Monday, 24 September 2012


Devin Townsend is metal royalty, having produced an inordinate amount of great material in his twenty-plus years of making music. Bursting onto the scene as a singer for Steve Vai, Devin then formed Strapping Young Lad, one of the most important and influential extreme metal bands of all time. But it is in his solo material that Townsend is most interesting - from hellacious metal assaults to calming prog rock landscapes, via disturbing dark ambient and a rock opera about a fourth-dimensional alien overlord in search of the perfect cup of coffee. Over the course of his career Devin has explored many facets of his musical self, with each album tending to sound drastically different from the one before. Epicloud, Devin's fifteenth solo record, is interesting in that it attempts to amalgamate some of these styles into one album, taking the different parts of the man and making him whole again.

That said, this is mainly still a record with one distinct style. Epicloud reminds me in many ways of 2009's Addicted, a poppy, melodic heavy rock album that still had many of Devin's trademark metal elements. A stand-out part of that album were the guest vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen, and she returns again here. Her vocals complement Devin's wonderfully, and the two are as great together as they have ever been. Giersbergen features on near every song on the album, and it is all the better for it.

Epicloud features a similar base style to Addicted - short, poppy rock songs with catchy choruses and plenty of melody. However, on top of this are layered Townsend's other musical personalities, so the end result is something quite different. Epicloud is just that, epic and loud. There is a lot of pure bombast on this record - choruses sound bigger than a truck, and layers of vocal overdubbing create a huge, orchestral feel, exemplified on Liberation. Lead single Lucky Animals in particular has flat-out swagger running through it, Devin singing along like a joyful madman as saxophones go crazy in the background.

There are some metal aspects to Epicloud, but on the whole this isn't a metal record. Grace features metalcore-style chugging riffs behind the choral singing of the two vocalists, with the heaviness of the guitars and the melody of the singing offsetting each other wonderfully. More! is also straight-up heavy, and is probably the most metal track on the album. Still, if you want your daily dose of brutality, you are not going to find it here.

My favourite track is Save Our Now, a chilled-out number with Devin and Anekke trading vocals that launches into one of the best choruses in music today. Epic, uplifting, instantly memorable - seriously, this is a great chorus. It reminds me of Life from 1997's Ocean Machine: Biomech, proof that Devin can do happy songs just as well as angry ones. Hopefully Save Our Now will follow Life's example and become a live singalong staple from here on out. The only bad thing I can say about it is that its 4 minutes go so fast they feel like 30 seconds.

Another treat for old fans is the re-recording of Kingdom, originally featured on 2000's Physicist. The song has long been a near-guaranteed part of Townsend's live shows, and considering the improvements made in 12 years, the decision was made to re-record it. The new version sounds fantastic. Devin is a better singer, Giersbergen's vocals fit in perfectly, and improved synth work lends the song a real sense of depth. Despite being an old number, the track doesn't feel out of place in the flow of the album. Kingdom is a welcome part of Epicloud and a nice look back to days gone by.

Almost every song on here is worthwhile, but stripped down ballad Divine is a bit too simple to hold my attention. Otherwise though, Epicloud is a great listen start to finish, and at just under 50 minutes is short enough that your interest won't start to waver.

Epicloud is another good Devin Townsend album, and a decent starting point for anyone thinking of exploring the guy's vast music catalogue. Those expecting drastic reinvention will be disappointed, as there is nothing particularly original here. What there is, however, is a ton of great music, from one of the greatest musicians of today.

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