Devin Townsend Project
Over the course of Devin Townsend’s storied career, a single constant has persevered: change. As far back as Steve Vai’s Sex & Religion, which Townsend fronted, to 2001’s landmark full-length Terria , to the multi-instrumentalist’s country rock outfit Casualties of Cool to his stunning new album Transcendence, the Canadian isn’t too interested in keeping an even musical keel. To stay the proverbial course is, well, anathema. For certain, he’s far too impatient to write the same Strapping Young Lad song over and over—which is why he folded the band in 2007—and it’s likely there will never be a fourth or fifth Ziltoid album (a third if we’re lucky) because by that point he’ll be in a totally different frame of mind for galactic puppets gone awry. To understand why Townsend, consciously and subconsciously, favors change is to know the man and his music today.
“Music, in my opinion, is ideally the exhaust for whatever you’re going through in life,” says Townsend. “Rather than the focus, it should be the outcome. As such, each record just naturally leads to the next. If they’re done correctly, they become an accurate representation, like a snapshot of a particular frame of mind. Like this is where I was at when I was 23 [City]. This is where I was at when I was 29 [Terria]. At the age of 44—I guess that’s where I’m at?—to make this accurate requires all these new adjustments and analysis that end up propelling the themes that ultimately reveal themselves. the theme for the new record seems to have prevented itself as a form of surrender I think. Learning to integrate that became the process for Transcendence.”
When Townsend’s says “adjustments” he means near-wholesale breakdown of how things have typically worked in his camp. Prior to Transcendence, he had to be in control. Every note played, every studio knob turned, and each floor tom hit had to go through Townsend’s near-maniacal filter. A Caesar’s thumbs up or, worse, thumbs down, so to speak. But something inside changed. Whether it's just age or maturity, it became clear that this type of artistic control seemed to mirror fears in other aspects of life, both personal and professional. Eventually, it became clear that this was the next step all along. It seems perhaps overly dramatic, but once the decision to share how DTP worked with others, it became clear that not only was it an obvious move, but his skill set was utilized more efficiently as a result. From this sort of 'leap of faith' he ended up with not only a phenomenal album in Transcendence, but also a view into work past this project and how to move forwards with others.
“The DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT is still essentially a solo project,” he reminds. “One of several, but the difference is that I've had a dedicated team of talented folks here that really had great ideas. of the ways I consciously stepped out of my comfort zone was to the solicit feedback from not only the band, but also to production and engineering. Opinions from people I trust at the management and label, and all with a sense of building a kind of archetype of the DTP sound that would not ostracize people who enjoy the style, but keeping it fresh for me as well. One of the things I did was present my vision—which I’ve always done—and within that framework, I’d massage it with the team. For this record, in those sections, I’d bring it to the band and say, ‘Look guys, here’s what it’s supposed to do. This is how it’s supposed to make me feel. And how the audience is supposed to feel. This is how it interacts with the parts prior and after. That’s why it exists. It’s not complicated because we’re trying to jerk off here. It’s complicated because, in my mind, the emotional component of the section is complicated. But in lieu of how quickly I tend to purge music I’m thinking: how can we make it cooler while I can still move quickly? 'Here’s the basic chord structure guys, this is what I think it should basically do, be it angular or in thirds or whatnot... Dave [Young; guitars] and Mike [St-Jean; keyboards] Ryan (VanPoederooyen: drums) and Brian (Waddell: bass) , can you think of something cooler there? I’ll be back tomorrow.’”
Recorded at The Armoury Studios in Vancouver, Canada with Townsend and Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood (Periphery, Animals as Leaders), Transcendence sounds absolutely massive. From the moment "Truth"—a re-work from the Infinity album — monstrously blends into the soul-stirring "Stormbending" to the undulating cool of mid-point jam "Secret Sciences" and Ween cover "Transdermal Celebration," Townsend and crew have engineered a modern-day classic. The sheer scale of tracks like "Failure," "Higher," and the majestic title track is at once daunting and inviting. Transcendence pulls the listener in like a movie score. It has the emotional heft of Rosenman’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and the mega-riff power of Black-era Metallica.
Even if Transcendence had its 'bikini wax' moments—(Townsend metaphorically refers to his process as 'professionally hitting myself in the face with a hammer')—the final product is fantastic. In many ways, it’s typical THE DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT, however there is now an inviting sense of depth and relative breathing room in the sound. Always professional and sonically awash in darks, lights, and colors between, it turned out not only to be an acceptable new DTP record, but arguably one of the best. What also added to the overall quality was the addition of five guest musicians—including but not limited to ex-The Gathering vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen, vocalists Ché Aimee Dorval and Katrina Natale—and a five-person choir called Tigers In A Tank. Their contribution to Transcendence’s overall ambiance is noteworthy and necessary.