Review Summary: An expansive titan, Devin Townsend's fifth solo record is an incredible achievement.
There usually comes a time when an artist needs to freshen up or diversify his/her sound to make an appealing change to the public. Some attempts have worked better than others; a good change in pace was Floridian band Death's change from brutal classic death metal to progressive/technical death metal, and a less favorable change was Queen's use of disco and R&B in the poorly received Hot Space. Devin Townsend was long known for making extreme metal with the band Strapping Young Lad, a band which put some of the heaviest metal bands to shame. Here with Terria, however, Devy looked to be making an honest diversion from his main project's insanity.
Terria ditches the insanely fast extreme metal in favor of a more laid-back, atmospheric metal sound, while still retaining Townsend's "wall of sound"-style production. The result is a densely layered labyrinth of shifting tempos and pure honesty, clearly marking a strikingly different style than most of Devin's works. Guess what? It is easily one of Townsend's greatest achievements if not the greatest.
The album opens on an odd note with the track "Olives." A very deep voice is speaking throughout most of the song, ceasing for the metallic build-up that leads into the next track, "Mountain." "Olives" sets no clear tone for what the album is going to be like, deciding upon unpredictability to hit the listener. "Mountain," however, sets a better pace and rolls things along. The song starts with a mammoth riff with a growl from Devin, before one of the biggest surprises hits you: Instead of using insane screams like in Strapping Young Lad, Devy opts for a very soothing clean voice to layer over the pummeling sheets of guitar. After a minute or two of the heavy riff rolling along, a more atmospheric section starts up to give more room for Devin's musical diversity to shine with his bandmates. Overall, these two tracks present a very unique start to the record, but are fantastic either way.
"Earth Day" would have to be a highlight here, basically presenting a shortened form of all that Terria has to over; it shifts tempos and dynamics, it has Devin employing all of his vocal styles, and the backing musicians all do a phenomenal job of setting the brisk-but-varied mood the song invokes. The highlight of the song is the climactic chorus when Townsend yells out, "It's an EARTH-FU*KING-DAY" over the heavy-as-f*ck metal supporting his vocals. Another huge highlight of the album is "Stagnant," the closing track (not counting the hidden track, "Universal"). The song is an absolutely gorgeous ballad that can perfectly meld force and beauty into a seamless whole. The lyrics aren't the deepest on the album, but when coupled with the elegant melodies, they are elevated to a much higher plane.
As I said before, the musicians backing Devin Townsend do an excellent job of doing so. The all-encompassing metal drumming legend Gene Hoglan joins Townsend for a toned-down but effective and expansive performance. Craig McFarland (bassist) and Jamie Meyer (Piano/Keyboards) aren't featured as much on the record, but are equally as effective in exuding the album's intense-but-calming atmosphere.
Even the descriptions I've given to this album are just the tip of the iceberg. Terria is one of the best metal albums I've ever listened to, and while it may be a tough album to get into (which, for many people, it is), listen to it multiple times and it will probably grow on you, if not immensely. Just go hear the album for yourself; you won't regret it in the slightest.
Devin Townsend – guitar, vocals, ambience, samples, keyboards
Gene Hoglan – drums
Craig McFarland – fretless bass
Jamie Meyer – piano, keyboards