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Released two years after the phenomenal Infinity album, Physicist may rank as one of the most Strapping Young Lad-ish albums in Devin’s solo career, which really shouldn’t be a surprise, given that this album has the exact same line-up as Strapping Young Lad (Devin, Gene Hoglan, Byron Stroud, and Jed Simon).
If one were so inclined, one might even suggest that this is a bit like a hidden Strapping Young Lad record, given that SYL released no official album’s between 1997′s City and 2003′s SYL. Fancy that. Anyway, as a whole, this album does a nice job of walking a middle path between the spaciousness of Ocean Machine – Biomech, the general What-the-fuck?-ness of Infinity‘s genre-splicing approach, and the more straight-ahead industrial metal aggression of Strapping Young Lad. Oh, and it’s also awesome.
“Namaste” kicks things off with a great burst of punky aggression, which is maintained through “Victim.” These two tracks, plus the mid-album ripper “Death,” are some of the most intensely metal moments in Devin’s solo career thus far. The latter track, in particular, rather in keeping with its title, is the most face-shredding piece here, kicking off with the, ahem, soothing tones of Gene Hoglan blast-beating the shit out of your ears.
The weightier tone of some of these songs picks up in a slightly different fashion on “The Complex,” with its very martial ambient/industrial-sounding synths which sound most like tiny hammers striking a xylophone made entirely of anvils.
It’s not all sputtering rage here, however. “Material” is the earliest stab at Devin’s fantastically pop-oriented songcraft on this album; this one especially nails its perfectly evocative chorus in such a way that I really want the track to go on forever, but it does its business and gets straight on with things. Make sure you don’t miss the background vocal arpeggios on the second run-through of the chorus: pure bliss.
The track immediately following “Material,” “Kingdom,” is also absolutely dynamite, but in this case it works so well precisely because of its greater use of open space to contrast with the density and faster pace of most of the album’s shorter numbers. “Kingdom” also features some of Devin’s most intense howling, fittingly over the lines “I’m fiiiiiiiine!“
To these ears, “Irish Maiden” may be one of the only missteps on the album. I think the rather jig-ish opening is somewhat annoying, but the track eventually redeems itself somewhat with some fantastic kick drum work from Hoglan and an excellent melodic bridge with some nice, thick riffing.
Devin Townsend is often discussed in terms of virtuosity, which I think is absolutely correct, but it’s important to note that much of the virtuosity on display here is not so much sheer instrumental prowess (you won’t find any brain-melting solos here, for example), but rather songwriting prowess.
This shows up generally in the fluidity of the arrangements, and the often complex (yet still straightforward-sounding) rhythms which are achieved through syncopation, or, in a few places (like “Victim” and “Jupter”), through a rhythm that relies on pick-up notes to give a quick, juddering attack to the start of the measure.
While we’re on the subject, “Jupiter” also has some really great rhythmic riffing on a 3/4 rhythm set against the slower 4/4 meter in the drums; instead of drawing attention to itself, though, this counterpoint technique comes across as extremely natural and smooth.
As many others have mentioned, the closing track “Planet Rain” is one of the most astounding songs on here. While the rest of the album mostly trades in short, mostly compact pieces, this song is the lengthy and mostly melancholic counterpart to the pairing of “Life is All Dynamics” and “Unity” (from Infinity) or “Funeral”/”Bastard”/”Death of Music” (from Ocean Machine – Biomech).
The careful listener will have noticed, I imagine, the continuation of the rain motif from Ocean Machine’s “Death of Music” track here, and it functions as a really nice conceptual hinge. This whole song is extremely evocative of a world completely wiped out and covered with never-ending rains. This kind of apocalyptic imagery (even if it is largely self-conjured) matches up very nicely with Devin’s grandiose, highly theatrical and melodramatic (in the best way possible) style of songwriting.
When Devin sings,
“It’s quiet now, quiet now -
’cause it’s the end of world!
Quiet now, quiet now;
’cause it’s the end of the world!,”
it really sounds like he’s having a conversation with himself: In the first two lines, he’s telling us the reason why it’s quiet now, but in the second two lines, because the “It’s” is dropped from the lyrics, it sounds like an invitation, or even a command, to be quiet now, at the end of the world.
I know this all sounds a bit goofy, picking apart these small aspects, but there’s something about this dude’s music that cries out for this level of emotional investment. The whole track is fantastic, and needs to be heard in its entirety, but a favorite passage is right around the four-minute mark, where we finally get a simple, searing guitar lead to cut through the dense bundle of sounds and textures.
Eventually, the track fades out into the (rather appropriate) sound of rain falling, which transitions into the hidden track, called “Forgotten,” which is actually just a bizarre re-recording of “Bad Devil.” This utterly strange new version of the Beatles-quoting (“She’s just 17, if you know what I mean…”) track from the Infinity album, closes things out in a rather odd manner, with its acoustic guitars draped in alienating drones and cymbal noise.
More than anything else, this actually sounds like some weird goth/blues/country tune, like you might find on a 16 Horsepower or mid-period Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album. As is often the case with these hidden or bonus tracks on Devin’s solo albums, I usually listen to them all the way through, but since the album works so well as a holistic statement, I almost compartmentalize them in my mind, so that I don’t really think of this “Forgotten” song as belonging to the Physicist album.
Still, another brilliant entry into Devin’s solo discography, and a deeply emotive and powerful record. Bang your head AND get the warm and fuzzies.
Overall rating: 93%. Hear that truth again!
(Note: Originally posted at http://spinaltapdance.wordpress.com/)
Never have I come across an album that manages to create such wonderful melodies and be heavy, without sounding either pathetic, or just whiny. Now before you stop reading because you think I’m some driveling Townsend fan-boy, let me state that I do not absolutely love everything that Mr. Townsend has created. In fact I find Terria to be rather long and overdrawn and Infinity to be a bit too poppy at times and those ambient albums that he created made absolutely no sense to me. But with those things being said, I still find the two that were first mentioned to be rather good albums.
Devin Townsend’s third full-length entitled Physicist takes influence from his previous poppy, progressive works and also from his other band Strapping Young Lad and fuses them to create something superior to either on their own. As a result of this we are left with an album that has great speed, melody, songwriting and heaviness. For those of you who have never heard any of Townsend’s work, he is a rather unique songwriter from Canada who writes mostly progressive, atmospheric for his solo project. Physicist and Ziltoid the Omniscient are notable exceptions of this, mostly because they incorporate industrial influences of which are stronger on this release.
The album kicks off with Namaste, which is one of the quicker, more aggressive songs on the album. A strange thing that I notice about this album is that the more aggressive songs besides ‘Victim’ and ‘Death’ don’t come across as particularly angry or Strapping Young Lad-like. Although, the two aforementioned songs sound like they belong on say SYL’s album ‘City’. Anyway, next up is Material and well, this song leaves me speechless. It is a magnificent song which features one of the best choruses Townsend has ever written in:
Ah, these are the days
let them roll as they roll
and be all you are
because you're beautiful
Now it doesn’t sound like much, but its both melodic and uplifting. It’s not so much the lyrics that make the chorus awesome it’s just the layering and the keyboards (which I’m usually not a big fan of, but Townsend manages to employ them in his music very tastefully). After that is the amazingly epic track ‘Kingdom’, which has another great chorus, although, I find the overall feel of it much better than ‘Material’, the atmosphere and verses are just much better. After these masterpieces are the songs ‘Death’ and ‘Devoid’ to be honest, they are the two of the three weakest songs on the album. ‘Death’ just seems too aggressive and doesn’t fit in well with the rest of the album, which probably makes it the worst song on this release, but doesn’t particularly detract from it and is still a rather enjoyable song. ‘Devoid’ is an instrumental with vocals, but no lyrics, its mostly just Devin yelling over the top of some more masterful melodies.
But fear not, the album is right back on track after that with ‘Irish Maiden’ and ‘Jupiter’ which follow on from where ‘Kingdom’ left off. Another notable song, is the eleven minute epic ‘Planet Rain’, despite being the longest, it is also one of the more interesting songs to be found on Physicist. The mellow singing is often contrasted with Devin shouting “BECAUSE IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD”. Besides that, it is definitely the most atmospheric song on the album, which grows on me with every listen. The album then ends on an odd note, which is “Forgotten” which is a very strange song. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but the song just confuses me every time I hear it.
Besides a few songs out of place and one that totally mystifies me, this album is absolutely magnificent. The aforementioned problems are probably what stop it from receiving a 100. Overall this release is most likely Devin’s best, including anything written under ‘Ocean Machine’, ‘The Devin Townsend Band’ and ‘Strapping Young Lad’.
Physicist is kind of lost amidst Devin's more predominant work and it's easily understandable. Take the speed of early SYL (namely City), and fuse it with the catchiness of works such as Infinity, add the keyboard layering and varied vocal apprach of some of the later Devin Townsend Band material and you're beginning to get the concept.
Devin Townsend decided to mix his crushing metal sound with his more Broadway-inspired approach and made something quite special and underlooked. Devin's voice is remarkable. He never disappoints with his unique variance or unison of powerful screeches and melodic sensibility. I simply do not know how he does. Opener "Namaste", which might be my favorite track on the record is a true vehicle for Townsend's vocal chords. "Follow the way, Follow the Way, Holding mother" just resounds in the mix and crushes you.
"Victim" is another upbeat, almost happy sounding song with lush keyboard layering and a brutal industrial tone. "Kingdom" is a showstopper, with perfect arrangements and a keen interaction between the voice and the instruments. "The Complex" is huge with a bridge that soars. That track is very good, very powerful.
"Planet Rain" is one of Devin's longest and most epic compositions. Once again it is the layering that does the job with a slow climax that just overloads your eardrums and hits the musical G-spot, one of his crowning achievements for sure.
The only tracks that quite immediately don't jump at me as being particularly great are "Death" which sounds like a super rushed Strapping Song on crack, and the closer "Forgotten". I honestly think "Planet Rain" would've done a masterful job at closing out the record. Besides that you get a batch of very catchy and powerful tunes that are well arranged. As usual with Townsend this is just very smart music, well calculated, precise and lush.
The drumming must be mentionned and Gene Hoglan (once again) delivers the goods providing good backbone on the speedier songs but also pushing certain songs such as "Kingdom" to a different level with his polyrythms and juxtapositions.
This is a very good, very underrated album from one of metal's true geniuses.
Of all the album's in the man's career, Physicist is undeniably the "dark horse" of Devin Townsend's catologue. Deemed too Strapping Young Lad for fans of Devin's solo work and too solo work for Strapping Young Lad fans, Pysicist is stuck in the unfortunate position in most people's minds as trying to be two albums at once. Its a damn shame too, because if people stopped trying to lump Physicist into a specific category of music and just listened to it for what it is, they would realize WHAT it is-a fantastic Devin Townsend album.
The first thing people will notice about this album is the intensity and speed. The mellow prog-rock of Ocean Machine and the wonky epic feel of Infinity are gone, replaced by short, fast, deceptively simple numbers that somehow manage to be as intense as they are incredibly catchy. This is without a doubt the greatest triumph of the record-Devin stated that the goal of this album was to create a union between Strapping Young Lad and the poppier side of Devin's solo career, and if this was indeed the goal, I can safely say he accomplished it with smashing success.
Crushing opener "Namaste" sets the stage for what you will hear on most of Physicist-lots of double bass in the drums (done by Gene Hoglan and fantastic as always), vocals somewhere between the SYL scream and more of an emotional yell, industrial style guitar and bass riffs, and most suprisingly, catchy synth melodies layed out over the whole thing. I was definately suprised at the synth usage on this album, but it is used to great effect, sometimes right at the forefront of the mix, sometimes more subtle.
At this point you're probably thinking "This is pretty much exactly what I think of when I think SYL." Well, the difference between the two is not the style of musicianship, its the way the songs are written.
These are, without a doubt, some of the most innocent and catchy songs Devin has ever written, which creates the strange but brilliant contrast between heavy and poppy that was this album's purpose. While the poppiness may turn off some fans, most of us know that pop stylings have always been a huge part of Devin's solo albums, and Physicist takes this aspect to a different level completely. Its unique, powerful, fun, and intelligent-everything you expect from Hevy Devy. The verses are solid, the riffs are great, and the choruses will get stuck in your head like you wouldn't believe. Just try and listen to Devin scream/sing (scring?) "Ah, these are the days, let them roll, as they roll" on the awesome chorus of "Material" and tell me this isn't some of the most flat out fun metal you've ever heard.
Opener "Namaste" opens the album on a great note, going at one of the faster paces on the album, driven by Hoglan's simply phenomenal drumming and Devin's vocals. "Victim" carrys on the trend, with a great opening beat, some awesome synths, and a great chous ("I'm ready to go"). Previously mentioned "Material" is one of the album's stand out tracks, with a strong opening verse and simply one of the best choruses Devin has written, with the song ending on a fantastic multitracked "Chorus Of Devys." Kingdom is one of the longer songs on the album, and one of the only ones where the verses are even better than the chorus, with some fabulous double-kick work from Hoglan and more great Devin lines.
This brings us to the only two letdowns on the album, and they come right after each other. I speak of "Death" and "Devoid". "Death" is simply out of place on the album, too crazy and muddled. Aside from sounding too SYL, its just a mediocre song. The frustrating thing about "Devoid" is that it actually is a good song, its just in completely the wrong place. Its short (under 2 minutes), has a great epic feel, and no lyrics (but some vocals). This song would have been perfect as the short opening intro to the album like Devin has on most of his albums, but in the middle of the album it just sound weird, and breaks up the flow. A questionable decision on Devin's part. Luckily, these songs are the only lapse of quality on the record.
"The Complex" is just that-slightly more varied and complex than the other songs on this album, but a fantastic track brought together by yet again an awesome chorus. "Irish Maiden" is a strange, catchy song, the opening riffs being some of the standout riffs on the album (as their really is much of an emphasic on riffs). For some reason, Gene's double-bass really sticks out during that opening part for me. "Jupiter" isn't quite as good as the preceding two songs, but has some great melodies and some awesome lyrics by Devin. And this brings us to the album's standout track-the incredible "Planet Rain".
"Planet Rain" is, without a doubt, one of the best songs Devin has ever written. Completely different from the fast pop feel of the rest of the album, this song is long, epic, emotional, catchy, and incredibly powerful. The opening riffs are great, the drums are great, and Devin puts on one of his best vocal performances of his career. The song almost feels like an album in itself-it begins with some awesome vocals by Devin (sounding slightly different, more relaxed) and an equally fantastic chorus. It then proceeds to the emotional climax of the record, with Devin passionately yelling over a maelstrom of guitar and drums. It then reverts back to the opening riff and fades out into the sound of rainfall and Devin softly whispering the last lines of the album. There is something about this song that is just special-I really can't dissect it with words, you have to hear it yourself. "Planet Rain" is worth the price of admission alone and is easily in my top three favorite Devin songs ever.
Physicist is an album that accomplishes its mission: its fast, heavy, catchy, and powerful. While still not on par with my favorite Devin solo works (Ocean Machine and Terria), I like it as much as Infinity and the Devin Townsend Band Albums, and while I would get those first, I nevertheless highly recommend this album to casual Devin fans and the hardcore. Buy this album, rock out in the car, then go home and get blown away by "Planet Rain"-its that simple.