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DEVIN TOWNSEND

Experimental/Post Metal • Canada


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Devin Townsend biography
DEVIN TOWNSEND, possibly more widely known as the frontman for the extreme metal act STRAPPING YOUNG LAD, began creating solo albums in 1997.

Sometimes referred to as the 'Mad Scientist of Metal', TOWNSEND produces a wide variety of music. This ranges from soft ambience designed, as he has stated, to put the listener to sleep, to high levels of thrash and extreme metal reminiscent of SYL.
His works often feature a 'wall of sound', built by adding many layers of guitars and keyboards that are playing in unison or harmony. The end result is a number of carefully produced and mixed albums that favor high-end sound systems.

His first solo album, 'Ocean Machine: Biomech' (1997), was actually originally simply titled 'Biomech' and the band project labeled OCEAN MACHINE. However, on subsequent releases in most countries, the one-shot band name was incorporated into the title, and TOWNSEND's name was affixed to the record. Next came his first solo album proper, 1998's 'Infinity'. However, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and suffering with severe depression, TOWNSEND left the album only partly finished, filling in the song gaps with other demos. Rebounding from this struggle, he wrote 'Physicist' in 2000, creating a sort of pop-metal release featuring the members of his band STRAPPING YOUNG LAD. His 2001 project, 'Terria', features some of his most complicated and deep production, incorporating many sounds from nature into the recording, and stands as one of his most well-known and most critically acclaimed albums.

His next solo project, THE DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND, began in 2003 with the release of 'Accelerated Evolution'. Adding drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen, guitarist Brian Waddell, bassist Mike Young, and keyboardist Dave Young, TOWNSEND decided to start releasing albums once more with a full-time band rather than merely studio musicians. Taking a dramatic turn from the style of 'Terria', TOWNSEND adopted a much more band-oriented feel, reducing the amount of atmosphere and increasing the level of accessibility of the music.

As a side project during this time, TOWNSEND stitched together the fierce ambient 'Devlab' album in 2004. The line-up of THE DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND continued for several years as a functional touring outfit. The collaboration concluded with the 2006 album 'Synchestra' - though this release marked the first time the same lineup had been present for two albums in a row. That same year, he released 'The Hummer', another ...
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AddictedAddicted
Inside Out U.S. 2009
Audio CD$10.09
$6.78 (used)
InfinityInfinity
Extra tracks
Inside Out U.S. 2003
Audio CD$8.99
$8.99 (used)
Presents: Ziltoid the OmniscientPresents: Ziltoid the Omniscient
Inside Out 2007
Audio CD$15.96
$8.88 (used)
KiKi
Inside Out Music 2009
Audio CD$11.59
$6.87 (used)
PhysicistPhysicist
Inside Out U.S. 2003
Audio CD$10.61
$10.00 (used)
DeconstructionDeconstruction
Inside Out U.S. 2011
Audio CD$8.95
$7.99 (used)
SynchestraSynchestra
Inside Out U.S. 2006
Audio CD$9.99
$9.71 (used)
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DEVIN TOWNSEND discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

DEVIN TOWNSEND top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.05 | 235 ratings
Ocean Machine: Biomech
1997
3.67 | 161 ratings
Infinity
1998
2.95 | 120 ratings
Physicist
2000
4.23 | 536 ratings
Terria
2001
3.90 | 185 ratings
Accelerated Evolution (The Devin Townsend Band)
2003
2.22 | 66 ratings
Devlab
2004
4.05 | 295 ratings
Synchestra (The Devin Townsend Band)
2006
2.61 | 62 ratings
Hummer
2006
4.20 | 468 ratings
Ziltoid the Omniscient
2007
3.83 | 263 ratings
Ki (Devin Townsend Project)
2009
3.89 | 274 ratings
Addicted (Devin Townsend Project)
2009
3.90 | 355 ratings
Deconstruction (Devin Townsend Project)
2011
3.84 | 292 ratings
Ghost (Devin Townsend Project)
2011
4.00 | 258 ratings
Epicloud (Devin Townsend Project)
2012
3.77 | 118 ratings
Casualties of Cool
2014
3.78 | 79 ratings
Z
2014

DEVIN TOWNSEND Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.41 | 17 ratings
Official Bootleg
1999
3.48 | 22 ratings
Unplugged
2011
4.54 | 37 ratings
By A Thread - Live In London 2011
2012
4.77 | 31 ratings
The Retinal Circus
2013

DEVIN TOWNSEND Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.59 | 26 ratings
The Retinal Circus
2013

DEVIN TOWNSEND Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.38 | 16 ratings
Ass Sordid Demos I
1999
3.33 | 12 ratings
Ass Sordid Demos II
2004
4.59 | 17 ratings
Contain Us
2011

DEVIN TOWNSEND Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.57 | 34 ratings
Christeen + 4 Demos
1999

DEVIN TOWNSEND Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Ghost (Devin Townsend Project) by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Studio Album, 2011
3.84 | 292 ratings

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Ghost (Devin Townsend Project)
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by TCat
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is what Devin Townsend sounds like with the wall of guitar layers taken out, lush, beautiful, soothing, relaxing. You could call it ambient, but it's not minimalism because most of the tracks here are very full and layered. The vocals are similar to the sound you hear in the song "Deep Peace" from his masterpiece album "Terria" but this time instead of one song, you get a full album of music that sounds like this. Some compare it to Enya's sound, and I suppose it is to some extent, but not as much as what others have suggested. The layering effect here is what reminds one of that Enya sound. Others call it New Age-y, but I disagree with this completely, except for the one throw away track "Monsoon" which is the one embarrassing track on here. This, for the most part, is music you have to be in the mood for, but when you are, it is some of the most heavenly music you will find, and it's coming from the same guy that plays music that puts your speakers and eardrums in danger, though always in an immensely pleasing way.

It's true that there isn't a lot of progressive metal here or progressive rock for that matter. But it is inventive and it's some of the best mellow music I have heard in a long, long time. Well produced and orchestrated, it floats along freely, sometimes surprising the listener with a few upbeat passages and songs, like in the title track (after an ambient opening) and "Blackberry" (which also incorporates a banjo and a driving Americana type beat) , but mostly soft with some of the most beautiful harmonics imaginable. Devin still incorporates layers in his vocals and occasionally uses female vocals in there too.

The atmosphere remains through the album, and even though I would rather hear an album from him that utilizes his various types of music because I would rather have variety, I still find this very enjoyable and relaxing. This album is part of a series of albums where Devin concentrates on one style throughout, and, in fact, this was released at the same time as the album "Deconstruction" which is the exact opposite of this album full of noise and over the top metal. Other albums in the series include a more poppier side or more experimental. I would rather hear them interspersed on an album together and then linked together inventively through ingenious composition methods. This is not driving music, and is really at it's most effective if you want to relax to lush soundscapes that really approach early Porcupine Tree instrumentals a lot more than it does new age music. I also hear some similarity to the more ambient works of Ulver, which anyone who has heard them knows that their music is much more inventive than just plain new age music, and that is the case with this album.

Simply beautiful is how to describe this album. Listen to it and let yourself get lost in it's lushness and layers of atmosphere. I can't quite give it 5 stars, because it is missing variety, but it is one of the best atmospheric albums I have heard that concentrates one type of music. 4.5 stars rounded down to 4 because of the variety issue. But I still love this!

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 Z by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.78 | 79 ratings

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Z
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by Alucard Draco

4 stars Well what can I say about possibly one of the busiest guys in music! I have pretty much most his music including the Strapping Young Lad years, so could this be a biased review or an honest one? Recently I have been following three bands - meaning pretty much getting all their back catalogue. Glass Hammer, Magma and Devin Townsend to me have created original sounding music and consistently keep releasing albums that never sound like they are sounding samey or not creating a new sound. When people say Glass Hammer are a modern day Yes, well does that mean they do good sounding Symphonic keyboard led sounds? Because the tunes themselves are vastly different from Yes which is a very important point.

So back to Devin's Z2, and yes unmistakably it is rather than any new type of sound it continues the same Townsend signature which is the Wall of Sound over many layers, but tune wise it's just so obviously different. Disc 1 is Sky Blue and any Epicloud fan will lap this up straight away as Pop Metal made like this is always going to be awesome. His style just keeps on being refined and tweaked to feel new but always that epic layered and addictive energy I so love in Devin's music.

So Disc 2 Dark Matters or Ziltoid the Omniscient part 2 is of the crazy and scary preference like the first Ziltoid the Omniscient album. One has to listen to this style so many times as I am just in awe at how much he crams into his songs - I mean the amount of instruments, samples, effects and background music in most of these songs is just incredible and hard to appreciate unless you listen to it multiple times and the fact that all this is thought up by pretty much one man is just mind blowing.

There are no unessesary fillers and you are just absorbed into his mind for Two hours and are just left breathless and wonder how a guy who seems to have written so many songs over the last couple of years and countless albums before them can keep on succeeding with quality of such a high standard just baffles my mind. So I should give this album five, but the problem is and it's a good problem is that his earlier albums like Terria and Ocean Machine and all of the Infinity experience is what I call perfect in every conceivable way stops this being a five, but believe me when I say this shows that Devin Townsend is definitely not slowing down and dipping in quality in any way.

I'll be seeing him on the Z2 tour and to hear this album live is going to be a mind blowing experience! So just keep on Progging and may good music live forever.

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 Z by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.78 | 79 ratings

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Z
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by progbethyname

5 stars If I were you I wouldn't hold back one little bit in order to explore and listen to this wonderful, detailed and creative piece of music that Mr. Devin Townsend has so spectacularly laid out here. It has become very clearly to me that Devin Townsend really uses his creative music guises to represent and showcase his unbelievably layered personality...or personalities I should say through his music. Townsend simply doesn't hold back on the emotional front. Certainly, the kind of music Devin has created with the Ziltoid series can deliver goose bumps and flat-out make you laugh all at once! That is what is so special and unique about his music, especially with the Ziltoid creation.

Z2 is a treasure and certainly one of the very best albums to come out in 2014. Expect that true Heavy-Devy loud sound where it seems everything on the sound console is set on "high". Not a big fan of that sound recording approach, but somehow for this particular record(s) "sky blue" and of course "Dark Matters" it works oddly enough.

Top honors for Z2. It simply just has that "ludicrous speed" to it that chugs in your brain for hours. You'll find yourself humming this album even in the most weirdest of places.

5/5

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 Physicist by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Studio Album, 2000
2.95 | 120 ratings

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Physicist
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by FragileKings
Prog Reviewer

2 stars Whenever I get into a band or artist and like them to the point that I decide to get all the studio albums I know there will be an album or two that fail to grab me. With other favourite bands like Rush, Yes, and Deep Purple, those albums tend to have been released between 1987 and 1990. With Devin Townsend, the album I like least is this one, an album that is almost unanimously one of his least impressive a midst a catalogue rife with impressive albums. The man himself counts this as his biggest solo effort flop and the backing band (the Strapping Young Lad guys) are also unanimous in their dislike for the album.

The problem is mostly with the production and not the music itself. Devin's early albums are not as fine tuned production wise as his later stuff; however, "Physicist" is really a muddied effort. The project was initially conceived by a joint venture with Jason Newsted who was with Metallica at the time, but Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield did not want any member of Metallica involved in projects outside the band. Devin decided to continue on his own and called in the members of Strapping Young Lad, Devin's flagship band, to record the music. His desire was to combine the bright pop metal of Def Leppard with thrash metal. The thrash element is there without a doubt. But the bright pop metal appears only in the form of some keyboards which in most cases do not work well with the rest of the music. Devin would later get the sound right on his Devin Townsend Project albums like "Epicloud", which features a much better version of the "Physicist" track "Kingdom".

If you listen to this album along with some other Devin Townsend albums or other modern prog albums, you will instantly notice that the sound quality is severely lacking. The other day, though, I listened to this album first thing in the morning while commuting to work and it sounded better than when placed against a background of superior recordings. The thrashier tracks likes "Namaste" and "Death" don't sound too bad if you like thrash metal. I also rather like how the keyboards add some melody to songs like "The Complex" and "Jupiter". "Kingdom" is good here. It's just that the song sounds so much better on "Epicloud" which I heard first.

The big "prog epic" here is said to be "Planet Rain". As the longest track it does have room to move and change rhythm and atmosphere, which it does in roughly four distinct parts, but I don't feel that it is anything particularly exciting. Perhaps for those who don't care for thrash too much this is a welcome respite. But compared to Devin's "Terria" and "Synchestra" or even "Biomech: Ocean Machine", this song needs some help.

Ultimately, this is a thrash metal album and there's not much here that illustrates Devin's more prog or post metal side. As a thrash album it's okay but the bright keyboards don't always improve the song quality. As a progressive album it seems that this is more of an experiment that didn't work out as well as it was intended. From time to time it's alright to listen through on its own. But Devin Townsend has much better music with much better production elsewhere.

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 Casualties of Cool by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.77 | 118 ratings

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Casualties of Cool
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by FragileKings
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Welcome all. Welcome to a story about a traveller who becomes trapped on a barren moon that feeds off his fear. A traveller who discovers and old radio with which he can hear old songs played. He becomes enamoured by the voices and from them he gains the strength to overcome his fears. He becomes aware of a woman's spirit here, too, and with his strength, he frees both her and himself. Yes, a bit weird, I know.

What began as the next installation in the Devin Townsend Project became a project of its own. Casualties of Cool, featuring Devin Townsend and Ch Aimee Dorval sharing lead vocals, is in the words of Devin himself, 'like haunted Johnny Cash music.' Indeed the first few songs will surprise anyone acquainted with Devin's usual brand of work, even if 'Ghost' is the only album you've ever heard. Devin has recreated that lonely but rugged soul feeling of old Johnny Cash so well that it often feels as though the guitar and drum parts (supplied beautifully by Morgan Agren) were lifted directly off old albums and neatly slotted in with Devin's soft, low whispering vocal and Ch's sultry and dusky voice. Add some eerie space effects and haunting wind sounds, a bit of saxophone and some wooden flute courtesy of Kat Epple off of 'Ghost', and not to forget the background radio voices, and you've got nearly all of the album summed up.

As with 'Ghost', there's no hint of heavy metal on here at all. The songs are this gentle quick-paced shuffle of drums and reverb-steeped, 50's clean electric guitar and sometimes spacey effects style, or slow and gentle and moody. One of the highlights for me is the third track, 'Flight', which is simply a wonderful example of her vocal prowess, which is saying a lot as she really shines in many songs. Her performance is beautiful, and listening to it I feel like I would want to see and hear her perform this live and I would be transfixed to her. If I could compare her vocals to anyone it would be Dusty Springfield. Ch Aimee has that same allure. At times I can see her on stage in a small club, a tight-fitting dress that goes from her neck to her ankles, her hair tied back in a neat bun, her eyes closed before the old Sinatra-style mic, and her arms at her sides, her body swaying gently to the music with a motion that goes from the subtle motion of her knees, and not her hips. Ch Aimee appeared on Devin's album 'Ki' but she was not nearly well-enough used for her talent as she is here. Though small club jazz is not my usual preference, if she were singing I would want to hear it.

This is a fairly mellow album even when it is upbeat, and there are plenty of ambient music moments, particularly on 'Pier' and the latter half of 'Deathscope'. 'Hejda' and 'Pure' give us more of Kat Epple's wooden flute and are the closest moments on this album to 'Ghost'. I find that tracks 1 to 9 keep that spacey country rock sound throughout most of the songs, but from track 10 the atmosphere changes to more acoustic guitar mostly. 'The Bridge' is another standout moment with over 8 minutes of incredible music that is quite different from the rest of the album. It has Devin and a choir singing along with acoustic guitar and strings. The music ventures into a 'Kashmir'-type of eastern sound at times and the voices of the choir sometimes rise and build and then ease back again. As I was walking home listening to this yet again the other night, I felt as though a strong invisible hand had pressed supportively against my back, lifted me slowly off the ground a few centimetres, and gingerly set me down again. When the voices and music reach their most powerful moments, it almost sounds like this was intended for 'Ziltoid: Dark Matters', but the swell of energy subsides once again.

I bought the double album disc which features a second disc of alternate versions, outtakes, and material intended for 'Ghost 2'. I have actually only listened to that CD once through. It was simply too much music along with several other Devin Townsend and Strapping Young Lad albums that were piling into my mailbox at that time. So, I can't comment honestly on that. But the digipak is very artistic. The CD booklet is mostly several double-spread pages illustrating the landscape of the barren moon, which is only rocks, bone, and dust. We also see the feet and hands of our traveller as he sits looking at photos he found in a wooden box. I found the bones and dust interesting because at the end of 'Ziltoid: Dark Matters' narrator Bill Courage mentions a lone moon of bones and dust.

It is incredible to think that Devin released three albums in 2014: 'Casualties of Cool' and the double album of 'Zed Squared' with 'Ziltoid: Dark Matters' and the Devin Townsend Project's 'Sky Blue'. Add the Casualties bonus disc along with 'Epicloud' and the bonus disc 'Epiclouder' and 'Ghost' and 'Deconstruction' plus the two discs of bonus material on the 'Contain Us' boxset and you can see that Devin has been exceedingly prolific in the studio between 2011 and 2014. His latest post on his website mentions a few other projects he wants to do if he can arrange the time, including, 'a bass-driven apocalypse record, a meditative record, a symphony, more Casualties, more DTP and a kind of big band thing.' I also read something about an Icelandic choir somewhere, too. Whatever it is he gets around to doing, I'm sure it's going to be a well-crafted piece of work. As for 'Casualties of Cool', if you are in the mood for this it is really out there.

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 Unplugged by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Live, 2011
3.48 | 22 ratings

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Unplugged
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by HunterD

3 stars Devin Townsend is an interesting beast when doing acoustic interpretations of his songs, he's never been afraid to tackle his heavier material without an electric guitar, even when it doesn't really work. For this record, you won't be hearing him bust out "Juular" or "Love?," but he does make some gutsy choices, such as "Funeral" off of "Ocean Machine." For the most part, though, he sticks to material that lends itself to acoustic interpretations, consisting mostly of material from "Ki" and "Ghost," so this release appeals mostly to fans of the new age side of Devin. For the crowd-pleaser, he finishes it off with his "More Than Words-esque" ballad, "Ih-Ah!" A soft treat for the fanatical DevHead.

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 Physicist by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Studio Album, 2000
2.95 | 120 ratings

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Physicist
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by HunterD

2 stars Like "Ocean Machine," Devin Townsend's "Physicist" was an album that originally began as a separate project, but ended up as another solo record. Originally envisioned as a band called "Fizzicist," the record was going to be a collaboration between Townsend and Jason Newsted, however Metallica's notorious "no side projects" policy of the era prevented the partnership from happening. Never one to let a music-making opportunity go to waste, Townsend assembled his Strapping Young Lad bandmates in the studio to make "Physicist," an album that is to Strapping what Steve Hackett's "Voyage of the Acolyte" is to Genesis.

The thing that jumps out about "Physicist" is that it's probably Devin's worst-sounding record. His talent as a producer has never been in question, however, by his own admission, the production is completely botched here, with many otherwise good songs marred by murky, muddy sound. Townsend would later rectify this error somewhat, by saving the album's most beautiful and memorable song, "Kingdom," from the slop, giving it a polish for Devin Townsend Project's "Epicloud."

"Physicist" is also a torn album. It wants to be an extreme Strapping Young Lad record, but it also desires that spiritual tone of the final act of "Infinity." Songs like "Namaste," "Victim," and "Material" sound like Strapping Young Lad love songs, while "Death," "Devoid," and "The Complex" seem more comfortable with in their heavy shoes. The big, prog finish comes in the form of "Planet Rain," but it's disappointingly tedious.

Ultimately this is an odd duck in Townsend's solo career, there's plenty here to like, but it feels like rushed and confused as to what it wants to be. It's the one album I that comes to mind in Townsend's output that begs for a remaster to fix the dull production and give some of these songs the spit-shine they need.

What did come to mind when revisiting "Physicist," was that it served to highlight that despite Townsend's neglect toward Strapping Young Lad, the specter of his popular extreme metal project would always haunt him, even long after its death.

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 Infinity by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Studio Album, 1998
3.67 | 161 ratings

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Infinity
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by HunterD

4 stars The first time I saw Devin Townsend live, I had no idea who he was, I think I'd heard of Strapping Young Lad, but that was about it. When he took the stage, he busted out "Truth" with his band, commanding the audience with his powerful charisma, and I suddenly heard everything that was missing from my life in metal and progressive music at that point in my life. "Truth" was like taking a trip through space, launching me out of the solar system and around the Milky Way. It served as the perfect introduction to Devin Townsend, and it also served as a perfect opener to his first great solo release, "Infinity."

"Infinity" was the first of Townsend's solo albums with Gene Hoglan on the drums, whose presence provides a solid anchor to the proceedings, as a strong drummer with a personality to match Devin's was what "Ocean Machine" needed, but lacked. "Infinity" is also more daring and varied than its predecessor, taking influences from Broadway musicals on "Bad Devil" and "Wild Colonial Boy," and delving into vocal experimentation in the vein of Mike Patton with "Ants." But most importantly, most of the songs feel ironed and pressed, better written and better realized here than before. "Truth" starts us off with an explosive instrumental, before the pop-hooks of "Christeen," into the goofy dance number of "Bad Devil," then finally into the spacey head-banger, "War." Ear-worm after ear-worm.

It's seemingly relentless until "Soul Driven Cadillac" and "Ants" take more experimental asides, before the operatics of "Wild Colonial Boy" and the beauty of "Life is all Dynamics" and "Unity." "Noisy Pink Bubbles" is a coda that recalls Frank Zappa, but "Unity" is such a perfect finisher, you don't need something so strange as a chaser.

Apparently the version of "Infinity" that's out there was put out before it was "finished" due to time constraints, and what the album could have been can be glimpsed on the "Infinity EP." The album that was made is, however, the one that was made, and the power of the songs therein is evident in how they've managed to consistently stick around Townsend's live set. I'd say the songs are perhaps greater than the whole record as a unit, portions of the album seem to go together beautifully ("Life is all Dynamics" and "Unity" could be one song), while songs like "Christeen" and "Bad Devil" feel like independent singles. If there's one thing missing in "Infinity" that "Ocean Machine" had, it's a sense of cohesion, but I suppose that's a problem that comes with releasing a version of the album that isn't the whole you had envisioned.

"Infinity," in its present form, is still a great album, and one of Devin Townsend's signature works that defines this period in his career.

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 Ocean Machine: Biomech by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover Studio Album, 1997
4.05 | 235 ratings

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Ocean Machine: Biomech
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by 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.

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 The Retinal Circus by TOWNSEND, DEVIN album cover DVD/Video, 2013
4.59 | 26 ratings

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The Retinal Circus
Devin Townsend Experimental/Post Metal

Review by HunterD

4 stars "The Retinal Circus" is the sort of in-depth, live retrospective that a fan of any artist dreams of, and Devin Townsend does it only as he can, in a silly, surrealist manner. Steve Vai narrates a loose narrative about a dreamer named Harold, tied together by selections from Devin's considerable body of work, and the proceedings are acted out by a Cirque du Soliel slew of acrobats, choir members, and dancers.

When Devin dives into one of his crazy concepts, be it the coffee-obsessed Ziltoid, or the boney landscapes of Casualties of Cool, the proceedings always manage to garner a commitment from his fan base. This is why he can announce something as off-kilter as Casualties, and his fans are more than happy to fork over five times the asking price.

This is why Devin needs to learn not to blink.

"The Retinal Circus" offers a perfect live audio and video experience for the fans. You get the sunny stuff from albums like "Epicloud" and "Ocean Machine," some dark stuff from records such as "Deconstruction," and the goofy stuff from "Ziltoid the Omnicient." God bless him, he even does a couple of Strapping Young Lad songs for headbangers who miss that stuff, and we know he probably didn't want to do that, but thank the good Lord, he grinned and screamed a couple of those old favorites for us anyway. There's nothing from great records like "Terria," but you can't cram 'em all in there.

Yet Devin doesn't seem sure if the whole concept of the show is working or not, and retreats into self-depreciation in that skittish manner he tends to do in interviews. No one's asking him to show Kanye West-levels of confidence in his work, but Devin seems like a guy who has difficulty taking a compliment. He doesn't need to slag off his live concept to appease those who may not think it's cool, it's icing on the music, but he does anyway as an unnecessary defense mechanism. It's the one thing that mars an otherwise brilliant showcase for his unique career.

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