No doubt you have heard the famous lines, “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get“. Well if this was said with a Canadian accent then I could imagine that it would be uttered by one Devin “Hevy Devy” Townsend who back in 1995 started as the front man for Strapping Young Lad. While he started with skull crunching hard rock of the “Lad”, he has moved on to a wide variation of music styles spanning everything from ethereal new age noodlings. Jazz, Comedy (Ziltoid the Omniscient), Prog-Metal and back to more Heavy Rock.
He truly has become a master of all these genres with some 25 albums and 6 EPs being akin to a 40 ounce “Whitmans Sampler” being introduced to a country that is used to an eight ounce box of Cadbury Roses Chocolates. What’s more in a lot of cases he’ll also have an expanded version of each release with a second disc of rarities and samples.
So onto this review and his latest offering for the Devin Townsend Project, Transcendence is a natural progression of the band’s tremendous talent. “Devy” also showing that not only is he an outstanding guitarist but a deft hand at writing material and also the ultimate “showman” in a live setting. The ten songs in this 64 minute tour de force were starting to gel with me by the third listen with “Devy” attaining some very high production values along the way – something that he certainly strives for.
Standout song for me is ‘Failure’, that using the chocolate analogy is a bit like the Monty Python chocolate skit “Cockroach Cluster” or “Anthrax Ripple”. In the sleeve notes he declares that this song was the first true collaboration that he has achieved with the four other members of the “Project”. As the song moves along the five are playing as one with a brash, grinding build up forming a perfect background on which to overlay a brilliant guitar solo by the band’s leader. “The solo is a bit shy in some ways”, Devy states in the sleeve notes but this song is “the centre of the album”. I’ve got to admit it is definitely one of the best prog-metal numbers that I have heard in quite some time.
The platter opens with a song called ‘Truth’ that actually appeared on the Infinity album way back in 1998. As it opens the song soars with a combination of great instrumentation, female backing vocals and some awesome production. His ability to obtain a floating, ethereal feel with ear filling choirs sees the vocals slip between “Money, Money, Money” and “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah” – with repetitive rhythms in a wall of sound that opens the album in a big way.
Coming down from ‘Truth’, the music segway’s into ‘Stormbending’, a tale about the vast amounts of rain in an ode to his hometown of Vancouver. He says that this is one of his favourite songs on Transendance and features solos by second guitarist Dave Young and “Devy” himself. I’ve always been a massive fan of the twin guitar sound, way back with the likes of Wishbone Ash in 1969 and these two certainly play well together. The aforementioned ‘Failure’ then lifts the listener into a higher plane with its crushing instrumentation and solid vocals.
‘Secret Sciences’ is a softer, mellower track that is in stark contrast to its predecessor with DTP seemingly taking a breather after a trio of full on opening songs. A lone strumming guitar leads into a familiar pattern that is repeated throughout the song giving the listener a “breather” before the pace is picked up again with ‘Higher’. This song reminds me a lot of the “Splash Mountain” ride at Disneyland where you are listening to tweeting birds and looking at cute animals when out of nowhere you are suddenly tipped over a waterfall.
Similarly it starts harmlessly enough with a strumming guitar intro that sets the scene in what appears to be a ditsy little track, but at around the 1.15 mark all hell breaks loose with the words “I Am” being yelled at you like it was from God above. Certainly Mr Townsend’s fingers have as much deft control over the production table as he has with the strings on his Peavey guitars and he puts it to good use as the words “I Am” are repeated in this almost ten minute long number.
The musical heights of ‘Higher’ are followed by the luminous ‘Stars’ as “Devy’s” voice is joined by a choir of many others in a vocal harmony that lifts the spirit after being “shouted down to” in the aforementioned ‘Higher’.
The title track opens with a whirling indigenous drum pattern “Devy” says is “supposed to sound like a marching army”. Certainly the incredibly talented Ryan Van Poederooyen’s moves around his Sonor drum kit in a circular motion as the other instruments slowly come online. Every so often Van Poederooyen gives this basic pattern the odd whack on one of his Sabian Chinas as the listener starts to feel the song build in stature.
This brings us to ‘Offer your Light’, an uptempo Circus like anthem that “Devy” says almost didn’t make it on to the album. “The album took a different tone without this”, he admits in the sleeve notes saying that “the album really dragged up to this point”. It is very upbeat and uses the talents of Dutch female prog vocalist, Anneke Van Giersbergen the most of any song on the platter.
The last two tracks on the album are covers. The first ‘From the Heart’ was heard by “Devy” in Yoga class and was originally recorded by Krishna Das. He contacted the music publisher and received permission to put their own spin on it which doesn’t sound too bad once it received the DTP stamp of approval. Again a short soft intro is then bludgeoned with all of the production tools that “Devy” has become famous for and brings us to the last track on Transendence, ‘Transdermal Celebration’ originally recorded by Ween.
I’ll admit I’ve never been a Ween fan and this song doesn’t do much for me but you may find that you like it.
While I was originally provided with a download to review the album, I found a copy of the “special edition” at my local record store with a second platter full of Demos.
Reviewer : Jon Van Daal
4. Secret Sciences
8. Offer Your Light
9. From The Heart
10. Transdermal Celebration
Special Edition Demos
2. Celestial Signals (Demo)
3. Support The Cause (Demo)
4. Into The Sun (Demo)
5. Time Overload (Demo)
6. Lexus (Demo)
7. Farther On (Demo)
8. Victim (Demo)
9. Monkey Mind (Demo)
10. Canucklehead (Demo)