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Posts Tagged ‘Strapping Young Lad’

A few months back, I wrote up this post in which I challenged myself to identify metal songs played on a random playlist.  As you may recall, I didn’t do so hot (5 out of 10).  Well, I figured I might as well give it another go here.  The basic motivation for this, of course, is that it’s pretty fun for me to do.  At a slightly (very slightly) deeper level, though, I think that going through this exercise helps me to think about what exactly it is that helps us differentiate and recognize extreme metal.  As you’ll see, in many cases, I would wait around until I heard the vocals to either a) guess what band it was, or b) narrow things down so that I could guess a black metal versus a death metal band.  Production is also a pretty good cue, as is guitar tone, and so forth.

Rules are simple: I put into a music player a playlist of all the metal albums that I own (meaning that I’ve excluded both all other genres and all metal for which I do not own an actual, physical product), put the damn thing on ‘random’, and start it up.  I respond to the first ten songs that play in the stream-of-consciousness fashion you see below.  After the fact, then, I run back through the list and post what the song actually was.  I suppose you have only my word to go on that I didn’t skip embarrassing songs or take a peek every now and again.  If you’re willing to trust a stranger on the internet, though, this is how it went down…
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1. This is some fairly clearly-articulated black/thrash-y stuff.  Vocals are sounding very familiar, but I can’t quite place them right now.  Is it an old Absu track?  Nice clean solo bit here with that classic Slayer-esque bass drum and ride cymbal only break.  I think it might be Absu, maybe from that Mythologickal Occult Metal compilation.

[It was: Saros, “Devouring Conscience,” from Acrid Plains.  Ouch.  I suppose maybe it’s a compliment, thinking Leila Abdul-Rauf’s vocals are a dead ringer for Proscriptor’s?  Not off to a great start, friends.]

2. This tune kicks straight in with some melodic black metal riffage and standard blastbeats.  A bunch of pinch harmonics.  Again, these vocals make me think I should really know who it is.  Is this old Behemoth?  I guess it sounds kinda like Nergal.  I’m going with Behemoth, maybe circa Satanica or Pandemonic Incantations.

[It was: Behemoth, “From the Pagan Vastlands.”  Hidden track on Thelema.6.  Pretty close, though.]

3. Ah, easy enough.  My Dying Bride.  Totally recognizable doom chug, and the unmistakable vocals of Aaron Stainthorpe.  A pretty recent track, for sure.  I’m going to say it’s from one of their last two records.  That’d be, what, A Line Of Deathless Kings and For Lies I Sire.  I’ll play it through a little more to see if I can get the song title.  Hmm, the more this runs on, I think it might actually be from the Songs Of Darkness… album.  Ah, those searing clean guitar sections, laid over their own echo – one of my favorite aspects of this band.  Great clean chorus from Mr. Stainthorpe, but I’ll be damned if I can think of the name.  I’m thinking it’s from that Songs Of Darkness album after all…

[It was: My Dying Bride, “The Blue Lotus.”  From Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light.  Ba-zing!]

4. Whoa, major treble attack.  The fuck is this?  Obviously some pervertedly raw black metal.  What the hell do I own that sounds this shitty?  The blizzard-esque quality almost suggests Paysage d’Hiver or Darkspace, but the songwriting isn’t as ambient as all that.  Sounds like straight-up classic third wave black metal songwriting.  Is this the Satyricon side of that split with Enslaved?  That’s my best guess.

[It was: Demoncy, “In Winter’s Ancient Slumber,” from Within The Sylvan Realms of Frost.  Wrong side of the Atlantic.  Sorry folks.  Good goddamn if that isn’t some of the most thinly-recorded black metal I’ve heard in a while.  Too bad, because the song, while horribly derivative, has that nice melancholy groove to it.]

5. Great stomping death/doom groove to start off this next song.  No fucking around.  Dodgy recording quality makes me think it’s a bit old.  Could be Coffins, but probably not.  Nope, definitely not, but it’s got that chaotic, churning old school (or new old school) death metal vibe, with Incantation-worship dripping from the corners.  What was that record Profound Lore put out last year…  Impetuous Ritual.  Maybe it’s them.

[It was: Teitanblood, “The Origin of Death,” from Seven Chalices.  Same ballpark, at least.]

6. Hmm, now this sounds like Satyricon again, but I’m second-guessing myself all over the place.  Ah, thanks Satyr, for enunciating a little bit.  This is the title track from Nemesis Divina, which, despite The Shadowthrone’s greatness, is probably still my favorite Satyricon record.  I mean, who can deny “Mother North”?  Plus, the grand piano breakdown in whatever the fuck that song is called (I’ll look it up in a bit, but don’t want to fuck with the supposed purity of this little exercise).  Great stuff.

[It was: Satyricon, “Nemesis Divina.”  [Ed: “Forhekset” was the tune I was thinking about with the piano break.]]

7. Nothing automatic off the bat here.  Thick guitar tone, too-tight snare, plus the classic 6/8-that-doesn’t-quite-feel-like-6/8-if-it’s-quick-enough meter.  Thick bass tone, too, especially for this style.  Vocals aren’t helping me out too much here.  Damn, I’m kinda floundering with this one.  Nary an educated guess in sight.  Sounds like something that would be on Moribund.  Don’t know if that helps much.  Maybe from Finland.  I don’t think it’s Sargeist.  Too thick for Behexen.  Hmm.  I also don’t think it’s Horned Almighty, since it doesn’t quite have enough rock and roll, though the thick, rattling bass might point that way.  Shit, whatever.  I’ll guess Horned Almighty.  From the only album of theirs I have, The Devil’s Music.

[It was: Well, fuck, what do you know?  Horned Almighty, “To Despise the Life,” from The Devil’s Music.  I ought to give myself more credit every now and again.  Don’t think that one’s on Moribund, though.]

8. Well, this is a live track.  That might give it away if there’s any crowd banter.  Goofy carnival synths suggest Cradle Of Filth.  Let’s give it a chance, though, shall we?  Seeing as how I don’t think there are any live Dimmu Borgir albums out there, I’m feeling pretty good that this is Cradle Of Filth.  Let’s see if it kicks into metal mode at all, or if it’s only the taped tune that introduces the band at the outset of a gig.  Come on, assholes, I’m impatient.  Ah, there you are, Dani, you cad.  Lord knows what song this is.  It’s probably called “Charles Baudelaire Takes A Shit And Then Feels Badly About It.”

[It was: Cradle Of Filth, “Dirge Inferno (Live),” from the bonus disc of the deluxe edition of Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder.  Suppose I could’ve waited ‘til the chorus to get the title, but whatev.  I’m a busy man (ha).]

9. All acoustic attack.  Immediately I think Agalloch.  Hmm.  Dual all acoustic attack.  Ulver’s Kveldssanger?  C’mon Haughm or Garm, give it to me straight.  These flamenco runs are gorgeous, but not helping that much.  I suppose if it quits in another minute or so, it’s got to be from that Ulver folk record.  Alright, folks, we have metal touchdown.  This from Pale Folklore?  Will I be voted out of Heavy Metal for asking such daft, potentially heretical questions?  Now that this is wearing on, I’m even doubting whether it’s Agalloch.  That synth is a curiosity.  In The Woods…, maybe?  Come on, vocals, I’m hurting here.  Oh, there you are, hello.  Son of a bitch, why am I not getting this?  I don’t think Haughm’s harsh vocals sound like this.  Ugh, I don’t feel really great about this, but since the sound is a bit spotty, I’m going to guess that it’s In The Woods…, playing one of their early tracks on that live album they put out.  But fuck, if this turns out to be Hate Forest or some shit, I’m going to flip my lid.

[It was: Aeternus, “Warrior Of The Crescent Moon,” from …And So The Night Became.  Goddamnit, Aeternus, I feel like you did this to me last time, too.  So, apparently, Aeternus: Most Owned But Least Listened To At Spinal Tapdance HQ.  Sorry guys.  This really is a killer tune, honest.]

10. Alright, this next track makes ten, right?  I’m not sure how much more embarrassment my flabby, much-abused ego can take.  Okay, this is a bit of a change up.  We’ve got some stuttery, then later crazy shit.  Strapping Young Lad’s my first guess.  Seeming pretty likely.  C’mon, Devin, justify my confidence.  Sounds like Devin Townsend howling there, presumably with the generous drum-bashing of a certain Gene Hoglan.  Yeah, this has got to be Strapping Young Lad.  What album, though?  Pretty sure this is from something later than City.  Haven’t hit any major hook or chorus yet, though, which sure would be nice, friends.  Oh, was that “Rape Song”?  Can’t remember which album that’s from, but I’m going to guess the song was “Rape Song” by Strapping Young Lad, which I think is either from the SYL album or The New Black.

[It was: Strapping Young Lad, “Rape Song,” which is from the Strapping Young Lad album.  Nice to close out on a high note, eh?]

(11. As I was typing out that last paragraph on SYL, the next track came on, and compelled me to try and guess it as well.  It’s some slow, sludgey doom with female vocals.  Can’t recall if Salome’s self-titled album/EP featured any clean vocals.  Maybe not.  Could it be Monarch?  Damn, I’m just going to be embarrassing myself again.  You’d think that since female vocals are a rarer commodity in these styles of metal I’d be tripping over myself with the right answer.  Doesn’t quite sound like Julie Christmas, but I suppose it could be some of her more understated style.  Shit.  Battle Of Mice, maybe?  Well, whatever, I’m leaving it with those question marks, since I’ve already done my official ten.  It was: Jucifer, “She Tides The Deep,” from If Thine Enemy Hunger.  Fuuuuuuuuck.)
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Okay, so how did I do?  Because I’ve had generally piss-poor results with this, I’m going to count as a win any song in which I correctly identified the artist.  I know, maybe it’s a too-large target, but I still don’t think I’ll be impressing anyone.

Result: 6 correct out of 10. Shit, I’m pretty sure that’s better than last time, right?  Anything tipping me past the halfway point is just gravy by me.  Still can’t believe Aeternus fucked me over again, but I guess it serves me right for being an inattentive dipshit.

So, folks: Know your metal as well as you think you do?

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The Devin Townsend Band, Synchestra (2006)

No puns or jokes here, just a mind-bogglingly good album

Three years passed between Devin’s first record under the name Devin Townsend Band, which was a longer gap than that between any of his preceding ‘solo’ albums.  Rather than signaling a bout of inactivity, however, it simply meant that he had released a solo ambient/drone album in 2004, the monstrous metal onslaught of Alien with Strapping Young Lad in 2005, and then both Synchestra and SYL’s The New Black in 2006.  So, yeah, I think we can cut the guy some slack here.

There’s no sense beating around the bush: I totally fucking love this album.  I think it’s the best thing that Devin Townsend has done so far, which is saying a lot, given the strength of much of his other solo material and the industrial-strength viciousness of Strapping Young Lad.  Still, none of that other music, admirable though it may be, quite touches the holistic brilliance of this album.  I will not, therefore, try to be objective in discussing this album, though I will try to convince you of its merits with more than just relentless cussing and exhortations.

The opening trio of songs is a perfect suite, flowing smoothly from one musical theme to the next.  Throughout the album, it is apparent that Devin has thrown essentially every trick he can muster at these songs; the thing is, the songs are so goddamn unbelievably strong that this instrumental excess never even comes close to overwhelming them.  Check out the brief excursion into front porch-sitting country twang in the middle of “Triumph” – I dare you to tell me that it doesn’t just work, beyond any reason.

“Babysong” works its way through some almost, but not quite, cloyingly winsome melodies in a very sing-songy way.  About midway through it, though, the song changes up its rhythm and just starts swinging furiously.  The light-hearted instrumental “Vampolka” introduces the melodic theme of “Vampira” with some surf guitar, organ, and, yes, a motherfucking tuba.  If you’ve ever tried playing a tuba (as I have), you’ll know that it’s no mean feat to make the instrument sound as jaunty and light as it does here.  Interesting to note, by the way, is that it’s really only with “Vampira,” which is six songs into the album, that we got a song written more or less on the model of a classic heavy metal rager, replete with thick, aggressive riffing, muscular rock drumming, and some intensely pungent howling from Devin His Fucking Bad Self.  (Note: The video for “Vampira” is also a hell of a lot of fun – I’ve got it posted down at the bottom of the review.)

Accordingly, the break between “Vampira” and “Mental Tan” is the first time there’s been a full pause between tracks on the whole album.  Rather than proving tiresome, however, this fluidity of movement between songs is indicative of the unified nature of this album as a composition.  Unity and oneness are indeed prominent themes in much of Devin Townsend’s solo work, but on this album those lyrical themes find equally full expression musically.  “Triumph,” for example, does both.  Its lyrics reference Carl Jung, in regards to which the simple but insanely powerful chorus reveals a deeper meaning to the song itself.  Jung’s psychological theory of the collective unconscious suggested that the human species, in addition to having in common certain biological traits, also shared a species-wide psychological reservoir.  The idea was that, simply by virtue of our shared humanity, every individual had access to a set of precognitive ideas, archetypes, and so forth.  Our species, thus, was not only one body, but also, in some respect, one mind.  So, yeah, fucking belt it out with me: “ONE WORD – COLLECTIVE!  MANKIND, CONNECTED!!!”

Even the title of the album is similarly inspired.  Synchestra obviously combines the words ‘synthesis’ and ‘orchestra’.  But ‘orchestrate’, as a verb, already means to arrange, to bring about, or to control the movement of numerous components.  ‘Synthesis’, then, would seem to be superfluous, as it typically denotes the combination of parts into a hybrid whole.  Or, in philosophical terms, the synthesis is the outcome of the operation of the dialectic: one begins with the thesis, against which is opposed the antithesis; the confrontation and negotiation between a thought and its opposite thus results in a third way, the syn-thesis.  In the context of this album, then, and its other lyrical preoccupations, it’s difficult to see the title as the suggestion that Townsend is attempting to fashion an orchestra of opposites, or to combine, beyond the fullness already suggested by the word ‘orchestra’ on its own, as many disparate parts as possible in order to arrive at a newness – a rejection of both prior supposition and flat refutation.  I mean, it’s still heavy fucking metal, sure, but conjured and synthesized right before one’s eyes into an untrodden path.

After the marathon of musical brilliance and songwriting acrobatics on display in the first half of the album, the pacing of the latter half is comparatively deliberate and thoughtful.  To be honest, the 14-minute stretch of “Gaia” and “Pixillate” drags a little bit, which may be the only fault I can find with this album.  Still, even that slight dullness makes sense when arranged into the sequence “Gaia”-“Pixillate”-“Judgement”-“A Simple Lullaby.”  As further evidence  that this album is somewhat all over the place, the sound effects and melodic construction of “Gaia” are reminiscent of new wave, while the introduction to “Pixillate” makes me think of “Dragonaut,” the first track from Sleep’s Holy Mountain, though this latter thought is merely a tonal similarity rather than compositional.  Around five minutes into “Pixillate,” this synthesizer joins which sounds a bit like a kazoo and noodles around for a while until the chorus kicks back in.  The stretched-out nature of this tune, with its deliberately stomping pace, is suggestive of a dirge, which, given the otherwise jubilant nature of the remainder of the album, is an effective contrast.

In fact, because of the thoughtful sequencing of the album, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to suggest that it can be organized into four suites along the following lines:

Suite A – Introduction & Primary Theme:
1. “Let It Roll”
2. “Hypergeek”
3. “Triumph”

Suite B – Refinement of Theme & Rising Tension:
4. “Babysong”
5. “Vampolka”
6. “Vampira”
7. “Mental Tan”

Suite C – Reflection, Doubt, & Reaffirmation:
8. “Gaia”
9. “Pixillate”
10. “Judgement”
11. “A Simple Lullaby”

Suite D – Epilogue & Valediction”
12. “Sunset”
13. “Notes from Africa”
14. “Sunshine & Happiness”

If you haven’t been able to parse it by now, this is my absolute favorite Devin Townsend record, and it may, in fact, be one of the very closest things I have ever heard to a perfect album.  It’s hard to put a precise finger on it, but something about Devin’s approach to songwriting, singing, emotive guitar playing, and overall tonality makes my otherwise objective and critical faculties turn completely to mush.  For fuck’s sake, these songs could all be ballads in celebration of goat molestation, and I’d keep prattling on, like, “Oh, Devin!  What a marvelous way you have with words/goats!”

“Judgement” continues the dirge tempo from “Pixillate” somewhat, but has an altogether more mournful tone; towards its end, the drums kick into some great martial snare rolls, as the bass and piano trace out a deep melody.  The closing section, which has got the drummer following the chiming guitar with deft hits at the center of the ride cymbal, is but another breathtaking moment among many.  One of the album’s biggest strengths, in fact, is that these little moments of genius are scattered across its entire breadth, so that the listener picks up on more (and different) details each time through the album.

“Notes from Africa” continues to change up the pace as it closes out the album, featuring some chunky slap bass playing at the front.  The song is constructed primarily in a modal fashion, especially in the verse sections, where the guitar keeps fleeing from, but eventually finding itself drawn ineluctably back to, that same high note.  The chorus section does eventually pull in some chord changes, but the song is effective in the way it winds itself around that central note.  The song also contains a very reedy-toned synth which flits across the stereo spectrum, daring you to follow it.  The song eventually deposits you on a bed of flowing water and various animal noises, a fairly clear reminder of the terrestrial grounding and thematic focus on nature and oneness.

The “hidden” track, “Sunshine & Happiness,” is almost ludicrously upbeat, sporting a bluesy, boozy, boogie shuffle with pure classic rock and roll piano vamping under the AC/DC-esque riffing.  “Sunshine and happiness for all!,” it goes.  Yeah, it’s absolutely cheesy as hell, but Devin’s got the musical chops to pull it off, singing these wry, winking gestures at sixty years of rock and roll history without coming off as engaging in pastiche or soured irony.  To put it somewhat simply, if this tune doesn’t smack a tremendous fucking stupid grin all over your face, the world may be in sorrier shape than we’ve been told.

This album is an honest-to-goodness masterpiece.

Overall rating: 99%.  I have quite literally injured myself stomping around and flailing my arms in time to those massive drum beats in the chorus of “Triumph”: MAAAN-KIIIIND, CONNNNECTEEEEEEEED!!!!!!”
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Here’s the video for “Vampira”:

Pretty much speaks for itself.

– Dan / ST

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Devin Townsend, Physicist (2000)

Finally, some decent cover art

Released two years after the phenomenal Infinity album, Physicist may rank as one of the most Strapping Young Lad-ish albums in Devin’s solo career, which really shouldn’t be a surprise, given that this album has the EXACT SAME LINE-UP as Strapping Young Lad (Devin, Gene Hoglan, Byron Stroud, and Jed Simon).  If one were so inclined, one might even suggest that this is a bit like a hidden Strapping Young Lad record, given that SYL released no official album’s between 1997’s City and 2003’s SYL.  Fancy that.  Anyway, as a whole, this album does a nice job of walking a middle path between the spaciousness of Ocean Machine – Biomech, the general What-the-fuck?-ness of Infinity‘s genre-splicing approach, and the more straight-ahead industrial metal aggression of Strapping Young Lad.  Oh, and it’s also awesome.

“Namaste” kicks things off with a great burst of punky aggression, which is maintained through “Victim.”  These two tracks, plus the mid-album ripper “Death,” are some of the most intensely METAL moments in Devin’s solo career thus far.  The latter track, in particular, rather in keeping with its title, is the most face-shredding piece here, kicking off with the, ahem, soothing tones of Gene Hoglan blast-beating the shit out of your ears.  The weightier tone of some of these songs picks up in a slightly different fashion on “The Complex,” with its very martial ambient/industrial-sounding synths which sound most like tiny hammers striking a xylophone made entirely of anvils.

It’s not all sputtering rage here, however.  “Material” is the earliest stab at Devin’s fantastically pop-oriented songcraft on this album; this one especially nails its perfectly evocative chorus in such a way that I really want the track to go on forever, but it does its business and gets straight on with things.  Make sure you don’t miss the background vocal arpeggios on the second run-through of the chorus: pure bliss.

The track immediately following “Material,” “Kingdom,” is also absolutely dynamite, but in this case it works so well precisely because of its greater use of open space to contrast with the density and faster pace of most of the album’s shorter numbers.  “Kingdom” also features some of Devin’s most intense howling, fittingly over the lines “I’m fiiiiiiiine!

To these ears, “Irish Maiden” may be one of the only missteps on the album.  I think the rather jig-ish opening is somewhat annoying, but the track eventually redeems itself somewhat with some fantastic kick drum work from Hoglan and an excellent melodic bridge with some nice, thick riffing.

Devin Townsend is often discussed in terms of virtuosity, which I think is absolutely correct, but it’s important to note that much of the virtuosity on display here is not so much sheer instrumental prowess (you won’t find any brain-melting solos here, for example), but rather songwriting prowess.  This shows up generally in the fluidity of the arrangements, and the often complex (yet still straightforward-sounding) rhythms which are achieved through syncopation, or, in a few places (like “Victim” and “Jupter”), through a rhythm that relies on pick-up notes to give a quick, juddering attack to the start of the measure.  While we’re on the subject, “Jupiter” also has some really great rhythmic riffing on a 3/4 rhythm set against the slower 4/4 meter in the drums; instead of drawing attention to itself, though, this counterpoint technique comes across as extremely natural and smooth.

As many others have mentioned, the closing track “Planet Rain” is one of the most astounding songs on here.  While the rest of the album mostly trades in short, mostly compact pieces, this song is the lengthy and mostly melancholic counterpart to the pairing of “Life is All Dynamics” and “Unity” (from Infinity) or “Funeral”/”Bastard”/”Death of Music” (from Ocean Machine – Biomech).

The careful listener will have noticed, I imagine, the continuation of the rain motif from Ocean Machine’s “Death of Music” track here, and it functions as a really nice conceptual hinge.  This whole song is extremely evocative of a world completely wiped out and covered with never-ending rains.  This kind of apocalyptic imagery (even if it is largely self-conjured) matches up very nicely with Devin’s grandiose, highly theatrical and melodramatic (in the best way possible) style of songwriting.

When Devin sings,
“It’s quiet now, quiet now –
’cause it’s the end of world!
Quiet now, quiet now;
’cause it’s the end of the world!
,”
it really sounds like he’s having a conversation with himself: In the first two lines, he’s telling us the reason why it’s quiet now, but in the second two lines, because the “It’s” is dropped from the lyrics, it sounds like an invitation, or even a command, to be quiet now, at the end of the world.  I know this all sounds a bit goofy, picking apart these small aspects, but there’s something about this dude’s music that cries out for this level of emotional investment.  The whole track is fantastic, and needs to be heard in its entirety, but a favorite passage is right around the four-minute mark, where we finally get a simple, searing guitar lead to cut through the dense bundle of sounds and textures.

Eventually, the track fades out into the (rather appropriate) sound of rain falling, which transitions into the hidden track, called “Forgotten,” which is actually just a bizarre re-recording of “Bad Devil.”  This utterly strange new version of the Beatles-quoting (“She’s just 17, if you know what I mean…”) track from the Infinity album, closes things out in a rather odd manner, with its acoustic guitars draped in alienating drones and cymbal noise.

More than anything else, this actually sounds like some weird goth/blues/country tune, like you might find on a 16 Horsepower or mid-period Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album.  As is often the case with these hidden or bonus tracks on Devin’s solo albums, I usually listen to them all the way through, but since the album works so well as a holistic statement, I almost compartmentalize them in my mind, so that I don’t really think of this “Forgotten” song as belonging to the Physicist album.  Still, another brilliant entry into Devin’s solo discography, and a deeply emotive and powerful record.  Bang your head AND get the warm and fuzzies.

Overall rating: 93%.  Hear that truth again!

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Following quickly on the heels of the Ocean Machine – Biomech album of 1997, Infinity is the first album which was originally released by Devin Townsend as a solo project under his own name.  As remarkable as the Ocean Machine project was, it is really on this first ‘proper’ solo project that Devin’s twisted genius for epic, progressive metal bears full fruit.  Sure, we can all agree that Strapping Young Lad knew how to bring it in terms of utterly intense prog-tinged metal, but SYL always tilted towards the more aggressive and industrial side of things; it’s the solo Townsend, I think, which displays a much wider textural range and more varied songwriting.  Lest I deserve a swift bout of pummeling, I should hasten to add that Infinity features the monstrously-talented drumming of fellow Strapping Young Lad (har-har) Gene Hoglan, and thus has somewhat of a leg up on Ocean Machine from the start.

Not the handsomest man in metal

The album kicks off in fine form with “Truth,” a massively epic and overstuffed instrumental intro which, when it breaks the building tension at the end by jumping a fifth (I think) and holding that stringed synth tone over a cymbal roll, reminds me of nothing more than Yanni’s Live at the Acropolis.  Yeah, that’s right – fuckin’ Yanni, and it kicks ass, so step off (like I’m the only one who ever watched PBS in the 90s…).   The first proper song “Christeen” is quite a bit reminiscent of “Life” from the Ocean Machine album, in that it is one hundred percent a classically-structured pop song.  Both tracks also run perilously close to the cheesy (especially “Christeen”s Phantom of the Opera-quoting chorus), but “Christeen” redeems itself somewhat with that nice intense bridge and lead-in to the final go-around of the chorus.

Though the tendency was already somewhat evident in the Ocean Machine album, I find that it’s on Infinity where I really start to pick up on the duality of Devin’s musical personality.  On the one hand, the dude knows how to craft well-constructed songs – the old verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-etc-etc shtick – not all of which suffer from the overly pop-leaning sounds of the above-mentioned tracks.  On the other hand, he has a real knack for breaking up an album into more straightforward tracks and more experimental tracks – and moreover, that experimentation can just as easily take the form of ambient, gradually-building, and almost modal hymns (Devin Townsend’s Kind of Blue period, we could call it) as it can take the form of smashing as many disparate musical styles, instruments, and sounds into one rambunctious whole.

On the more straightforward tip, then, I’ve already mentioned “Christeen,” but “War” and “Soul-Driven Cadillac” fall somewhat into this camp as well.  The intro to “War” goes on far too long for my taste, but both tracks stomp along in this groove of modal suspension and form a solid backbone for some of the more experimental material that peppers the rest of the album – particularly “Bad Devil,” “Ants,” and “Wild Colonial Boy.”  I suspect that for many fans of Devin’s solo work, these extremely busy and chaotic songs are the primary draw, and I absolutely agree, except with the caveat that were it not for the counterpoint provided by some of the more straightforward (but no worse off for being so) songs, these insanely diverse tracks wouldn’t seem quite so batshit crazy.  As it is, though, “Bad Devil” picks up the slack dropped by “Christeen” in a MAJOR FUCKING WAY, featuring some awfully punchy riffing (in contrast to the diffused tone of a lot of the riffing on the rest of this album and many of Devy’s others) and some wicked horror theme synths (think The Munsters or The Addams Family).  Even better is when the track drops into a shuffling swing rhythm and highlights some jazz trombone and an almost rockabilly upright bass section.  Killer stuff.

“Ants” is another balls-out wacky song, which can only really be described as sounding like Dream Theater and Behold…The Arctopus jamming on a cover of “Hava Nagila,” so feel free to take that for what you will.  “Wild Colonial Boy” is another track somewhat in the model of “Bad Devil,” in that it oscillates between more straightforward metal components and distinctly non-metal genre sections.  In particular, “Wild Colonial Boy” careens between a quite catchy polka section and some of the most earnest-sounding vocal melodies of the entire record.  On this track, Devin’s vocals walk that absolutely perfect tightrope between soaring melodicism and winking melodrama, which will be one of the most winning features of his entire musical approach.

Regardless of what type of song he’s playing, part of the charm of Devy’s solo material is that, as is so often the case, these songs work so splendidly by manufacturing an overload – because Devin is an excellent producer, all of the individual layers of the sound remain distinguishable, but in most of these tracks, there is just so much going on that eventually the listener says, more or less, “Fuck it,” and decides to surrender to the waves upon waves of gorgeous noise.  The real trick, and one of the least replicable aspects of Townsend’s genius, is that this overload doesn’t feel confrontational (as in most actual noise music – Skullflower, I’m looking at you, you crazy fuck), but rather warm and inviting, like wandering into a thick forest in the middle of a thunderstorm – sure, you get a bit wet, but there’s shelter in there, and a real feeling of almost existential density.

For my money, the album peaks exactly where it should, with the final two tracks.  “Life is All Dynamics” is absolutely one of the best songs on here, and features some of Devin’s most heart-rendingly intense vocals.  I mean, seriously: Put on this song just about as loudly as you can handle, and I fucking dare you to not find yourself stomping around your house like a goddamned flesh-hungry velociraptor (or even a stegosaurus on a serious trip of plant withdrawal) in time to Devin’s hollering “LIFE! IS! ALL! DY-! -NAMICS!!!”  Science will soon prove it impossible.  The transition into the closing track, “Unity,” is also extremely classy; given the tension-building suspended outro of the preceding track (remember? You’ve just stopped thrashing [your dinosaur tail around] like a maniac [Jurassic Metallica – shit, I’ve just invented a crossover children’s cartoon & heavy metal hit]), the rich and mellow tones of this song are a perfect come-down.  Plus, I think there’s a nice bit of commentary done by book-ending the album with tracks called “Infinity” and “Unity,” which seems to be reflective of the type of worldview Devin often represents in his solo works (though here I’m especially thinking of “Triumph” from Synchestra, which, in the interest of full disclosure, is probably the best song that has ever been written).

The bonus tracks on the version of Infinity that I own, I don’t know, I could pretty much take them or leave them.  The track “Noisy Pink Bubbles” (which may or may not be Devin’s tribute to Helloween’s Pink Bubbles Go Ape – I prefer to think not…) is especially odd, with some child chorus vocals sounding straight out of Annie or some such musical, and clean electric guitar strumming over an almost “Lust for Life” drumbeat.  Also included are live acoustic versions of “Sister” and “Hide Nowhere” from the Ocean Machine album, which are nice for a change of pace, but although the latter especially features some nice vocals from a very closely-mic’ed Devin, it also drags a bit as an all-acoustic number.  There’s also an early band demo of a track called “Man” on here, which sounds, well, like a demo – decent enough, but kind of like an unfinished thought.  These bonus tracks, then, are mostly interesting curios for the true Townsend fanatic (which, truth be told, is me), but although this album thrives based on its disparate moods and sounds, I really think it is perfectly capped by “Unity,” so I typically end it there.

In comparing Infinity to Ocean Machine – Biomech, it seems pretty clear that Infinity explores a much broader range of sounds and moods, and does so in a much shorter running time.  Which one you prefer may just depend on what you’re looking for, although I find that Infinity edges out Ocean Machine by a non-trivial margin, and undoubtedly established Devin Townsend as one of metal’s most outstanding and relentlessly creative musicians.

Overall rating: 94%.  I STILL haven’t stopped crashing around my house to “Life is All Dynamics.”  Devin Townsend: Metal Genius Extraordinaire & Inducer of Perpetual Motion.  Take that, physics.

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