Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Review: Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud

 When groove metal first began to be internationally recognised as a musical genre, it was never meant to be about brains, textured atmospheres or a genre that showed signs of progression. Yet when one of Steve Vai's finest students broke into the limelight in the form of frontman of Strapping Young Lad, the principles of the genre took from where Fear Factory at their finest left off and intense grooves where merged within utter monolith-ism, with all kinds of wit, ideas and impressive textures leading to greater heaviness made the genre more sophisticated than ever imaginable. That guy was Devin Townsend and in recent years of sobriety, he's unleashed The Devin Townsend Project, taking listeners on epic journeys through all kinds of different albums, each one never being the same experience. From the detailed layerings of Ki to the crushing heaviness of Addicted, to the shit-eating madness of Deconstruction to the soothing grace of Ghost. And when the series of albums, that were originally meant to end on Ghost goes through every style of the wide spectrum of Hevy Devy, where can we go next. Let's allow the latest installment Epicloud to answer the question.

 The answer is fairly simple in that respect. Townsend looks to using his creation of slabs of stony grooves in a more hook creating, more pop friendly style. With this, the songs of Epicloud find themselves textured within sweeping synthesizers, encased in emotion shifting sweetness or desolation and wrapped around in beautiful singling voices whether they come from Townsend, a selection of gospel singers and various other female voices to create a true album, where beauty, heaviness and dreamy progression meet. It sounds simple and it sounds like a step down from Townsend's previous ambitions within this project. But it also sounds like perfection recorded.

 It's difficult to know how to feel when the album begins with an intro of gossip singers on Effervescent!. It's ridiculously uplifting, though you can't  help but feel it should be unsettling, a deceptive intro into something far darker. Instead, the intro flourishes into the real opener of True North, which sees a delicate backdrop of female vocals explodes into a crushing sound of dense bass and drums and the massive grooves and vocals of Townsend and it may as well be the sound of triumph recorded on tape as the rest of the band effortlessly carry the same exuberance and enthusiasm that started the album. It's beautiful, but it also captivates the madness that Deconstruction built up without even needing to add funny sound effects or land speed record breaking riffs. The opening song is an amazing demonstration of what Townsend is capable of on it's own, as the emotional tone reaches a dramatic shift as the song moves along in a speed and understanding that perfectly grabs the listeners by the collars and allows them to glide through this buildup of tenseness and drama, without even trying.

 That's the basic nature of what Townsend is capable of for Epicloud but with every track a new layer of freshness and breathtaking excitement or emotional intensity is added. The same rush of joy and good times can be heard on Liberation that with it's rush of sugary riffage contains a spacey backdrop that owes so much debt to 1980's synthpop, that it shows a whole new range of influences for Townsend. Liberation itself uses these backdrops, heavy riffs and the oddly charming performance of Townsend at his harshest to create what The B-52's might have sounded like if they had been an extreme metal band, (And that is so far from an insult, I can't even express.) while the backdrop of Save Our Now is oddly reminiscent of A-ha's The Sun Always Shines On T.V. (Again, if you think I mean that in a derogatory manner, you will never know my love of classy 80's pop music. Keep the classy element in mind of that statement.)

 Even with this concentration of bringing poppy hooks and melodies into his songwriting, Epicloud still sees the unleashing of Hevy Devy. The grooves of Kingdom are nothing but violent displays of earth shaking density, that with it's fierce symphonic backdrop proves that Townsend's sense of madness still casts a prominent shadow over his songwriting. Meanwhile, his desire to simply unleash a bunch of adrenaline packed riffs and charge through a song with high velocity and high extremity can be heard well throughout More!. Both songs arguably host a new pinpoint in how ballsy and heavy Devin Townsend can make a song with his band around him.

 On a completely contrasting note, Epicloud has many moments of softness of toned down songs, that allow Devin to unleash his more graceful soothing vocal performances and the results of such a possibility are breathtaking in their total sincerity and vulnerability. Even against a sweeping atmosphere of synthesizers, the powerful vocal performance of Divine is one of the most real and believable moments of the album, that unleashes a real sense of pathos from the listeners of Townsend's blues ridden tones sings of love and assurance. It can be described in no other way than purely romantic. It really makes you want to run into the recording of the album to hug him. Think about that.

 Of course the real moments of wonder on the album are when the delicate melodies and crushing heaviness really come together to create musical results that people like you and me could only dream of. The delirious heaviness of the grooves on Grace mixed with the textured atmospheric melodies is the true sound of monolith-ism and delicacy come to life. Alongside this, I will seriously be horrified by anyone that hasn't shed a single tear by the time that Hold On, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful emotion laden metal songs of the year (Just outside of While She Sleeps, sorry.) has reached it's conclusion, as Townsend's performance that sounds less like a metal vocalist now, more a shining beacon of light takes us through crushing melodies packed with soulful yearning and utter beauty. By the time one reaches the uplifting end of the album on Angel, which effectively begins as the album started, you ought to come out feeling enlightened and nothing else.

 It may not impress those that want to hear the technical capabilities of The Devin Townsend Project, but if you want to hear a set of wonderfully crated songs that sound as deliriously mental as they do eye-openingly real, than Epicloud should prove itself to be one of  the finest records that Devin Townsend has put his name to. The intense heaviness, understanding of crafting a pop friendly song and ability to weave delicate soundscapes of breath-taking beauty that the band bring together for this album will take any listener into a near unreal state of euphoria and will guide listeners on a wide state of emotions while landing them on an ending that truly makes life worth living. And after listening to this album, all I can think to say is that is that doesn't sound like your idea of a good album, your entitled to your own opinion, but shame on you. This is the album groove metal was made for.

Devin Townsend Project's Epicloud is out now via HevyDevy Records. The band will tour the UK in December with Fear Factory and Sylosis.

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