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Devin Townsend - Ocean Machine - Biomech CD (album) cover

OCEAN MACHINE - BIOMECH

Devin Townsend

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.98 | 306 ratings

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HunterD
3 stars Devin Townsend's own counterpoint to his ferocious, metal-burlesque "City" record with Strapping Young Lad, "Ocean Machine," originally conceived as a band called Ocean Machines, morphed into what became Townsend's first definitive solo effort. It's true that Strapping Young Lad's "Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing" was largely written and recorded by Townsend himself as a solo project, however the album felt like an angry diuresis of ideas following his short stint with Steve Vai, rather than a proper record. His "Cooked on Phonics" album under the moniker "Punky Bruster" is usually credited as the first DT solo album, but it was merely a booger, mockingly flicked at the burgeoning pop punk movement. "Ocean Machine," however, was the first exploration of the musical ideas that would come to define Townsend's varied and prolific solo career.

"Ocean Machine" comes at you with a wave of spiritual electric guitars and Devin's god-like layered vocals that run the gamut of emotions. "Regulator" is a standout heavy track that still manages to stun as an live opener to this day, while "Life" fills the space of the cheesy power ballad (Devin often jokes when he plays this song live that it has lamest guitar solo ever written). But it's the heartache at the heart of "Ocean Machine" that sticks with you, "Night" feels like a lonely car ride in a vibrant, neon cityscape, "Funeral" is filled with spiritual longing, and "The Death of Music," a suspect title if there ever was one, surprises with its air of regret. The final track, "Things Beyond Things," labeled a "bonus track," may actually be the most well realized tune on the album, and sonically reminded me somewhat of his obscure cover of Rush's "Natural Science."

Yet "Ocean Machine" has an unfortunate tendency to ramble with its songs, and the album lacks the cohesion that Gene Hoglan brought to Devin's subsequent solo records, prior to the demise of Strapping Young Lad. Drummers like Hoglan and Ryan Van Poederooyen enjoyed long, fruitful relationships with Townsend because they make magic together. Marty Chapman's drumming on "Ocean Machine," along with everyone else on the record, are swallowed up by Devin's mammoth production. "Seventh Wave" is an opener that shoots for cyclopean awe, but falls short, and the lenghty "Bastard" disappears from memory once it's gone.

Townsend wasn't pleased with how this personal effort was met with a shrug, while Strapping's "City," an over-the- top metal goof, was met with adulation and praise. This seemed to drive Townsend to refine his game, creating more sophisticated records with Hoglan as his muse from the "Ocean Machine" blueprint, which still informs his music to this day on albums like "Sky Blue." It also began his trend of actively fleeing in the face of success, ignoring Strapping Young Lad, his most successful project, until 2003, before pulling the plug on SYL entirely in 2007.

While it has some classic Devin cuts, "Ocean Machine" is an album for people who are digging deep into his sizable catalog to see where some of his best ideas came from. It's not a starting place for the new, and it will not interest the casual fan, but it is a worthy entry that shows an artist shedding the shields of humor and anger in an effort to find himself and his potential, in order to create something genuine and sincere.

HunterD | 3/5 |

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