Devin Townsend
The Puzzle


4.5
superb

Review

by Thompson D. Gerhart STAFF
December 7th, 2021 | 34 replies


Release Date: 12/03/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Devin Townsend's The Age of Adz carefully places each piece where it needs to fit

Any public outrage that Devin Townsend has dared to release an album defying whatever Progressive Metal label has been foisted upon him is out of touch. Casualties of Cool is moon country. Ghost is Enya style ambient meditations. Setting aside the likes of Devlab, Synchestra, and The Hummer before them the man has a catalog that proudly proclaims "Look at me! I work the way the music moves me!"

In fact, it was 2016's Transcendence that really got me bummed out on Dev - following on the heels of the original four albums inspiring the Devin Townsend Project, it felt like Devin was in a rut producing the same album with the same band trying to recapture the pop metal sound of Addicted over and over... It was enough. Casualties had already proved that Devin was ready to get weird again to spectacular results, and I (perhaps selfishly) wanted more of that.

Some years since that record and with the more adherent-to-the-beaten-path Empath the closest object in the rearview mirror, I guess I can see where The Puzzle would be unexpected. But for those unaffected by recency bias and with the mind to explore Devin Townsend's creative depths, The Puzzle is just another prime product of the mad scientist canuck's laboratory experiments.

Worried of Devin employing the same sound as his prog standards? Out the window! The Puzzle taps into realms Devin has touched throughout his career, but feels as experimental as it does cohesive. I've seen the record described as "ambient," but can't find that sentiment in my own listens. There are no spacy, meditative, drawn-out passages. Though there are moments of reflection, tracks like "Me and the Moon" and "Hammerhead Sugarplum" have undeniable pop appeal. Exploratory interludes like "Anxiety in Pyjamas" are too dotted with flashes of electronic glitching and stabs of dark, reverberated bass for me to simply call its whispy woodwind melody or ivory ticklings simply "ambient" - although the influence is certainly there.

Worried about the same old soldiers and instrumentation? The Puzzle has an astounding crew of incredible musicians ranging from the familiar (Che Aimee Dorval, Anneke van Giersbergen, Jed Simon) to big names (Steve Vai, Jordan Rudess, Plini, Anup Sastry) to the less familiar heroes in the bandstands. But for all of the star power and even the name branding, The Puzzle feels aptly named, with each piece playing its part and fitting in to the service of the big picture.

Not that it's not a weird big picture, but it's a cool one. A different one. The vibe I keep getting is Casualties of Cool meets The Age of Adz with a little Deconstruction thrown in for good measure. Really - there are reprises of "Sumeria" and truly heavy bits to be found here and there throughout the experience. Though, on the whole, it's somewhere between experimental post-rock and Sufjan-brand orchestral pop. The mix of these ingredients and the peaks and valleys of their incorporation (including spoken word about podcasts, distorted guitars, electronic distortion, violins, flutes, and super sexy sax) makes it hard to slap an easy label on the experience.

And, to me, at least, that's what makes The Puzzle a really, really fun album. It's a big name in a specific arena grabbing hold of his artistic inspirations and a massive crew of talented artists, and throwing it all together in a tightly orchestrated... well, puzzle! It's so crazy that it just might work. It's so impressively coordinated that it has to. And for me, it's incredibly gratifying to see Devin Townshend grabbing hold of his ability to create unique musical permutations in the face of a fanbase that has already been... well, puzzled by it. All said, it's my sincere hope that even though Devin will continue to drive his standard progressive machines for his primary fanbase, he'll continue to put out these exotic masterpieces for the rest of us weirdos. Even if I still think it's the mainstream fans who are out of touch.



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user ratings (89)
3.2
good


Comments:Add a Comment 
AtomicWaste
Moderator
December 7th 2021


2875 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I guess I wrote a review in 2021 after all.

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
December 7th 2021


17108 Comments


Woah

Just missing a Jom and a Dev[?] review. Alright who had an atomic review on their sput bingo card?

Gmork89
December 7th 2021


8294 Comments


Waiting for my bizarre box set with the screen and everything before I listen to this haha.

AtomicWaste
Moderator
December 7th 2021


2875 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Considered that but I wanted the vinyl, so...

Yeah, I bought the vinyl

parksungjoon
December 7th 2021


42868 Comments


holy shit atomicwaste!

BenThatsMyJamin
December 8th 2021


3917 Comments


After the disappointment of Transcendence and then Empath, this has probably been my least anticipated Devy album. But an AtomicWaste 4.5 gives me great hope - our opinions on the Devster mostly line up and I share your sentiments about how the success of DTP degraded his fanbase over the years. Intrigued to give this a spin now.

Toondude10
December 8th 2021


14829 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

aaay, nice to see you Atomic

jfromnj
December 8th 2021


93 Comments


Empath spelled wrong.

I thought Transcendence had some really strong tracks. Some clunkers too.

conesmoke
December 8th 2021


7210 Comments


Cool review, agreed this is aptly named

Muzz79
December 8th 2021


1790 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

8 songs in and I had to cleanse my ears with a song from Transcendence. Much much prefer his DTP stuff

Digging: Hollow Decay - The Frozen Trail

trilo
December 8th 2021


4854 Comments


yea this aint it

Digging: Blut Aus Nord - Disharmonium - Undreamable Abysses

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
December 8th 2021


2002 Comments


Good lord, a Devin Townsend album that doesn't sound like DTP or Empath? Sign me up!
Nice review, boss

Koris
Contributing Reviewer
December 8th 2021


14847 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Good review! I'll admit I wasn't as enamored with this as you were, but I agree it was quite refreshing after some of DT's other recent projects. Snuggles on the other hand... bleh

Muzz79
December 8th 2021


1790 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

This is the soundtrack to a night's dreaming. Vague and dreamy with different things coming in and out of the mind

KrillBoi
December 8th 2021


91 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

"Casualties of Cool is moon country. Ghost is Enya style ambient meditations."



Both of those albums are infinitely better than this mess though. Glad some people are finding enjoyment out of this, but I personally have no clue how they are. Maybe I need to give it another shot but over an hour of "random xD" content was not something I vibed with at all the first time around.



I will agree that it's at least nice seeing Devin exploring his musical landscape more, but this ain't it for me.

Dizchu
December 8th 2021


394 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I love this album's sound design. Dev is great at making vibey soundscapes, as demonstrated by Casualties of Cool, and these sound unlike anything he's done before.



The problem I have is that the listener isn't given the chance to vibe with any of it before the next part comes along.



I'll give it another listen, see if it comes together, but overall I respect this project more than I enjoy it.

jfromnj
December 8th 2021


93 Comments


Dev has always lack the editing gene. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. His best albums were always those that were more compositionally succinct like Ocean Machine, Accelerated Evolution, Addicted and Epicloud. I think the one outlier that was really amazing was Terria.

Comatorium.
December 8th 2021


4950 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Anyone who labels this as just ambient is doing themselves a disservice/obviously just haven’t listened to the album.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
December 8th 2021


46377 Comments


wasn't even gonna listen to this cos he's become thoroughly exhausting but the idea of Devin Townsend's The Age of Adz is so batshit wild I've gotta at least try it. also the excellent as always review

SuzyC
December 8th 2021


172 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Haven't heard it yet, but if both Che Aimee and Anneke are featured I'm sure I'll be pleased....A few days later now, I listened. Not great, not terrible. I didn't want to turn it off, but I didn't want to listen again either, which is how I often listen to most of Devin's catalog.



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