[schema type=”review” name=”Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence” description=”Label: HevyDevy Records, InsideOut Music” author=”Sarp Esin” pubdate=”2016-09-09″ ]
Hevy Devy prepares to transcend beyond himself and to take us with him. Let’s get out of here.
Devin Townsend is either a madman, a genius, both, or just overrated, depending on who you ask. It’s hard to believe that this Canadian behemoth started out as Steve Vai’s vocalist and went on to become a force of nature. With twenty-three studio albums and an easily-recognizable, signature sound, Townsend is one of the most productive and versatile figures in metal today and Transcendence is the latest in a long line of albums he’s put out under the Devin Townsend Project moniker since 2009. According to the bio that came with this, this album may very well be the last one released under DTP.
And what an album it is.
This is not a band per se, so it is a bit crowded in the liner notes, but every single name on there contributes to the totality of Transcendence, and the result is far more than the sum of its parts. Technical but tasty riffing, Townsend singing and shouting and semi-growling poignant, semi-cryptic lyrics with the help of a small but dedicated choir, strong bass and wonderful drums set the front of the stage. Ryan Van Poederooyen gets a special mention here, as his drumming is a very prominent and unique element of the sound of this album. His spot-on-fills and jazzy cymbal work, as well as excellent backing gives the rhythm section a very distinctive identity no less prevalent than Devin Townsend’s signature riffs.
The album also owes a lot to the mixing and engineering magic of Adam Getgood, a.k.a. Nolly, whose talents allow it to have an all-encompassing range of sound. The elements mentioned above all stand against a three-dimensional backdrop of shimmering orchestrations, ambient synths and keyboards that build an atmosphere, a pure feeling that suffuses the listener with it. The high-luminosity mood lighting in songs like “Stormbending” or “Stars” or the title track, “Transcendence” creates a sweeping, ethereal, new age-like universe around the music. To call this album immersive would be an understatement – it literally envelops you and doesn’t let go until it ends. It rewards listeners that would listen to it as a whole rather than listening to individual tracks.
Make no mistake, though, Transcendence is heavy as a really heavy thing, but not in a sense that it’s slow, or excessively loud. Never mind Townsend’s back catalogue, just the very sound of Transcendence itself weighs several metric tons. The wall of sound created by the instruments boxes you in from all sides, and then squeezes you in a shrinking space until there is very little room left for anything else. When the album flexes its metal muscles, such as in “Failure”, “Offer Your Light” or “Higher,” you feel the punch. Structurally, too, the songs pull the listener along, moving from one part to the next, be it with sudden shifts or gradual ones. There is more than just a touch of prog involved in the arrangements, the song “Higher” being a prime example. The song starts out hush-hush, suddenly gets heavier, and then takes on a glorious, extended tangent before returning to where it began. It’s a common structure in some circles, but despite how easy it sounds, is very difficult to pull off correctly.
That is not to say that Transcendence does not have its flaws. It does. While the album chains the tracks together by having crossfade ambient sections (which I advise you not to skip) bind them into a more or less continuous suite, it does stumble twice, and stumbles hard both times. This takes away from the otherwise magnificent experience. Firstly, “Secret Sciences” makes a poor job of following up “Failure.” “Failure” is wrought with tension, with build-ups and payoffs the size of Godzilla, but “Secret Sciences” follows it up with an easy-going attitude, which is quite jarring and takes away from the quality of the song itself. Second time around, it comes to a very serious head with “Offer Your Light.” The song levels the structure it is standing very near the top of, in that it’s so good that it makes the preceding tracks (especially “Failure”) seem like its (overly long) prologue, and marks the definitive peak point of Transcendence.
Unfortunately, the album does not end with “Offer Your Light,” which is to its detriment.
The next song, “From the Heart” is a soft-spoken, warm-by-the-fire monument that goes on for eight minutes plus. It’s masterfully crafted and skillfully executed. However, by the virtue of having followed “Offer Your Light,” it feels like one giant letdown, and it overstays its welcome. Thankfully, the final track, “Transdermal Celebration” is a solid closer, even if it’s a cover. Plus, it leads to a twist ending, both on the thematic concept and on some of the small tidbits dropped during the crossfades, which feels like a punch to the gut.
However, and that’s the thing to take away: even when Transcendence stumbles, the songs are very, very good. There is not one bad track on the album, which is to say that Transcendence is hardly going to disappoint anyone even remotely familiar with Devin Townsend’s work, or those who are looking for an album that’s got it all. It’s easily one of the best releases of the year, and is worth listening to over and over and over again.
Devin Townsend: Vocals, guitars, keys, programming
Ryan Van Poederooyen: Drums
Dave Young: Guitars, keys
Brian Wadell: Bass
Mike St-Jean: Keyboards, Synths, Programming
Anneke van Giersbergen: Vocals
Che Aimee Dorval: Vocals
Katrina Natale: Vocals
Niels Bye Nielsen: Orchestrations
Mattias Eklund: Ambiance
01. Truth (Infinity re-recording)
04. Secret Sciences
08. Offer Your Light
09. From the Heart
10. Transdermal Celebration (Ween cover)