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
, 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.