Monday, July 23, 2012

Artist Showcase: Devin Townsend, Part 2

So, in the last part of this artist showcase, we began with the really early releases of varying quality, but it was in 1997 that Devin began the endless flow of amazing albums that persists to this day. It all began with...


It was after the release of Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing that Devin began getting offers to tour, which obviously required a few other people to perform in the band, because performing live as a one-man project is hard, y'know?

Take it from Varg, it's best to not even bother.

After the touring, the lineup that Devin had brought together somehow stuck, and it ended up being the permanent lineup for Strapping Young Lad. This lineup included Jed Simon returning on guitar (naturally), Byron Stroud, formerly of a little-known band named Caustic Thought, on bass duty, and Gene Hoglan, previously playing for Death and Death Angel, on drums. 

 AKA The Human Drum Machine. C'mon, try to tell me that that's all natural fat after years of playing some of the best and most technical metal drumming ever.

With City, SYL took the industrial influence from HaaRHT and went all out with it, even going as far as to cover a Cop Shoot Cop song, while still maintaining the signature GLORIOUS EARRAPE sound that they were becoming known for. City was released on February 11th, 1997, and to this day has a reputation as one of the best industrial metal albums ever. It was SYL's most industrial release, while also being their most thrashy. It would also be arguably their most popular release, due in part to the music video produced for Detox, and many songs from it becoming concert staples. To this day, you'd be hard-pressed to find any extreme metal album rivaling the sheer chaos and extremity of City.

The beat starts here.
Never has there been a song title that so accurately reflected the listener's response.

After releasing such a magnificent slab of ear-bleeding madness, one'd probably be left wondering "Where do they go from here? How could Devin possibly top himself now?" 



This album is where the Great Divide between Strapping Young Lad fans and Devin Townsend fans began. Ocean Machine was a short-lived project, much like Punky Bruster, that made one album and promptly vanished. Fronted by Devin, as per the norm, Ocean Machine had JR Harder (from the aforementioned Punky Bruster) on bass and Marty Chapman (who seems to have dropped off the face of the music industry after this album) on drums. While nowhere near as brutal or technical as Strapping Young Lad, Devin maintained the attention to detail, utilizing the Wall of Sound technique in an entirely different manner. Some of Devin's best songwriting throughout his career can be seen on this album, with the music forming a loose concept of life, death, and someplace in between. Some songs are upbeat and almost poppy (how Life never became a #1 Single still escapes me), while others are moodier and more epic in scope (the ending trifecta of songs, but more on that in a moment). Some of the songs lead into each other, and some have intro tracks of their own to segue between the last track and the next. Near the end of the album, it hits you. The Holy Trinity of Ocean Machine: Funeral, Bastard, and The Death Of Music. Each of these three tracks is around ten minutes in length, and each flows into the next, creating a trilogy of sorts. 

Funeral starts things off in an upbeat-ish manner. While not quite as upbeat as Life, Funeral maintains the enchanting, almost dream-like quality of the album. That track alone is a musical journey, but the trilogy still has two songs to go. Next up comes Bastard, a track separated into two parts, according to the booklet. The first half revolves around a riff much darker than that of its predecessor, evoking the atmosphere of a rainy night in the city. The second half almost seems like a light at the end of a tunnel, and just when things start to really get going, it fades into The Death of Music, a 12 minute ambient opus, driven almost entirely by a basic computerized beat, various samples, and Devin's vocals. Devin's vocal performance on this track needs to be heard to be believed, showcasing all of his abilities and creating the most emotionally-resonant track on the album. Although it sounds repetitive from this description, the song is just so all-encompassing that one is drawn into its atmosphere, transferring itself to the listener by its end. 

After The Death Of Music ends, an (originally) hidden track, Things Beyond Things begins to close off the album. Things Beyond Things is a simple song, written around a basic set of chords and Devin's vocals. It's a great way to close off the experience that is Ocean Machine - Biomech, ending the album with a peaceful rumination on the events of the album, ending with the statement that "these things inside are all just things". The journey is at an end, and all is well... or is it?

Ocean Machine is one of the greatest non-70s-prog-style Prog Rock albums ever released in my humble opinion. This is just one of those albums that words don't do justice to at all, and needs to be experienced in full to realize the magnitude of it all. 

And so we cover another small, but VERY important chunk of Devin Townsend's discography. As is apparent, Devin's road to musical greatness truly kicks off at this point in his career, setting the stage for DOZENS OF ALBUMS, EACH MORE GLORIOUS THAN THE LAST AHHHHHH

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