(Double) CD Review: DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT Deconstruction & Ghost
Deconstruction and Ghost have certainly been some of the most anticipated records of the year for me personally, and now the wait is finally over. After being incredibly impressed with both of the Devin Townsend Project’s initial releases, Ki and Addicted, I couldn’t wait to see how the final two pieces of this project would play out. Needless to say, Devin Townsend has come back with two equally unpredictable slabs of both progressive metal and ambient/folk rock. Only this time, he’s surpassed everything in his catalog. And yes, that does include the undeniable classics like 2001's Terria and Strapping Young Lad’s City.
Deconstruction, in short, is one of the best metal albums I’ve come across in years. It’s uncompromising, erratic, bombastic, heavy as hell, and features damn near every awesome figure in modern metal. Despite the album’s whopping seventy minute run-time, each of the album’s nine tracks offer something completely different than the one before it, thanks to Townsend’s superb songwriting, amazing vocal range, frequent use of humor, and superior Pro Tools know-how. Deconstruction should have something for just about any metal fan to latch onto as well. Fans of the more industrial, wall-of-sound feel that Strapping Young Lad brought to the table will certainly love tracks like “Sumeria”, “Pandemic”, and the blistering closer, “Poltergeist”. Those who dig Devy’s more recent work, particularly Ziltoid, will inevitably love the album’s longer tracks, particularly the epic “The Mighty Masturbator” and the completely absurd title track. Hell, you’ll even get a taste of melodic/symphonic black metal in the Danny Elfman-inspired “Juular”, as well as near the end of “Planet of the Apes”.
This is also undoubtedly Townsend’s most technically demanding album to date on all fronts. Songs like the title track and “The Mighty Masturbator” frequently bring out plenty of shred and time changes, as well as a myriad of added electronic effects/farts, vocal harmonies, and even the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (Dimmu Borgir, eat your heart out!). Add a whole lot of blast-beat intensive drumming from Addicted’s Ryan Van Poederooyen and Soilwork’s Dirk Verbeuren and you’ve got yourself a roller-coaster of an album, always in danger of derailing but never losing complete track.
What initially grabbed my attention in regards to Deconstruction was certainly the roster of guest vocalists and musicians that Devin Townsend managed to all cram onto one album. I don’t anticipate ever hearing an album again with vocalists from Novembers Doom, Opeth, Emperor, Between the Buried and Me, Gojira, Cynic, The Dillinger Escape Plan, After Forever, and GWAR (as well as a guest guitar solo from Meshuggah’s Fredrik Thordenal) all at the same time. While all the vocal spots are essentially epic cock-teases because of their brevity, they help give each song a stronger sense of identity and constantly keep things fresh and interesting. Each vocalist’s unique style and timbre fit the riff/song quite well, “Sumeria” probably being the strongest example of this (the Joe Duplantier feature has a crushing Gojira-esque riff behind it, and the Paul Masvidal feature sounds just like something off Cynic’s Re-Traced). Devin Townsend is essentially the ringleader for this three-ring metal circus of sorts, and roots everything back with his distinct and diverse array of vocal styles, be it his signature shriek or tear-inducing falsettos.
While metal’s “elite” fans (see: douche-bags) will inevitably complain about how absurd this album can get due to lyrics about cheeseburgers, farts, and frequent silly solos, it’s all part of Townsend’s irony and humor. He’s perfectly aware of how obnoxious Deconstruction can get, and that’s precisely the point. As long as you’re willing to not take Townsend too seriously (and I don’t know why you would), Deconstruction could very likely be the first classic metal album of this decade. I mean, who else can deliberately say “wank” right before a solo and get away with it? A goddamn genius, that’s who.
Oddly enough, Ghost is just as uncompromising as Deconstruction, but in the complete opposite direction. As Townsend had said simply in an earlier interview, “I wanted to make something pretty.” Understatement of the year right there, folks. Ghost is an absolutely gorgeous album, no questions asked. Unlike the subdued Ki, Ghost pulls absolutely no punches this time around, keeping things soft and relaxed for its entirety (seventy two minutes, which is even longer than Deconstruction). This album is a near-perfect yin to Deconstruction’s yang; where its predecessor grabs you by the balls and forces you to listen, this one calmly invites you along for the ride.
It’s absolutely mind-boggling to wonder what drove Townsend to shift his musical styles so rapidly with his Devin Townsend Project, but it pays off in spades here. “Fly” opens up the final record of the project coolly with its simplistic guitar lines and repeated vocal melodies, setting off the ambient mood that will play out for the remainder of the album. “Heart Baby” follows up with an even more relaxed feel, introducing occasional string accompaniment and Kate Epple’s soothing flute performance which pervades Ghost. “Feather” and “Kawaii” are without question my two favorite songs on the record. The former is the album’s longest song and also utilizes vocal layering and ambience better than most other artists in the genre, and the latter brings a beautiful singer-songwriter feel to the table and is very reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”. The timing and placement of these two songs on the album is simply amazing and is highly recommended to anyone with a set of functioning ears.
While there are bits of experimentation and variation throughout Ghost (like Townsend’s use of banjo in “Blackberry” and the electronic number “Dark Matters”), things can get a bit carried away from time to time. While songs may become more distinct through multiple listens, seventy-two minutes of ambient flute music can be overbearing for almost anyone to listen to in one sitting. While that’s precisely the point of this album, it can also be a bit of a hindrance, furthering my point that both Deconstruction and Ghost are the two most ballsy and uncompromising albums in Townsend’s discography.
In summation, I can’t speak highly enough about both of these albums. As a massive fan of unpredictable, progressive music, Townsend has delivered on a level not previously imagined. Almost everything on both of these albums caught me completely off guard, and in the best way possible. Having over two hours of some of our generation’s most inventive music dropped at once on a listener can be a bit of a daunting thing, but through time, these albums should stand the test of time as some of the best albums in Townsend’s canon. Now let’s see if Opeth and/or Meshuggah can follow suit in 2011 with more excellent prog-metal. Highly, highly recommended.
Rating for Deconstruction: 9.75/10
Rating for Ghost: 8.5/10
Both Deconstruction and Ghost are released on June 20th in Europe and June 21st in the US. Pre-order links can be found here.