Retrospective #2 – Devin Townsend

Devin Townsend burst on to the scene in 1993 providing vocals in Steve Vai’s ‘Sex and Religion’ album. Since then, he has amassed 25 studio albums in a variety of different genres as a solo artist and the leader of various bands.

Album Retrospective – Devin Townsend

Prolific is, perhaps, a word that still lacks the gravitas to describe the recorded output of one Devin Garret Townsend. He has released, on average, an album a year since his debut release in 1995. I first became aware of Devin following his brief stint in my favourite band, The Wildhearts, where he played guitar on tour with them. It was during this tour that he signed with Century Media, ultimately releasing his debut album, Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing, via Century Media Records, under the name of Strapping Young Lad. Essentially a solo album, with a wee bit of help along the way, it is entirely possible that the world of metal was not ready for this type of ‘extreme metal’. Not fitting into any of the traditional genres, it is a slightly flaky album that only hinted at the awesome SYL would release over the coming years.  6/10

I actually thought I was relatively knowledgeable about Hevy Devy’s output (Hey – check his website www.hevydevy.com I am allowed to call him that). So, when carrying out the retrospective, I was genuinely shocked to learn that he had released a punk album, of sorts. Punky Bruster – Cooked on Phonics was that album, and it goes to show Hevy Devy has a bit of humour about him. Originally release under the band name, Punky Bruster, it is a parody album about a Death Metal band that sells out and releases a Punk album….and it is brilliant fun. I never knew this existed and I would urge you all to go to your streaming platform of choice and fire into it. You will not be disappointed, it is fantastic fun!  8/10

Then there was City, the 2nd SYL album. Hevy (hey I can do this….), by now, had assembled a genuine band, and it showed. City is an absolute beast of an album, truly extreme, unrelenting in the heavy!  It is an album high that Devin would never quite reach again with the SYL output, despite delivering high class albums under the line-up. Songs like, ‘Underneath the Waves’, ‘Detox’ and ‘All Hail the New Flesh’ are the aural equivalent of having a butcher forcibly remove your spleen as you sit and eat a donut. This is a genuine, must listen, album and if you consider yourself a fan of extreme metal, I would imagine this is in your collection. 10/10

Then, Devin through a wee bit of a curve-ball. He followed up a seriously heavy album by creating a new band and releasing the album Biomech.  Originally released under the band name of Ocean Machine, it served notice that Devin was not limited in his song writing ability or stylings. This is a criminally underrated album, featuring tracks that have stood the test of time. ‘Regulator’ regularly forces itself into my head, my internal radio (© Ginger Wildheart) if you will. ‘Bastard’ is also superb.  This is the perfect entry album if you want to listen to non-Hevy Devy. 8/10

Infinity was the first Devin Townsend album I bought and so it holds a special place in my heart. Recorded and released after he was diagnosed as Bi-Polar, it is the first album released under his own name, featuring several great songs, and a few oddities. ‘Wild Colonial Boy’ is one of the odd tracks, an oddness that Devy would seek out in more detail in future albums. This album feels like Devy is beginning to gain confidence in his ability to capture his audience, allowing a certain amount of audacity to be present (check out the song ‘Ants’), knowing that his audience are there with him. 8/10

This, more confident, Devy moved onto his next project, where after a dalliance with Jason Newsted, then of Metallica, was curtailed, allegedly by the control freaks in Metallica, he enlisted the help of his SYL bandmates. Although it was the SYL line-up, Physicist is very much a solo album released, once again, under his own name. It was supposedly meant to be a project featuring Newsted, so it is no surprise that the album has a thrashier feel about it, however the album does have a lack of feeling about it. Where Infinity took the listener on a journey, Physicist seems to have left them at the station, with just the engine pulling away. Perhaps if it had been recorded as intended, it may have had a different feel. 5/10

Terria is an album that almost feels like a bounce-back. Gone is the lack of direction found in Physicist, and welcomed in is another, new, direction by Devy. Again released under his own name, Terria is an album that begins his journey into more poppy ambience territory, whilst still keeping an air of heaviness – the pure ambience would follow soon after. An introspective look into his Canadian homeland, Devy recaptures the territory lost in his Physicist experiment and, as such, it is a recommended listen. 7/10

Part of the joy of being a fan of Devy, is the fact that you never know what is going to happen next. Having released 4 solo albums after the last SYL release, Devy got the SYL boys back in the studio to release the eponymous Strapping Young Lad. However, SYL marked a change in tone from the first 2 albums, become a much more straight-forward sounding metal album, slightly leaning to Death Metal. The production is nowhere near as crisp as the previous albums, it is, without a doubt, the weakest SYL album released.  There was, perhaps, a reason for this….. 6/10

A potential reason for the weak SYL album may have been that, the ever prolific, Devy was hard at work on another album, this time with a new band The Devin Townsend Band as well as embracing a new genre, Progressive Metal. The resultant album, Accelerated Evolution, is nothing short of stunning. Devy breathes live into Accelerated Evolution with apparent ease. Songs like ‘Deadhead’, ‘Suicide’ and ‘Slow me Down’ are stand-outs in an album full of highlights. It is one of my favourite Devy albums. It also appears to be the album he put more effort into in this timespace.  9/10

Remember when I mentioned ‘Ambient’ earlier……. Well, next up is Devlab. This is nearly 66 minutes of my life I will never see again. If you like pure ambience, great.  Fire in and listen to it. Until my retrospective, and like Punky Bruster, I never knew this existed. Unlike Punky Bruster, I still wish I never knew about it.  Avoid! 0/10

So, after a dalliance with ambience, it is only natural that Devy returned to, yes – you’ve guessed it – Strapping Young Lad. What an album it is.  Alien, like previous SYL albums, puts the heavy back into Hevy Devy. It is dark, probably due to the state of mind of the main man himself, but it is also monolithic in its intent. Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it goes to show how Devy cannot be pigeonholed…. I mean, Ambient to Extreme Metal?  Who does this? 7/10

Alas, the 2nd of the Devin Townsend Band albums, Synchestra, was Devy’s next release.  It was the final album under this band name and it didn’t come close to matching the brilliance of the 1st album. 14 tracks long and coming in at over 65 minutes, Devy appears to have forgotten the ‘off-switch’ on Synchestra and it is, at least, 15 minutes too long. Unusually for Devy, the quality control seems to have gone missing on this one. 6/10

Fortunately, Devy is not a man for standing still, and the Heavy returns with, what is until now, the final SYL album, The New Black. It is a beast! Slightly more melodic than any previous SYL release, it still manages to maintain the manic feel, listen to ‘You Suck’ for proof. Apparently, Century Media put a strict deadline in place for the recording, which if true, probably helped to maintain the quality control that was so missing on Synchestra. If there is not to be a new SYL album, and there is nothing to indicate that Devy will go back to this, then The New Black is a fitting way to end what are the genre of Devy albums that I enjoy the most. 8/10

The Hummer is 73 minutes of Ambient Pish. No Devy, NO!  0/10

In 2007, Hevy Devy introduced the world to Ziltoid, releasing his, fully solo album, Ziltoid the Omniscient.  In order to understand the album, you need to know Ziltoid’s back story, you see, this is a concept album, and it is absolutely fantastic. Ziltoid is an Alien, from the planet Ziltoidia 9 to be accurate, and he loves his coffee. So he travels to Earth in search of the ultimate cup of coffee, only to decide he doesn’t like it. Therefore, in what can only be described as, ‘a slight overreaction’, he orders his plant to attack earth.  With his humour fully on display, Devy provided the perfect comedy album, full of tunes and riffs lesser mortals would die for.  This is Devy at his playful best and it is a must listen. 10/10

After Ziltoid, Devy took a well-earned break to recharge his batteries, and get a haircut, becoming the shiny bonced man we know and love now. After rediscovering himself, he announced the formation of The Devin Townsend Project, with an initial 4 album plan. The first of those was Ki and to be honest, I never really got it. Again, it is very long, well over an hour again, and it contains to many ambient elements for my tastes. Ambience is not a genre I embrace. Although I eagerly snapped the CD up, obtaining a signed copy, it is one I have never really listened to with any great enthusiasm. 5/10

Addicted soon followed, this time with a different band line-up, as the DTP was designed to evolve with each release. It was released in the same year as Ki, but it is streets ahead in energy, resulting in greater enjoyment. Mercifully shorter than its predecessor, Addicted show that the drug and alcohol free Devy, still has the song-writing skills that make him so appealing. 7/10

Devy then released the 3rd and 4th albums from the DTP, namely Deconstruction and Ghost respectively. Of the pair, Ghost is perhaps more accessible, but the more enjoyable listen is the former. A concept album, Deconstruction is more complex than its companion and, as a result, delivers a more intense listening experience. This is not the last time that Devy would provide a dual album release. 8/10 and 7/10

Originally a 4 album plan, Devy then surprised everybody with Epicloud, the 5th DTP album. A pop Metal album, it is a joyful listen, with co-vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen providing a stunning alternative to Devy’s vocals. Also present are Gospel choirs, bringing a sense of grandeur to a very enjoyable album. One very good addition to the album is an improved version of Kingdom, from his Physicist album, demonstrating how weak that particular album was. Epicloud was a very strong release that still sound great today. 8/10

Casualties of Cool was the next Devy project, a standalone album full of country, blues and, unfortunately, ambience. It is different to any previous Devy release, originally released on the, now defunct, Pledge platform. Another album with an underlying concept, Devy has been quoted as saying how much he loves it and how satisfying it is. Alas, I believe it is dull and I personally don’t have the imagination to derive anything from it. This probably says more about me than it does the quality of the album, as I know of many Devy fans who love it. 5/10

In 2009, Devy announce the follow-up to Ziltoid the Omniscient, and it sent quite a few of us into a minor frenzy. Could he pull it off, would it be as quirky and fun?  It would take another 5 years before it would surface, being released they say before my Birthday. I obviously received it as a birthday present, although I had heard it previously for a website I was writing for at the time. Z2 is a double album, with the first album called Sky Blue and the 2nd album being the actual follow-up to ZIltoid, Dark Matters. Again, Devy hits the biggest of Home Runs. Sky Blue is a very enjoyable romp, but it is Dark Matters that impressed me the most. It actually helps to improve your enjoyment of the previous Ziltoid album. It helped to introduce a range of Merchandise, including Ziltoid puppets and Poozers.  Dark Matters on its own is a perfect 10, however Sky Blue just lowers the score for Z2. 9/10

Ziltoid the Omniscient in puppet form

Transcendence was the first album that was not solely produced by Devy and, in truth, does not really comply with the Devin Townsend Project ethos by featuring different musicians for each album. This is no bad thing, as the band members all had input into the album. Almost unheard of in Devy’s output.  The result is a fairly enjoyable, but not outstanding, prog-style album. It has reworkings of a few earlier Devy tracks, including ‘Truth’ from Infinity – a song I didn’t think needed reworking as well as ‘Victim’ from Physicist – a song that benefits from reworking. I find this album slightly disappointing. 7/10

For the final album in this retrospective, Devy put the DTP on hold and released the solo album, Empath. Again, a full-on progressive rock/metal album, Devy throughs caution to the wind, looking to release his one true vision on the masses. This is an album that does not immediately hit home. It is the definition of a slow-burner and then, when it clicks, it is an album of such beauty that you wonder why it took so long to hit home.  It is Devy at his eclectic finest. 9/10

  • The DevilsHorns must listen – City
  • Find out more – Check out the Making of Empath videos on YouTube
  • Off the beaten track – why not check out Ziltoid TV, again found on YouTube

Published by thedevilshorns

I have been listening to metal since 1985, begging my friend to give me a copy of Iron Maiden's epic live album, 'Live After Death'. He refused, so I had another friend give me a copy instead (the copy had a jump in 'Flight of Icarus', funny the things you remember). I currently write reviews for www.metalepidemic.com, and it is a hobby that I love. The joy of hearing new bands that I may not have discovered cannot be easily quantified. But where does that leave time for artists that have been with me for over 35 years? That is the reason for this blog. My name is Paul, and I am The Devils Horns!

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