While Hammer were chatting with Devin Townsend backstage at the 2012 Golden Gods, moments after he won the Dimebag Darrell Shredder Award, a well-known thrasher dashed past en route to the stage and, without slowing down, called back to Devin, “I masturbate to you!” Such is the status enjoyed by Devin – formerly with Steve Vai and Strapping Young Lad, and mastermind behind The Devin Townsend Band and The Devin Townsend Project. Devin is, on every level, a musician’s player: that rare creative visionary whose starry-eyed ambition is rivalled only by his own immense talents and a body of work that spans genres and eras with effortless mastery.
Stylistically, Transcendence picks up where 2012’s absurdly addictive pop odyssey, Epicloud, ended and it draws deeply from that album’s familiar elements, like its opulent movie score production, celestial choral harmonies and miles of skull-flattening, megalithic riffs. But where Epicloud stood as an overt pop record, Transcendence showcases an expansive new vision that pushes into more progressive and at times psychedelic realms, as on the sublime Stormbending, a blood-pumping siege of industrialised riffs, dramatic atmospherics and plush choruses, with a propulsive mid-section that features a proggy blitz of joyfully over-the-top fretboard wankery.
Likewise, tracks such as Failure build from bruising mid-tempo stomps into transfixing interludes of skyscraping experimentalism and whooshing, velvety dynamics. As far as flat-out belters go, the neo-futuristic Offer Your Light absolutely smokes from start to finish, featuring the otherworldly vocals of Devin’s long-standing collaborator, Anneke van Giersbergen.
Balancing the heavier fare is a spate of gorgeous, pop-structured elegies like Secret Sciences, with a breezy acoustic intro that burns into a stand-up-and-pound-your-chest-sized climax and the obscenely infectious From The Heart, an eruptive eight-minute love song that ends with a kicked-back, bluesy outro reminiscent of Dark Side-era Pink Floyd. Such tracks make it clear that Devin is eminently capable of writing the sort of anthemic mainstream chartbuster that pays for things like private jets and guitar-shaped swimming pools, but gratifyingly, his aspirations extend far beyond crass commercialism. The album concludes with a terrific cover of Ween’s Transdermal Celebration, with Devin’s version both reverential and steroidally heavier.
While the production is ridiculously brawny, its sheer potency and the repeating instrumental elements at times obscure the unique identities of the tracks. Also, the vocals occasionally fall a bit low in the mix – a frustrating dilemma when they tie so deeply into the shifting moods and lofty choruses. Such quibbles are minor, however, and a work of such daring complexity and luminous melodic interplay demands repeated voyaging, with each trip unearthing vibrant and arresting new hues. Transcendence thrills, inspires and dazzles on every level – a wholly absorbing, modern-day masterpiece.
DEVIN TOWNSEND (vocals/guitar)
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT TRANSCENDENCE?
“It’s really good! Ha ha ha! To sell records you have to say ‘It’s the heaviest thing we’ve ever done!’ and ‘It’s a modern classic!’ you know? This is just this year’s version of what I do with DTP and I think it’s really good, but the music that I do really doesn’t matter. It could be Casualties Of Cool or DTP or Ziltoid, it doesn’t matter. This music is just an honest representation of where I found myself this year, just like all of them. It’s about the process for me.”
AND WHAT DEFINED THE PROCESS FOR YOU THIS TIME ROUND?
“This record is incredibly important to me because it forced me, allowed me, to move out of my comfort zone and to share with people I trust and let go some of this need for fascist control over what I do. It was great to be part of a team, rather than bearing all the responsibility myself. Making this record forced me to get over that shit.”
WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SAY THAT DTP IS A TIGHT UNIT THESE DAYS?
“Yeah, we get along well because, honestly, I don’t think we’re assholes. As long as you’re not an asshole, you don’t have to work to be friends. If everyone is on board with that, then I can make it work with anybody! That’s not to discredit anybody, because they’re great guys. But being in a band is not a simple thing. You’ve got to work on it, no matter who it is. If you do that, you can make music.”