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Devin Townsend - Devlab CD (album) cover


Devin Townsend


Experimental/Post Metal

2.14 | 90 ratings

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Quirky Turkey
3 stars 'Devlab' is like a hot melt glue gun - it will melt you...

'Devlab' is an instrumental, experimental, ambient venture that was obviously not crafted for an audience, but for Devin's own personal pleasure in experimenting with his new (at the time) audio technology. This is made clear by the fact there's very little 'music' on the album - it's mostly floaty, seemingly aimless soundscapes and collages of noise - not really marketable or accessible. Hence what we get is quite a personal, intimate but completely insane album, a portal into a lesser known side of Devin's creative mind. They call him the 'mad scientist of metal'. Well if there's any album he's made whereby the title of 'mad scientist' is appropriate, it's this one.

The album has a heavy urban and industrial feel with no hints of nature whatsoever (unlike Devin's other ambient works like Hummer or Ghost), and even if there may be acoustic instruments somewhere in the mix, the whole album is the result of much sound manipulation, thus it's quite electronic and atmospheric. Tonally it's cold, dark and confused, but has personality and uniqueness stemming from the naivety of Devin venturing into the unknown. I would imagine he went into this project with little expectation of the end result and implemented an improvisational approach, using his then current state (doing drugs and living in a "sterile, ugly neighborhood") as an inspirational template. What came about is quite interesting.

This is my interpretation of the album: It is a compilation of the thoughts and experiences of a drugged-up man living in a lonely, dingy apartment within a dystopian future cityscape. He attempts to escape this nightmarish reality through drugs and deep sleep but is unsuccessful - the drugs only enhance his feeling of intense loneliness, adding a dazed confusion to the mix as the dull mutterings of the TV fill the emptiness in the background.

This interpretation may sound silly but that's the vibe I gather from it. In fact, Track 10 features soundclips from the science-fiction film 'Twelve Monkeys', a story built around the rise of a dystopian future and the redundant attempt to prevent it.

Beginning with Track 1, we get the sounds of Devin yelling and shrieking hysterically with tacky music in the background. It's utter nonsense and cannot be taken seriously, which is the point. I would assume this song was placed at the beginning to scare off those who expected something accessible and so the album rewards those who can get past it and aren't afraid of the unknown or unconventional.

Afterwards, for the next few songs, it would appear that Devin's process consisted of an (arguably immature) 'anything goes' approach. By this I mean that any sound he came across, anything at all, that sounded remotely interesting would be crammed into his project and manipulated with a ton of cool effects (this includes the sounds of people on TV, which led me to interpret the apartment setting). What's interesting is that this random, adventurous approach has no rules and there are no creative boundaries. But the end result is that all the 'songs' (or parts I suppose) seem to fit on this album cohesively. There is a distinct and unifying tone - the dark, dreamy, futuristic confusion.

However, some tracks do have more direction and accessibility than the meandering tracks, and these reveal themselves after Track 5:

Track 6 is a little musical with a space traveling theme. Track 8 stands out completely from the rest and is one of my favourites, having a pulsing rhythm with quirky sounds and exotic flavours. I would describe this as music that would accompany a (hypothetical) dystopian-future film by Danny Boyle. Track 12 is nice and twinkly, like a beacon of hope shining above underlying darkness. And then there's Track 13, a hypnotic journey managing to include a level of accessibility but retaining the odd atmosphere that characterises the album. The first half is simply breathtaking. And lastly I must give special mention for Track 4 which is a compelling onslaught of atonal distorted noise, a soundtrack for immense destruction. Many will hate this track, but I like it.

The album ends with Devin waking up to an alarm clock and the music ceasing, only to fade back in as if he's drifting back to sleep. He has always seemed to be fascinated by the concept of the relationship between music and dreams, as presented in the story of 'Ziltoid the Omniscient,' and how he's always inspired to record music that comes from his dreams, (like the songs 'Winter' and 'In Ah!'.)

In the end, 'Devlab' is strange and less approachable than Devin's other ambient album 'Hummer'. I however find 'Devlab' to be more interesting and engaging. To me, the album is criminally underrated or at least under-appreciated. Sure it isn't very accessible and there isn't much 'music', ('music' meaning structure, melody, or general cohesion), but credit is due for the effort that went into its creation. For what it is, it succeeds. But this will be a hard album to rate; it's not exactly musical or very listenable, but it's quality stuff for its genre and what it intends to be. So I guess 3.5 stars rounded to 3 is appropriate.

I recommend this to fans of experimental, avant-garde, ambient music, and to those with open minds, possibly in search of something unconventional or challenging. Or if you want to own music that can scare people out of the room and alienate you from your friends, this is perfect.

If you're curious and willing to give it a go, perhaps begin with track 8 or 13. If they don't interest you then move along.

Quirky Turkey | 3/5 |


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