Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction

Despite being the Marmite of music, nobody - be they a fan or otherwise - can deny the insurmountable genius and talent of Devin Townsend. He's had an extensive and consistant career as a solo artist since 1997 as well as fronting the now-legendary sci-fi-esque Strapping Young Lad between 1994 and 2006 - widely regarded as one of the greatest, most frenzied metal acts to ever (dis?)grace music. After the release of "The New Black" and "Synchestra" in 2006, Devin put an end to Strapping Young Lad, quit drinking, quit drugs and decided to lay low for a number of years - releasing only the fantastic solo output "Ziltoid the Omniscient" in 2007. In 2009, Devin emerged from his hibernation a changed man... his trademark skullet hairstyle was gone, he was sober, more in line with his inner musician, and about to release the first installment in the Devin Townsend Project which he had entitled "Ki". It came as quite a shock to many fans, as "Ki" was a far cry from anything he'd ever done before - an almost entirely clean/acoustic rock album, only building in 'heaviness' as the album drew nearer it's end, hinting at what was to come.

The second album in the project, "Addicted", was released the same year and resumed familiar territory for fans - reminiscent of some of his solo works (partially in thanks to a re-recording of 'Hyperdrive' from the aforementioned "Ziltoid..." record), it was lauded as a rousing success and once again hinted vaguely at what was to come from the following two works. Finally, Devin Townsend released "Deconstruction" and "Ghost" as the final installements to the Devin Townsend Project - the former resembling his work with Strapping Young Lad, as is so often requested, and the latter being a completely clean ambient-acoustic record. Guess which one of those two this review is for! Admittedly, I had intended to write this review during the week of the album's release. Yet I've since struggled to find words to give "Deconstruction" justice... and I still continue to struggle, even as I type this. Grab yourself a cup of Earth's finest coffee my friends, this may well turn out to be the longest review I'll ever write.

There is so much going on here that it's nigh-on impossible to know where I could begin... but let's start with the album's concept, as this excerpt from Wikipedia explains;

"The album is focused around a man who is obsessed with finding the true nature of reality. In the process of this journey, he goes to Hell and meets the devil. The devil shows him the secrets of the universe, presenting a cheeseburger to him. However, being a vegetarian, the man cannot eat the cheeseburger, rendering his attempts at working out the true nature of reality pointless"

If that sounds offputting to you, I implore you to bear with me - though the concept of the album may seem utterly ridiculous, those who are fans of Devin Townsend's previous works will be aware that he never lets his silliness overwhelm the album's qualities. The 'story' is nothing more than an extremely daft metaphor, essentially saying that while people can search far and wide for a 'true purpose' and so on, it will often come back down to the most simplistic and benign of things... but cheeseburgers are funny, right? Even the fart samples in the title track do nothing to diminish anything, but more on those later... ahem.

Not to do a generic track-by-track rundown, but degrees of such a thing may be essential in this instance - see that tracklisting at the side of the screen? Notice all of those guest musicians? I rest my case! Opener 'Praise the Lowered' starts off "Deconstruction" with a false sense of security, beginning as an eerie and mellow piece before erupting in typical Hevy Devy fashion, bleeding slowly into 'Stand' - lyrically reflecting not only the character's willingness and attempts to discover the nature of reality, but mirroring Devin's own experiences with using drugs and alcohol to take him to a different place within his mind... a harrowing allusion to his time in Strapping Young Lad. Even at this point, so early on, it's apparent that this is far from conventional, normal, or anything else you've ever heard... remember the old saying, 'expect the unexpected'? Though that always applies to Devin's work, applying that here would still leave you shocked beyond belief as everything is so heavily layered, you'll still be hearing something you never noticed before on your 50th listen through the record. 'Stand' is very stop-start in it's approach, employing a brooding sense of uneasiness throughout it's verses whilst maintaining a rather slow tempo throughout - it's chorus refrain of "Some find Jesus/Some may ever even Stand" is often repeated, but never tiresome and Mikael Åkerfeldt's backing growls harden the impact. At over nine and a half minutes, it's surprisingly tolerable - don't worry, there're more long tracks to come, almost all of which are FAR longer!

The album's single 'Juular', for which there was a bizarre video made, picks up the pace with some soaring vocals, pummelling drumwork and even some orchestra and choirs in there! It's around this point where the record REALLY picks up and starts shifting from a mind-bending metal record to a full blown theatrical heavy metal extravaganza, literally sounding like the soundtrack for a Tim Burton movie if, you know... Devin Townsend was recording a deranged musical score for it. Seriously, that's exactly how it feels - backed up by the likes of 'Sumeria' and the grand colossus of the album, 'The Mighty Masturbator'... the latter of which clocks in at a staggering sixteen and a half minutes. No, that's not an error. Sixteen and a half minutes of unadulterated excellence the likes of which can only exist in Hevy Devy's world, changing styles, tempo, mood and technique countless times all complete with some occasional background 'commentary' from the almighty fourth-dimensional Ziltoid the Omniscient himself. I could write an entire review about 'The Mighty Masturbator' alone, it just radiates such a massive and overwhelming sense of grandeur, but alas, I cannot do so. Following such a huge track, 'Pandemic' takes us back into somewhat familiar territory once again with some all-out speed and aggression, accompanied once again by some fantastic orchestral backing and some goddamn falsetto from Devin, whilst 'Deconstruction' is the last of the longer tracks on the album. The title track begins with those fart sounds I mentioned earlier - I promised an explaination for this, and an explaination you'll have. See, Devin has stated his infuriation with people constantly asking him to write music more akin to Strapping Young Lad, somewhat leading to the recording of this very album. He described the process 'similar to taking a huge shit'... i.e. purging himself of Strapping Young Lad - it's a metaphor, hence fart sounds... get it? Alas, the track itself is another very progressive effort with some of the most unbelievably technical parts on the entire record, coming to a climax with a much more melodic section than any of the previous tracks (bar some parts of the eleven minute 'Planet of the Apes'), essentially going from 'crazy' to 'crazier' to 'BUT I DON'TS EATS THE CHEESEBRUGERS GUYS, I'M A VEGEMATARIAN' to 'Dear sweet fucking Jesus, my face is melting' and finally, 'sweet and epic'. This is essentially the album's finale in terms of it's story concept, with the following and literal final track being Devin's own personal footnote.

The final track 'Poltergeist' contains yet another allusion to Devin's shedding of Strapping Young Lad at the very start of the song, simply screaming 'Let's finish this!' - and coincidentally, the track itself resembles his work with Strapping Young Lad moreso than anything else on the record. It still maintains a lot of the grand theatrical sounds that've been present throughout the album, but scaled down in a way that almost says 'One more song like this, as a farewell to the man I once was'. Even the lyrics reflect this to an extent, though he's always made music that's open to the listener's interpretation so some listeners may hear this in a completely different context - regardless, it's a fitting and decisively crushing end to an absolutely monstrous record. And monstrous goes for every aspect of "Deconstruction", the album is drenched with so many different things going on all at the same time with ridiculous numbers of Townsend's trademark multitracked instruments, layered vocals - not just from Devin, but the miriad of guest singers present - and the assistance of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to make the album one of the most ambitious of Devin's, or anyone's, career to date. The album's mix is nothing short of superb, which in itself much have been a phenominal undertaking to master every track for every single song... I couldn't even begin to imagine how difficult that must've been. My hat goes off to our favourite balding Canadian nerd for bettering such a task!

This is as close as I can get to describing the world of "Deconstruction" for you. It's not often that I'm lost for words when it comes to music these days, but this is one of the rarest examples of musical ambition and creative genius that I have ever come across and it simply has to be experienced first hand in order to truely appreciate it - that said, there will most certainly be people who just can't comprehend what's going on here. The album is so hectic, so busy, so heavy and so complex that those who aren't willing to understand it will be shunned by it's intimidating content... I'll admit, upon seeing a sixteen and a half minute long track I was hesitant myself. But perseverence will yield the most rewarding listening experience you'll have for a very long time.

The Devin Townsend Project's "Deconstruction" should be held in the same regard as "Dark Side of the Moon". That's how good it is.

1. Praise The Lowered (Feat. Paul Kuhr)
2. Stand (Feat. Mikael Åkerfeldt)
3. Juular (Feat. Ihsahn)
4. Planet Of The Apes (Feat. Tommy Rogers)
5. Sumeria (Feat. Joe Duplantier, Paul Masvidal)
6. The Mighty Masturbator (Feat. Greg Puciato)
7. Pandemic (Feat. Floor Jansen)
8. Deconstruction (Feat. Oderus Urungus, Fredrik Thordendal)
9. Poltergeist
10. Ho Krll (iTunes Exclusive Bonus Track)