Thursday, July 14, 2011

Devin Townsend Project Completes His Quadrilogy Journey

Canada’s Robert Townsend was like many other teenage metal heads in Canada. One day, he wanted to be on that stage rocking the masses. Well, here we are some twenty odd years later and not only is Robert rocking the masses; he has become one of the most respected musicians in the industry today. A man of diverse styles and tastes with one thing in common: maximum rock.

Robert’s early days included being the front man and creative mind for The Strapping Young Lads, then getting the opportunity to sing with axe legend Steve Via and also playing guitar in the UK band The Wildhearts. Over his twenty year career, he has released a catalog that runs the gauntlet in styles and is always far from being boring.

His much heralded quadrilogy has finally been completed with the release of two new CDs; Deconstruction and Ghost. They follow up the first two installments which include 2009’s Ki and Addicted. Those two releases saw Devin run the gauntlet in styles and make major steps in his career. These two new releases seem to be keeping in that vain. Devin set out on this emotionally therapeutic ride after giving up drinking and smoking four years and realizing how he was restraining himself creatively.

Part three is entitled Deconstruction and it is a thunderous assault of metal and the insanity that comes along with a Devin at his finest. The all-star loaded “who’s who” list of guests include Oderus Urungus (GWAR), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Fredrik Thordendal (Meshuggah), Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan) and others.

Devin always loves to include his sense of humor in his recordings and the title track is one example of such. It starts out with the sound of someone straining and then followed by the sound of a fart, yes a fart. That is followed up by the chanting of “cheeseburger” and you can hear that he is in rare form. Let that not take away from the sheer epicness of this track. The riffs on this track are heavy and intense and the drums follow them up and add to the intensity. Urungus from GWAR has a great appearance on this track vocally that just fits like a glove.

One track that seems to be getting plenty of initial reaction is the almost seventeen minute monstrosity called “The Might Masturbator”. Devin does provide vocals on this one, along with Puciato from The Dillinger Escape Plan. There are so many twists and turns on this song, both musically and vocally. It is one of the more interesting songs on the album and one that only Devin could pull off.

Overall, the album is aggressive and does vault from one style to another, but the main, consistent element is that Devin ties it all together and it is intense. It has everything from a full orchestra to an all-star list of guests to a choir to Devi supplying some of his best guitar work to date.

So, let us now look at the fourth and final installment in the quadrilogy. It is entitled Ghost and it is the complete opposite of Deconstruction in style, yet remaining just as complex and ballsy. It seems as if the madman style is gone and the softer side of Devin has made its way to surface. The outrageous lyrics and screaming vocals are gone and in their place are a calming sense of tone and vocal delivery.

The album could be best described as a venture in new age or relaxation music. It is a beautiful recording, but the brutality of Deconstruction is nowhere to be found. The thrashing electric guitar licks have been replaced with flutes, acoustic guitars and there is even a banjo on one track. This would be a hard sell to most metal heads, but I have to admit that it is just as good as anything Devin has ever done.
Devin mentioned in a press release for the two new albums that there were four key emotional pieces to his growth after giving up smoking and drinking and this album may represent the calmer, softer aspect of those emotions.

The songs are somewhat epic in length as several clock in around eight minutes in length. The songs showcase a delicate side of Devin that is just as metal in one sense as anything else he has ever done. His guitar work sets a tone of calmness and it seems to flow that way from track to track. A few songs such as the title track seem to pick up the pace just a bit, but the album is somewhat uniform in style.

So, how can the Devin Townsend Project release two albums on the same day that are such complete opposites of each other? If the listener would take the time to give both of these an honest listen, they would be able to tell that they are very similar in many ways. Most diehard Devin fans will listen to both, but the sad thing is that the average metal head will probably ditch Ghost for Deconstruction. It’s a shame because both albums are equally amazing and worthy of being heard.

The Black Dahlia Murder Unleash Ritual

Detroit’s The Black Dahlia Murder first assaulted our senses back in 2003 with their debut album Unhallowed. The band began crafting and soon established their uncompromising style of melodic death metal with that release. The band is set to release their fifth full length album Ritual and to also take their game of melodic brutality to a whole new level.

The band lost longtime guitarist John Kempainen before the recording of 2009’s Deflorate and saw Ryan Knight join the ranks. While that album was an epic release for the band, I don’t think Ryan’s full impact has been felt until now. A respected musician in his own right, Ryan has pushed the band and gave them a sense of comfort to try some new things that have been mere thoughts and ideas up until this point.

Admit it, if you are a long time fan of The Black Dahlia Murder, did you ever think that you would hear a string section or a piano on one of their albums? Well, unless they were blowing it up or torturing it? The opening seconds of the lead off track “A Shrine to Madness” will have you thinking you popped the wrong CD into your player. It opens with a dark and somber string section that erupts into the brutality we have come to know and love. The second track “Moonlight Equilibrium” jumps back into more of the classic sound that the band has established for themselves.

“Conspiring with the Damned” is somewhat of an interesting track. It’s a bit more melodic for the band, especially with the breakdown midway through. “Carbonized in Cruciform” shows experimenting again and this time it’s with a piano intro. It is short and a bit odd, but it works. Don’t worry though; I think they destroyed the piano shortly after this intro for it is not heard anywhere else on the album.
My personal favorite track on the album is one that shows a lot of growth for the band and really opens the door for continued expansion. The song is “Malenchanments of the Necros” and it may be the most complex and progressive piece that the band has ever attempted up to this point. A melodic change of pace with some very interesting guitar work, yet it still remains true to the aggressive nature of their sound.

“Blood in the Ink” closes the album and it is another complex number. I think this is another standout number for the band in which they stretch and go just outside the box a bit without alienating their longtime fans. The string section, found in the opener “A Shine to Madness”, is back, but used in a different way. The strings are interwoven throughout the song and are beneficial to the song in a major way. It adds depth to the song and helps to transcend it to a new level and shows that the band is more than just one dimensional.

Is there anything that I can say negative about this album? Well, I am sure that there will be some hardcore fans who do not take to the introduction of a piano or a string section. I applaud the band for trying something new and I also think that it really adds to the songs. The dueling guitars of Ryan Knight and Brian Eschbach are tighter than ever and sound refreshingly hungry on this album. Drummer Shannon Lucas has stepped up his game big time and sounds better than ever. The underrated bass playing of Ryan Williams is just as solid as ever and Trevor Strnad’s vocals have not lost a step in their brutal onslaught.

Ryan Knight has definitely brought something to the band that has re-energized them, not that they needed it, and pushed them to a new level. It is more apparent on this release then 2009’s Deflorate and that may be because the band has been together longer in this formation and become tighter as a unit. Lead singer Trevor Strnad said in a press release that this album was “the most focused Black Dahlia Murder strike of all time” and one listen should prove that sentiment to all of the fans.