Twenty-three albums and counting, it can be kind of hard to explain the appeal of Devin Townsend to those that aren't already worshiping at his altar. As much of a diehard fan as this writer is, I can't deny that from the outside looking in, ‘Hevy Devy’ can be overwrought, cheesy and, by his own admission, a bit 'new-agey'. On the flipside, he is a highly entertaining performer, fantastic songwriter/producer and has managed to maintain a signature tone and production style across a highly varied discography.
At a pinch, you could sum up Townsend’s work as a mix between ambient and prog metal, but there so many influences involved here—everything from Broadway show tunes to industrial, arena pop anthems and death metal. All these influences shape the sound of the latest album, Transcendence.
Opening with a re-recorded and extended version of Truth sets the tone. That track, originally recorded on his solo 1998's post bi-polar/institutionalised stay, has now come full circle—Townsend loosening his reigns on the writing process and truly collaborating with all his band mates. And, to be truthful, that track should open up all Hevy Devy's albums.
Stormbending, Failure and Secret Sciences are all catchy pop metal anthems that lead to the album’s mid-point and longest track, the epic Higher. That particular track invokes the mood of 2012's Epicloud, and will go down a treat live in the same way that Grace did on that release.
Stars follows on in a slightly more mellow and sombre mood. Townsend has shown his goofy/fun side on albums such as the aforementioned Epicloud, Z2 (2014) and 2009's pop metal spectacular Addicted, but Transcendence—whilst still being a fun and uplifting experience—has more of the tone of albums such as Accelerated Evolution (2003) and the much lauded Ocean Machine (1997).
Although the shortest song clocks in at 4.17 minutes and the longest 9.40 minutes, the album flies by in no time. Perhaps Townsend taking a (slight) back step in the writing process and truly collaborating with all his bandmates has allowed him/them to create a more compact version of Townsend’s grandstanding sonic palette.
The album closes with a cover of Ween's Transdermal Celebration, which manages to not only sound like great, but also like an actual DTP song. Fantastic stuff from the Canadian mad scientist and perhaps a good starting point for the uninitiated (even if the video and cover art are a bit lame-o).
Scott Bishop is a regular host on RTR FM 92.1's Critical Mass, which airs every Wednesday from 9PM (GMT+8) in Perth, Australia.