Saturday, June 2, 2012

Artist Showcase: Devin Townsend, Part 1

Devin Townsend. Where do I begin? This is a musician who's been all over the place throughout his increasingly-large discography, and no matter which genre of music he attempts next, he performs it with the same perfectionist quality and attention-to-detail that'd be expected of the masters of the genre. So, let's start from the very beginning.

NOTE: Even though Devin Townsend has had many guest appearances and helped out with other albums in small ways, this Artist Showcase will focus only on the ones that the Dev had a major role in, and will be listed in chronological order. Sorry, no love for Front Line Assembly in this post!


So, when Devin first began his initial foray into the music industry, he was but a strapping young lad (I MADE A FUNNEH) of the tender age of 21.

He was awfully ambitious for his age.

 Devin performed all of the lead vocals on the album, and does an astonishingly good job at it as well, with his work on this album being home to some of the highest notes on his recorded vocal range to date. On some songs, like Touching Tongues, he showcases a bit of Freddy Mercury influence, and on others, he embarks on a style wholly his own. Though not flawless, Devin's vocal delivery on this album is stellar, and a promising hint on the rest of his vocal work to come.


Disillusioned by his experiences with the music industry when he was with Vai, and his constant rejection from various record labels during his short-lived stint as the guitarist for a British hard rock group known as The Wildhearts, Devin decided to turn his anger into a productive outlet, and formed an extreme metal project named Strapping Young Lad. Heavily inspired by extreme and industrial metal (more specifically, Fear Factory's debut cut Soul Of A New Machine, which blended industrial and death metal), Devin set out to record this album, not for any perks for himself, but solely as an elaborate joke at the expense of the music industry, one of the album's prime targets lyrically. Although the album was the product of sheer angst and anger, it never took itself too seriously, beginning a trend of subtle (and not-so-subtle) self-referential humour that would persist throughout the project, and even through Devin's solo material. The album was mostly a solo effort, but was performed with the aid of Adrian White of Front Line Assembly on drums, and Jed Simon on backing guitars. Jed Simon would remain a part of Strapping Young Lad throughout the project's lifespan. 


This album also marked the beginning of Devin's trademark wall of sound production, inspired by Frank Zappa, but with his own over-the-top flair to it, and with an almost perfectionist quality to it. Each background noise, every frequency had its own special place within the song structure, a trait which would carry through even today. The album lives up to its name, as the songs are unceasingly brutal, aside from a few entirely tongue-in-cheek sections, such as the bonus track, which at first glance seems to be too happy for its own good... One problem with the album, however, is that it was very much an album to be taken as a whole, focusing on the general intensity and sentiment of the album as a whole, rather than individual songs, although the album did have a few hits. Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing is one of the more underrated releases in Devin's catalogue, some would argue rightfully so, including Devin himself, but the sentiment remains as relevant as ever, especially in today's world of cookie-cutter pop artists and exploitation. 


With a band name and album title like that, you can tell that this is going to be the darkest Devin Townsend work yet.

Punky Br├╝ster was a one-off project helmed by Devin and brought to fruition with the help of Adrian White, fresh off of his previous work on HaaRHT, and John Harder on bass. Continuing the trend of jokes at the expense of the music industry, Cooked on Phonics tells the tale of the death metal band Cryptic Coroner, from South-Central Poland, who decide to sell out and become a punk band. The entire album was a jab at sell-outs, the very nature of selling out, and the general absurdity of the music industry. The music was played in a typical, almost parody-ish punk style, with the story being told through the lyrics, and occasionally through a narrator. Much like Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing, the album was much more about the general concept rather than the individual songs. Punky Br├╝ster is another oft-overlooked entry into the Devin Townsend discography.

Welp, that wraps it up for this first entry in the Devin Townsend Artist Showcase. The next part will kick off with the section of Devin's catalogue where the real gems start showing up. Good times!

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