See you on the other side"
Singer/Songwriter/Instrumentalist extraordinaire Devin Townsend"s massive, earth-shattering trademark record finds the man behind the furious Strapping Young Lad, among other creations, at his most fresh, inventive and innovative in his whole career. The album that spawned the most creative and interesting project he"d ever come to be involved in, Ocean Machine
is an incredible display of compositional mastery and an excellent ear for ambience.
First off, this album is very, very
aptly titled for a number of reasons. Comparisons to the ocean are inevitable. What comes out of the speakers when this album is played are literally waves
of sound that flow around you like ocean water. And some people may find the wall-of-sound approach to this recording slightly overdone, or even claustrophobic at points, but once you allow yourself to float in the endless mass of this music, you will find that Devin"s sense of space and atmosphere is absolutely incredible and unmatched in anything else that"s ever been recorded or likely will. The heaviness that Devin is known for is present here"but it"s as if Devin stepped back and viewed his musical approach from a far broader spectrum than he ever had with Strapping Young Lad"he finds a new understanding of his Hevy" sound from a completely different perspective. The heaviness is neither brutal nor bludgeoning; it does not attack or scorch; it envelops you like thick, beautiful drapery.
But, arguably more importantly, this album (and every song herein) virtually creates its own ecological society of sound"an unbelievable amount of layers and reverberations all come together to play their role in the life of the music. This is not excessive"without each of these many entities fusing together, the music could not survive. Beautifully subtle layers of keyboards and synth sounds create a palette for flushes of lush, crashing guitar sounds as vocals soar above the mix, not with volume, but perfect intonation. Harmonies bounce around, above, underneath, inside; sound bites crawl from underneath the torrential storm. Such a daunting jigsaw puzzle of an album, put in the hands of someone less capable than Devin, would fall to pieces before the end of the first song, and the ocean created would merely drown the listener in the burdensome waves, rather than encompassing him. It amazes me that all the elements that simultaneously come together work, but, believe me when I say they do. Not only that, but they create a flourishing tapestry of sound that is unlike anything I"ve heard before.
Now, before you rush out to buy this album, a caveat for the uninitiated: The density and tone of this album can be quite intimidating at first listen. It is, for the most part, a haunting and dark piece of music. Lacking the catchy hooks to really take off as a mainstream, Billboard release, the songs here must be allowed time to slowly reveal themselves, layer by layer, to the listener before they can be fully appreciated. If you"re willing to dedicate the time and effort to listen to this, it will grow on you like a tide slowly rising to engulf the beach. And then you"ll be in the middle of its vastness, with nothing around but seascapes of sound.
The album starts with an odd, robotic voice reciting a mysterious monologue and then you are immediately thrust into the middle of the ocean with a low, down tuned guitar riff that is soon joined by rising waves of textural keyboard sounds and plodding, slow drum beats. Seventh Wave
is a pretty good indicator of what the album will sound like"thick guitars echo through the speakers as their keyboard counterparts reverberate around your head, bouncing back and forth for a total encompassment in the sound. You are enraptured but not trapped; engulfed but not suffocated. Devin"s amazing gift for melodies shines in the soaring chorus. The song moves in and out of many sections, working its way through the ambience and heaviness with a very obviously progressive approach to the songwriting. Never have you heard anything that can be simultaneously heavy and ambient and pull it off so well.
The next song, Life
is slightly more upbeat, and is also the only song on the album that is truly catchy and more of a pop song than a piece of music. It"s also one of the few breaks from the dark, evocative atmosphere that makes up the majority of the album. It is, nevertheless, a great song.
That should get you started on the album. Each song is similar in approach, admittedly, but the album never spirals into the decadence of repetition. The song structures, tones, textures and melodies are far too varied and ingeniously structured to keep the listener from drifting into lethargy. To describe each track would be futile"but one of the reasons I think this is one of the most brilliant albums of the nineties is simply because of the way it is structured. It kicks off by introducing you to the album"s general direction, and from there, it allows you to swim around, exploring sentiments and emotions with moments of tidal force and halcyon tranquility. The washes of ambiance and acoustic guitar on Sister
shower the listener in a trance-inducing pool of sadness before a crash of lightning introduces 3 a.m.
, a subtle, yet extremely moving phantom of a song that provokes forlorn dreaming only possible at the Hour of the Wolf. It then launches straight into Voices in the Fan
, a haunting epic that ends with a beautiful ghostlike cathedral choir, like the chorus of fallen angels rising from underneath the ocean floor. Perhaps one of the best half hours of music I"ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing comes in the last three tracks. Funeral
and The Death of Music
come together to form the epic cornerstone of the album and one of the most brilliantly evocative stretches of dreamlike imagination ever committed to tape. The former starts things off with the entry into the lost underwater city that the album has always been hinting at but is only now revealing. With a subtle grandiose, it builds into the epic, huge bombast of Bastard. With an absolutely amazing, crushing riff and vast amounts of ambience, it is one of my favorite musical pieces of all time. Devin"s overcast, yet uplifting vocals cry out from underneath the stretching towers of guitars, creating one of the most captivating melodic sections of the album. The latter is a lesson in atmosphere. With a very eerie mood and very few vocals, starting off very sparse, but building into a largely epic piece, it ends the album perfectly.
There"s no doubt that this album is one of the most unique pieces of music I"ve heard. It will have you captivated in its waterscapes, a sea of emotion and delicate fragility underneath a rock-solid surface of heaviness. If this is a metal album, it certainly transcends most of its competition. It really feels like you"ve ventured, transcended someplace beyond the realm of possibly when it is finished. And, as Devin sings, I hope to see you on the other side.
"It"s like death becomes musical