The ever effervescent Canadian workhorse Devin Townsend is back! After several successful albums and ventures in his Project band, Hevy Devy is showing no signs in slowing down his creativity yet with the DTP’s latest album – Transcendence.
The album begins with a re-working of “Truth” from Townsend’s critically acclaimed 1998 solo album Infinity. The music is pretty much the same as before but what keeps the track fresh is the new production. It’s much clearer whereas the original was rather cloudy in lots of mushy reverbs and delays. Townsend’s production job has wonderfully captured the ambience and “epic-ness” of the track as well as making it sound heavier, particularly with the punchy kick drums and crunchier guitars. Another thing to note about this version of “Truth” is the addition of the angelic vocals of frequent DTP collaborator Anneke Van Giersbergen. Her beautiful vocals in the middle of the track really “lift” the music, and send shivers down the spine, leaving you in great anticipation for the rest of the album.
The first proper song on Transcendence is “Stormbending”. The song starts quite slow but very atmospheric. It could easily represent Townsend’s career as a whole as it has the big ambient production and slow chugging chords of albums like 2001’s Terria as well as lush synth ideas like 2011’s Ghost and epic choral backup vocals a la 2012’s Epicloud. Despite all of the ideas going on in the song, it doesn’t feel overdone and has a hypnotic quality that sucks you in. “Stormbending” segues smoothly into “Failure”. The song continues the ambient and choral ideas but features a much more jagged punchy heavy guitar rhythm as its base. The song also makes use of more dissonances such as in the intro and in the extensive guitar solo (which makes great use of wah and pitch-shifting effects like in “Heaven’s End” from 2009’s Ki). When combined with Townsend’s varying vocal styles (for example, going between soft high falsetto and more powerful mid- pitch singing) and increasing keyboards work, the effect of “Failure” makes for a much more intense listen.
The next song on Transcendence is “Secret Sciences” which begins with much calmer acoustic guitar strumming and lashings of lush ambient effects in the background. The main riff of the song then comes in as a simple heavy guitar line backed up in unison on the synths. Van Giersbergen also contributes more vocals to the song adding extra texture to Townsend’s voice, as well as her own standalone parts. The chorus is catchy and the mid section walks up and down the same scales as the main riffs but in much more jagged timing. The following song, “Higher” has a lot more ideas going on. It starts off rather quiet with acoustic arpeggios and ambient vocals in a style reminiscent of Ghost. The title refrain features more bombast with stabbing guitar chords and big choral vocals. This appears very often in the song in between a tense-sounding distorted guitar riff with group vocals. The song then explodes into a much darker middle with more minor extreme metal style riffing, increasingly frantic drumming, synth/orchestral backing and screamed vocals. “Higher” takes a lot of twists and turns through multitudes of musical ideas before returning to the main refrain near the end of the song – it’s difficult to describe them all. The song is quite long and takes a few listens to properly digest but appreciating the music and creativity is truly rewarding. “Higher” then segues into “Stars”. A generally more major and uplifting number, “Stars” is a bit shorter and simpler and features catchy riffs which alternate between distorted guitar and calmer instrumentation.
The next song on Transcendence is the title track. The song has an epic feel with its marching drums and distorted guitar rhythms, ringing chords, synth orchestra (particularly brass) and choir backing. The song ends more discordant before moving onto the upbeat “Offer Your Light”. This song moves at a faster rock pace with punky palm-muted 16th notes in the verses and ringing chords in the catchy chorus. Notable is also the synth work which continues throughout the track from beginning to end, particularly with its main sequenced idea. Reaching the close of the album is the penultimate number “From the Heart”. It begins with another Ghost-style calm intro before the heavier chords and arpeggios come in. When listening to the lyrics, Townsend gets across a real sense of honesty and offers words which sound like they are truly coming from the heart. The song ends calmly with beautiful clean guitar arpeggios, ambient sounds, and a nice choral refrain, all drenched in lush delays and reverbs which gradually fade and return for an extended section in the music. It feels as if it’s the soundtrack to a time of reflection and to think before the album ends.
Transcendence ends with a cover of “Transdermal Celebration” originally by Ween. The song is a nice, happy upbeat rock song which wonderfully ends the album. Townsend’s uplifting vocals supported by his big wall-of-sound production give the song a glorious feel that ends Transcendence on a high note after its ambient outro fades away, and leaves the listener feeling happy, relaxed and at peace, as if a moment of real transcendence has been achieved.
The new album by the Devin Townsend Project, Transcendence, is another amazing album to sit alongside Hevy Devy ‘s immense body of work. It’s full of classic Townsend styles which hark back to albums like Infinity, Terria and Accelerated Evolution combined with lots of ideas from throughout the DTP albums. There’s a lot going on in Transcendence, and it takes a few listens to truly appreciate, but it never feels overbearing. The album has tons to offer and there’s always something new to be heard in each song during repeat listens that wasn’t caught before. The combination of ideas wonderfully blends all the things loved about Devin Townsend and his music. The music and sound is uniquely his style and the mix of all of the past ideas respectfully nods to those great albums while moving forward with a new style that sets Transcendence apart. It’s an awesome album and definitely one of Townsend’s best, and a candidate for best album of 2016 in my opinion. Check it out.
Highlights: “Stormbending”, “Failure”, “Secret Sciences”, “Higher”, “From the Heart”