The way some musicians talk about the creative process, you could be forgiving for regarding it as an experience akin to a horrifying afternoon strapped into a sadistic dentist’s chair. Devin Townsend, on the other hand, clearly revels in the opportunity to plug his brain into the artistic mainframe and siphon off some more of that magical tune-juice. His fifth album in just over three years, Epicloud once again affirms that music – and extraordinary music at that – simply pours out of him and that, remarkably, he still appears to be doggedly refining his craft. Yes, Dev fans will rightly be expecting this to be great, but there remains something audacious about how consistently stunning his albums have been over the years.
The question of most of our lips, as Epicloud loomed over the horizon, was concerned with which of Devin’s myriad musical voices would dominate his newest creation. After the quadruple-headed wonder of Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction and Ghost, would he go somewhere entirely distinct and new or would he simply revisit and redesign old sonic environs? The truth lies somewhere between the two: Epicloud is simultaneously a consolidation of the hydra-headed explorations of previous DTP releases and, as a result of that retrospective revitalisation, an altogether fresher and idiosyncratic bowl of aural fruit.
Opening with the choral fanfare of Effervescent!, this is plainly not going to be one of Devin’s darker efforts. The astral riff bombs of bona fide opener True North may point to the sustaining of Deconstruction’s bone-powdering heaviosity, but the melodies that duly cascade down like shimmering fairy dust have far more in common with the exquisite pop sensibilities of Addicted, not least due to the divine presence – both here and elsewhere – of that album’s vocal secret weapon, Anneke van Giersbergen.
And so it continues: Lucky Animals is a preposterous but adorable mutant glam stomp, replete with lobotomised chorus and flashes of glittery sass. Where We Belong marries acoustic serenity worthy of Ghost’s haziest moments with a graceful waltz rhythm. Save Our Now is an unfathomably beautiful pop song – quite possibly the finest Devin has ever written – but one with a faint but unmistakable undercurrent of dark panic.
A new version of Kingdom (originally from 2000’s underrated Physicist) evokes the wild spirit of Strapping Young Lad and fires it into orbit from a giant cannon built entirely from razor blades and Haribo. The album’s most elegant moment, Divine, lives up to its title and, unless you are truly dead inside, will smash your heart into a million tiny pieces as Devin reveals that ‘Loving you is the best thing and the worst thing in the world’.
As always, everything comes wrapped in a soothing blanket of dreamy reverb and beguiling multi-layered voices – a trademark, perhaps, but one that no one else is ever likely to adequately emulate. There are more wonders to be discovered here too, of course, but unlike a lot of modern metal, Epicloud is easier to enjoy than to explain.