Review Summary: Deconstruction is an album that is impressive, dense, and more than a little frustrating.
You can call Devin Townsend a lot of things, but you certainly can’t call him someone who approaches his work lightly. He goes all in on every hand, and this mindset has created a body of work that is somewhat hit-or-miss, though none of it is half-assed. Deconstruction is really the epitome of this approach to music, with Townsend pulling out all the stops and throwing in whatever he wants. The result is an album that is impressive, dense, and more than a little frustrating.
Many fans were hoping this would essentially be another Strapping Young Lad album. While this is undeniably his heaviest work since Alien, it’s not Alien Part 2. Yes, 95% of this is crushing, chaotic metal, but the wider palette of musical ideas and more prominent clean vocals set this apart from SYL. An example is “Praise the Lowered,” which starts out with a laid-back beat, smooth, clean vocals from Devin, and some bloopy electronics before transitioning flawlessly into crushing industrial metal. While not as drastic as the shift in “Praise the Lowered,” all the songs on Deconstruction go through several different sections, to varying levels of success. For all the moments of creativity though, there are almost as many sections of bland, recycled metal riffs that Townsend has used before. This aspect, coupled with the sheer amount of riffs and musical themes compressed into the songs, leaves the album feeling somewhat unmemorable, due to the difficulty in processing everything being thrown at you.
One of the most noticeable and nagging aspects of this album is its lyrics, both in content and delivery. On Deconstruction, Townsend sticks to the themes of self-discovery, responsibility, spirituality, etc., that he has been exploring on the other albums in the Devin Townsend Project. Here though, he’s balls-deep, and just like the instrumental aspect of the album, he’s left subtlety to other folks. Instead of coming across as inspirational/deep/whatever, the lyrics just seem forced, and his near-spoken delivery doesn’t do much to help. The lyrics often end up sticking out conspicuously and quickly get tiresome.
On this album of excess, it’s the songs that show restraint that keep the thing from collapsing under its own weight. “Juular,” for instance, is about as wild and chaotic as the rest of the album, and yet it sticks to a manageable handful of musical themes and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Plus, the abstract lyrics (what’s a Juular") avoid the over-obvious feeling that plagues most of the album. “Praise the Lowered” and even “Sumeria” are in the same vein, having a diversity of sounds without feeling tossed-together.
As bloated and repetitive as Deconstruction can be, there are some real nuggets of outstanding music in here, such as the “Tungsten body, glowing mind!” section in Planet of the Apes, the various throwbacks to Addicted in “The Mighty Masturbator,” and any time that Cynic’s Paul Masvidal opens his mouth. These sorts of moments are the footholds in this monolith of an album, and though there could be more of them, there are enough to prove that Townsend has still “got it.”
But somehow, the overwhelming excess on here is strangely refreshing. In a musical climate that holds minimalism in such high regard, creating an album this dense and indulgent takes some real cojones. Despite its flaws, the album is a testament to Townsend’s willingness to see his vision through to the end, critics-be-damned. Hopefully this album is also a symbolic purging of his over-indulgent tendencies, and that in the future he makes further use of his restraint.