comes up and shifts up an octave.  It’s been a long time since I’ve studied music, so forgive me if I am mixing up those terms.  This song, as good as it is, feels like a big setup for the next song, which I won’t be able to share, called Higher.  Secret Sciences seems to lay the foundation for something much bigger.  Don’t worry, I’ll still tell you about the rest of them, because it’d be unfair to just describe the songs that you can already listen to and make up your own mind about.

Higher is heavy.  It’s the heaviest track on the album, I’d say.  It starts out riffy like some of the others, but goes big and loud.  There’s a lot more “dugga dugga dugga” to use the onomatopoeia (spelled it right on the first try, take that 5th grade spelling class), and this is the track that a lot of Hevy Devy fans may have wanted for this album.  This album, generally speaking, is a lot easier to listen to than some of his other works like Dark Matters or Deconstruction.  Some of those albums are so heavy and destructive that you feel like you just got in a fight after getting through the album.  For me, I appreciate those kinds of albums to a point, as long as the listening experience is superior to the exhaustion I feel after finishing up listening to it.  It’s why I can’t get into a band like Deafheaven, because even though they’re musically brilliant, I feel like I’m being pummeled by the music.  Higher starts with that, but it takes its foot off the gas before it’s too much and becomes more atmospheric with a choir joining Devy as the song comes to a close.

As much as Higher builds you up, the next track, Stars, keeps that energy going for about 30 seconds before falling away to an acoustic guitar, an ethereal wispy keyboard, and some melodic vocals that bring you back down to earth.  The quiet serene sound ramps up again to a wall of sound with the keyboard, additional vocals, ever-present percussion (which sounds different and more precise than some previous albums if that makes sense) with Anneke van Giersbergen joining Devy yet again on the vocals.  She’s really the perfect fit for a vocalist of his style, and her tonal contrast with him is striking and yet alluring.

Stars gives way to Transcendence, the title track, which starts us with a vocal effect on Devy to make him sound like a deity singing down from the heavens.  Whatever deity you imagine that to be, that’s fine by me, as long as he has a good voice.  I get the feeling that I am being beckoned up to the sky with this track, as if I was floating upwards in a pillar of light.  The song’s called Transcendence, huh?  They sure nailed that one.  The surrounding vocals of Anneke echo through the sky as one (or more) of the angels, and I don’t know if I even I have the vocabulary to describe the feeling this track gives me without repeating some of the terms I have used above.  You’d have to hear it to feel it, but I think you’d feel it too.  This track is the perfect example of a prog metal track that builds up slowly into something amazing and awe-inspiring that almost takes your breath away.  It hits the top, and then as you break the surface of the clouds, it quickly disintegrates into silence.

After the silence, Offer Your Light chimes in with an interesting almost spacey keyboard sound accompanied by simple yet effective guitar riffs that give the keyboard some ambiance.  By now, Devy’s voice is gone and we’re carried by Anneke for a bit.  He doesn’t stay away for long, and he quickly takes the reins yet again.  Devy’s voice, for what seems like the fifth or sixth time on this album, changes in style again to something a bit raspier and sharper than what we’ve heard before.  For a brief amount of time, his voice transforms into something that sounds almost like screaming but more akin to light-screaming.  It’s very tolerable and flows with the music, luckily.  Unlike other tracks, this one is compact, and as the shortest track on the album clocking in just under four minutes, its tempo is a lot quicker than anything else on the album.  It comes in slow and speeds up, and just like that, it’s gone.

The album wraps up (besides the cover of that Ween song) with From The Heart, which feels like the perfect representation of a Devin Townsend track.  It has the heart and soul of a Devy track, and runs the gamut of emotions as the album draws to a close.  I feel like this track is a more fitting end to the album, with Transdermal Celebration being more of a bonus than anything else.  The vocals are vintage Devy, the track is at times heavy and other times soft, and it generally feels uplifting.  There’s the traditional long note, that note develops into a bit of a scream, and the scream leads right into an emphatic musical escalation.  Surrounding Devy’s voice is something akin to either chanting or an angelic chorus softly repeating words that are moderately difficult to understand but aren’t upsetting.  A brief interlude spaces between that mild heaviness and falls to an almost hushed tone.  A new set of instruments seem to kick in, changing gears almost entirely yet still maintaining one sound from the previous action.  Classic Devin Townsend, and it’s a sound that I missed very much the past two years.

This really was the perfect album to come back to.  I’ll play some catch-up with albums I missed while I was away, maybe even by the end of the week (we’ll see what happens), but I’ll probably do short little reviews of a bunch of them instead of these longform articles breaking down the album track by track in some detail.  I know I want to talk about The Avalanches, Fates Warning, Marillion, and Thank You Scientist.  If there are other albums that came out in the months of July or August that you would like me to write about, please let me know in the comment section of this article or on the various places I post this review and I’ll check the albums out.

This album was rock solid from start to finish.  I’m not a Ween fan personally, and I’m not familiar with the original version of Transdermal Celebration, but Devin Townsend made it his own in this album.  It’s rare that a cover song can fit in an album, but this did fit.  It may not have been the best final track, as I reserve that for From The Heart, but it was a solid addition nonetheless.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t give this album very high marks, and without further dudes I give this album 14 out of 15 Ratings Units.  It’s very difficult to deny this album’s greatness, and I’m glad Devin Townsend is back.

Thanks for reading, and I’m glad to be writing for Audio Orbital again.

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