Album Review: Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

Devin Townsend Project - Transcendence

The music of Devin Townsend is the uncommon result of an uncompromising vision and style. Though he has never let himself be bound to one sound, his identity is strong and distinctive, even in the wake of recent imitators. With each album, Devin Townsend Project seemed to have found the perfect balance between staying true to one’s own aesthetic, and shifting the style to the point where each album felt like a new journey. With that in mind, it’s not surprising DTP have made such waves. Particularly in recent years, their momentum has snowballed to the extent where they’re now one of the most talked-about bands in metal music.

With the unbearably high expectations that would no doubt arise with a new Devin Townsend Project record, I’m not altogether sure whether I could have listened to Transcendence without some sort of excitement laying in wait. DTP’s new album is definitely one of the highest impressions in their career thus far, and it stands as an impressive contribution to what is fast-becoming one of the best discographies in metal.

Similarly to the impression I had with 2012′s Epicloud, rather than renovate their entire style, Transcendence feels like a conscious consolidation of elements this project previously innovated. One thing that’s by far displayed on Transcendence is the element of theatricality, what’s something that Townsend feels very comfortable to experiment with.

The adventure metal of Ki and Addicted is arguably most prominent, with Deconstruction and Ghost’s epic displays and (space) operatic leanings of  Epicloud and Z2 filling out the rest of their palette. All put together, you have an album that retains the rich quality and atmosphere of a Devin Townsend Project record.

Devin Townsend Project 2016

The atmosphere remains as bold and vast, but in fusing their styles, the result is rather clear and consistent. “Stormbending” and lead single “Failure” pack a solid punch, and it can easily be said that individual songs have the memorable impact, what’s probably one of Devin’s biggest skills — writing structurally complex songs while retaining simplicity. Album opener “Truth” is a reworked version of the song that originally appears on Townsend’s 1998  solo album Infinity. The more atmospheric take on this one and far better production enable this piece to spread out in all its robustness. There are plenty of immaculate moments on Transcendence, precisely the sort of stuff that made them a favourite band of mine in the first place. “Secret Sciences” has a crushingly ambient metal feel — it sets the stage with a bleak atmosphere that carries throughout the rest of the record. Following “Higher” stands out to me as one of the album’s best cuts, with biting atmospherics managed by acoustic strumming and Devin’s unique voice that lull you in before crushing riffs bring the overall atmosphere and the quality of the record a few levels up. The instrumentation in this song, and it could be said for the album overall, is stunning. The execution by the band, fronted by Townsend himself, showcases a group of people made of individuals that have extraordinary skills but their best comes out when they work as a team. Talking about that, Devin explained: “I think the intention, the theme, and the participation of everyone involved allows this album to act like a fulcrum between the past few years and what I intend to do next with the symphony. I am very proud of it and everyone involved.

While the material on the previous DTP albums was impressive to say at least, I can safely say that the group have improved the practical execution of their material to the point of virtual perfection. With the help of producer Adam “Nolly” Getgood on the album’s mix, Transcendence isn’t just the best-sounding Devin Townsend Project have ever been — I will go that far and say it loud that Transcendence is one of the best productions I have ever heard on a metal album period. This album enjoys a richly symphonic production that sometimes even outshines the music itself. It’s one thing to have a polished big-budget production, but it takes some level of vision and genius to find the optimal warmth and frame for a band’s sound. Ryan Van Poederooyen’s drumwork is thick and heavy, the guitars sound rich, and Brian Waddell’s bass work is consistently audible. From a technical standpoint, Transcendence arguably succeeds beyond any other album I’ve heard this year.

If anything’s been proven to me in this experience, it’s that being a fan can have its upsides. Were this the first DTP release I’d had the pleasure of hearing, it would probably make me an ultimate fan. But as I’ve been there for years now I can easily conclude that this record is everything I had hoped for, and more. Transcendence is an excellent album for all intents and purposes, and for a band as breathtaking as DTP have been in the past, my expectations are met.

Transcendence is out on September 9 via InsideOut Music. Pre-order it here or here.

Tracklist:

01. Truth
02. Stormbending
03. Failure
04. Secret Sciences
05. Higher
06. Stars
07. Transcendence
08. Offer Your Light
09. From The Heart
10. Transdermal Celebration

Line-up:

* Devin Townsend – Vocals, Guitar, Synths and Ambience
* Dave Young – Guitar, Keys, Mandolin
* Ryan Van Poederooyen – Drums
* Brian ‘Beav’ Waddell – Bass
* Mike St-Jean – Keys, Synths, Programming

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