Review Summary: Devin's quality takes a slight dip, but this release still stands above a majority of other metal bands out there.
Devin Townsend is one of metal’s musical geniuses, constantly putting out new material under different titles and almost always of a high quality. Arguably, he is most well known for his band Strapping Young Lad
which is crushing, angry, and sarcastic as hell, but he has another side to him. That side is usually more melodic, experimental, and progressive than Strapping Young Lad and has found its home mostly under the Devin Townsend
and The Devin Townsend Band
monikers. This particular album falls under the "Devin Townsend" moniker, but sounds more like Strapping Young Lad-lite.
Overall this album comes off as a restrained version of Strapping Young Lad with hints of his other projects thrown in. The first way that this album comes off as restrained is due to the production, which is more similar to his other projects and less the “wall-of-sound” associated with Strapping Young Lad. What that means is that the production is excellent, of course, but just a little too reigned in to compliment the music as much as it could. Also, the guitars seem just a little too muddy - a little sharper tone could have given the album the edge it seems to lack. Overall, the production doesn’t take away from the album but it could have enhanced it more with just a few minor changes.
The music itself seems to follow the restrained Strapping Young Lad formula as well. The songs almost all come off as aggressive and they are mostly played at a pretty fast tempo, but they just never seem to find that edge and cross over it. Instead they start at a certain aggression level and are content to stay there without pushing the barriers as they progress. I use the term “progress” lightly because the majority of each song has already been exposed within the first few minutes of its start-time. The most glaringly obvious difference between this and SYL is the lackluster performance of drum-god Gene Hoglan. The drums on this album are just far too two-dimensional and do nothing to help the songs feel dynamic. The reason that there are so many references to Devin’s heavier project is because this album really does sound like it was meant to be a Strapping Young Lad project but at the last minute Devin changed his mind.
Despite the fact that this feels like a weak SYL album, it didn't end up following under that moniker so at this point all SYL references will cease. The album starts out on a high-point, with the song "Namaste" coming out with a fast, heavy riff, synths that mirror the riffs, double bass, and Devin’s aggressive-style vocals. The chorus is immediately catchy as he switches from pure aggression to a more sing/scream style. By the end of the album this song will stick out as one of the best it has to offer. Unfortunately, by the second song you start to realize that you’ve heard this from Devin before. The main riff on the second track, "Victim", bears an uncanny resemblance to SYL’s song "Detox" from their City
album, except it doesn’t ever reach the level of quality that "Detox" did. It’s the same basic story with the third track, it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere and just blends into the previous track; although it does feature an interesting use of backing vocals and synths. While this might seem like it’s about to become a track-by-track review, it is not, but special mention has to be made for track 4, "Kingdom". "Kingdom" is one of my favorite songs that has ever been written by Devin. It contains the musical aggression of anything he has done before, an interesting use of synths where they mirror the guitars (similar to the first track), multiple layers of vocal tracks, and it’s also very catchy. I could recommend buying this album just for that song; that’s how good it is.
Unfortunately, after the huge level of quality that comes from "Kingdom" everything thereafter is just kind of boring and blends together again. The next three tracks are three of the fastest on the album, but they seem more speed for speed’s sake and don’t really go anywhere or do anything special. They also aren’t fleshed-out enough to really even differentiate themselves from each other. After those tracks and a few short songs that never really seem to develop, is the 11 minute song "Planet Rain". By this point the album has just kind of blurred together, and nothing is really sticking out anymore and an 11-minute song doesn't help. It's fairly slow throughout its duration, the riffs aren’t memorable, and Devin’s vocals don’t add any flair or personality to a song already sorely lacking both.
If you’ve made it through this entire review you might be under the impression that this album is horrible and the score is probably far too high, but its not. While I’ve written the review of the album to a standard that Devin himself has set with his other releases, the score is more a reflection of how this album compares to the metal scene in general. By the end of this album there should be no doubt that there is a quality to Physicist
that would make other bands jealous and that it is worth more then an occasional listen, but its just not to the level that Devin himself has conditioned us to expect. Basically, if you’ve bought all the SYL albums and maybe Terria
and Ocean Machine
then it could be time to give this a listen. Just remember that while it’s not up to the standards we expect from Devin, it is still a pretty good listen.