Review Summary: The Devin Townsend Project has outlasted its purpose.
The Devin Townsend Project has outlasted its purpose.
Originally conceived with 2009's Ki
as the vehicle for Devin to compose and release a quartet of albums that veer off the trail blazed by his solo career (while still being a part of his broader solo catalog), The Devin Townsend Project has largely hit a period of creative stagnation following 2011's dual release of Deconstruction
. Both were key achievements in Townsend's career - Ghost
experimented with airy, flowing new age and ambient composition, while Deconstruction
was an indulgently massive culmination of everything HevyDevy. But Epicloud
(the first album released outside of the original quartet) was a soulless derivative of Addicted
- the Project's wildly enjoyable foray into hybridizing pop and metal featuring Anneke Van Giersbergen as a key vocal contributor. Follow-up Z2
split reps between a more palatable and interesting continuation of the pop metal brand on its Sky Blue
disc and delved into a forgettable and overly dramatic encore to Ziltoid The Omniscient
While both Z2
discs were enjoyable, neither opened up a new or interesting dynamic the way the original quartet had. To further things, Devin's ambient space-country project Casualties of Cool
(with Che Aimee Dorval, previously a key collaborator on Ki
have that "it" factor that stretched boundaries and carved out a new niche, making it apparent that the grand experimentation Devin had planned for "The Devin Townsend Project" has moved elsewhere following 2011. Now "The Devin Townsend Project" has simply become synonymous with creating lite prog metal fare with Anneke, Dave Young (guitar), Ryan Van Poederooyen (drums), and Brian Waddell (bass). And though its name vows otherwise, Transcendence
does nothing to buck the trend of pop-sprinkled prog metal.
For some, this won't be a problem. There's a definite appeal to the interplay between Devin and Anneke's voices that's undeniably suited to this style of music, but it's difficult for me not to hold that style and this brand accountable to the standard set by Addicted
. And while the similarities between the two albums are apparent, the differences are crucial. The tempos in Addicted
really kept it going at a dancable pace, while Transcendence
slogs and slows more than it bops and rolls. Addicted
was also a much more straightforward album from a songwriting perspective: tracks flowed as expected, counter to the many misdirects heard on a track like "Higher," which speeds, slows, stops, chants, chugs, and sings as it pleases. That's not to say that track (or others following similar designs) aren't interesting, but for all of its expanded runtime (Transcendence
runs a whopping 64 minutes compared to Addicted
's concise 46 and change), the track doesn't deliver the same punch, poignancy, and epic scale over nearly 10 minutes as "Supercrush!" did in nearly half the time.
The bloat of Transcendence
seems to be a problem inherent to post-2011 DTP, and appears to be symptomatic of a group trying to deviate around a winning formula of the past rather than one keen on developing the innovation they were built to achieve. It's unfortunate, but my honest assessment would be that, in a year's time, I won't remember much from this record except for "Failure" (which bears the grandiose heft of a track from Deconstruction
), the solo and chorus in "Secret Sciences," "Truth" (mostly because it kicks off sounding like a track from Ocean Machine
and ends like it's heralding in Ghost
) and some of "Stormbending." And maybe "Offer Your Light" - one of the few tracks to really dial up the tempo on the record and offer the listener some electricity with its squeal-y synth melodies contrasting crisp, rapid guitar rhythms. Unsurprisingly, while it's one of the album's most effective tracks, it's also its shortest and most focused - clocking in at just under 4 minutes and playing more or less straight ahead when compared to tracks based around constant change-ups like "Higher."
Other than that, while I can appreciate the compositional and technical work on the album, it doesn't do whole lot for me. In 2012 I criticized Epicloud
for being a pop metal album a la Addicted
, but without the same soul. Unfortunately, much of the same can be said about Transcendence
, but with the pop-metal balance shifted drastically more towards the metal and progressive influences Devin Townsend and his Project carry with them into the studio. And, just to be clear: the pop is much more an afterthought here when compared to those other two albums, but the sentiment is the same.
The Devin Townsend Project will likely continue to experiment with the abilities of its current lineup, generating music within familiar parameters every few years. I'd say this concerns me as a fan of Devin's musical experimentation, but with Casualties of Cool
still looming large in the rear-view mirror, it seems likely that Devin will continue to find a venue for new concepts, even if The Devin Townsend Project isn't that place anymore.