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Mad genius offers up an uplifting opus. - 88%

hammersmashedeverything, February 23rd, 2013

Devin Townsend has got to be one of the most prolific musicians in modern metal. The Canadian never seems to stop writing, churning out album after album of progressive, forward-thinking music. “Epicloud” is his twentieth in seventeen years, and the fifth in the Devin Townsend Project series, which began in 2009. Devin also has to be one of the most versatile musicians in metal, his musical palette spanning across multiple different genres and styles. His first real project Strapping Young Lad was created in order to release and channel his anger at the world around him, the result being five albums of extreme metal carnage, including two of the most loved extreme metal albums ever created in 1997’s “City” and 2005’s “Alien”. Meanwhile, his first solo record “Punky Bruster - Cooked On Phonics” was a cynical, hilarious parody of the ongoing pop punk movement. His first serious solo album “Ocean Machine: Biomech”, arrived in the same year as the gloriously manic “City”, bringing with it its progressive beauty and luscious soundscapes. Add two ambient noise albums in “Devlab” and “The Hummer”, a colossal and epic homage to his homeland’s natural beauty in “Terria”, and countless other diverse records including “Ziltoid the Omniscient”, a concept album about an alien who scours the universe for the ultimate cup of coffee containing some ridiculous and exciting music to match, and you have one of the most varied back catalogues in music history.

The Devin Townsend Project itself so far spans five albums, each showcasing a different part of Devin’s musical personality. The brooding and melodic “Ki” showed Devin’s ability to create somewhat disconcerting jazz with still some metal edge, while “Addicted” was a record packed full of catchy, punchy heaviness. The schizophrenic madness of “Deconstruction” appealed to fans of Strapping Young Lad’s face-smashing chaos while also featuring a bizarre concept about a man whose hunt for the meaning of life leads him to a cheeseburger which he cannot eat as he is a vegetarian, while the ethereal beauty of “Ghost” was something else entirely. So in a series of albums which are nothing like each other, amid a career spanning two decades and twenty albums, where does “Epicloud” fit in? After the starkly diverse first four albums of the Devin Townsend Project, “Epicloud” is both an amalgamation of the four and something entirely new. Part catchy hard rock of “Addicted”, part acoustic calm of “Ghost”, Epicloud truly lives up to its epic title.

From choral opener “Effervescent!” to album closer “Angel”, “Epicloud” sucks you in like a vacuum and doesn’t release you until the last note has rang out, and when it does, your entire mood has been altered. It’s impossible to feed bad or upset while listening to the likes of “True North”, “Save Our Now” or “Hold On”. This is an album that is proof that metal can be happy and content with itself and contain positive messages. “Lucky Animals”, the first song the majority of people will have heard from the album, is a bouncy, gloriously fun hard rock song. The driving riff of “Liberation” almost sounds like a hyperactive, steroid-pumped version of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. These, alongside songs such as “More!”, channel the foot to the floor power of “Addicted”, while acoustic sections such as “Where We Belong” and the soothing and elegant “Divine” are more reminiscent of “Ghost” or even “Ocean Machine: Biomech”. “Epicloud” also features a re-recorded version of live staple “Kingdom”, originally from 2000’s “Physicist”, which has been pumped full of new life which the rather drab and empty original lacked.

Devin’s vocal performance on this album is also one of his best yet, his operatic cleans soaring across the record. One of the album’s defining moments has to be “Grace”, beginning with Anneke van Giersbergen’s gorgeous cleans before lunging into a gospel choir singing atop a chugging, heavy riff. This unorthodox approach, combining vastly different ideas that normally would not go together at all to devastatingly good effect, sums up “Epicloud” and Devin’s whole attitude to songwriting. The production on the album is also superb, featuring multiple layers and textures which fuse to give each song a truly huge feel. In “Epicloud”, Devin has offered up an album which has something that every fan of his work can love, an album which takes everything he’s done in the past and consolidates it into a magnum opus of truly epic proportions. With Devin’s concentration now apparently focused on Z2, a sequel to “Ziltoid the Omniscient”, the Devin Townsend Project may be left behind, at least temporarily, and “Epicloud” is a fitting way to end this chapter of Devin’s boundary-defying career.

DTP V: The Anneke Stikes Back - 80%

MichaelSnoxall, February 22nd, 2013

After his recent string of albums under the DTP name, Devin Townsend began writing his newest grand adventure, Epicloud. While his last four albums all presented a distinct sound, Epicloud is a culmination of everything explored prior, plus a little extra thrown in. Devin has been consistently releasing material since 1993, so he’s hard to keep up with. Not in terms that it’s hard to keep up with his flow of material, but more so the fact that he’s eclectic, to say the least. It’s a little odd to imagine that the same man who wrote Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing came out with the ethereal Ghost (albeit fifteen years later, but still a dramatic change nonetheless).
So, as consistent as Devin is, his material is (delightfully) inconsistent and he seems willing to try about anything, showing no signs of slowing down or even growing up. Devin’s childish sense of humour being the target of both praise and heavy criticism, many might be happy to hear that he’s toned down the cheeseburger and fart jokes for time being. That isn’t to say he’s not having a little bit of fun with Epicloud, his eccentric personality is the driving force behind his music, and fun seems to be where he’s at right now. Fans looking for Devy to go back to his angry Strapping Young Lad ways will be profoundly disappointed.

As the album’s title may have already suggested, the music is quite large in scale. It brings forth the signature Devin Townsend sound, but everything is just much more grandeur here. The album even opens with a gospel choir on ‘Effervescent!’ before bridging into ‘True North,’ and finding, to the pleasure of everyone, that Anneke van Giersbergen has returned. This being her second appearance on a Devin Townsend record, the first time her vocals were featured on DTP album Addicted. While this could lead to obvious comparisons between Epicloud and Addicted, the comparison is unfair, the latter of which being much more Metal oriented.
If one thing needs to be said, it’s that Anneke is the yin to Devin’s yang. The best example of the two working in unison is the back and forth vocals on ‘Save Our Now,’ Devin and Anneke contrast and compliment each other perfectly and the vocal duo is quite a thing to behold.

One of the most noteworthy songs on the album is ‘Lucky Animals,’ the first single for the album, if only for the reason it has received a lot of negative feedback. Like most others, I admit I didn’t care for this track at first. The silly and quite catchy chorus caught a lot of fans off guard. The song features a very basic verse-chorus-verse-chorus song structure and a simple instrumental performance. When I first heard it in the context of the album, it just seemed to fit incredibly well. The album builds for the first three tracks and then bursts into the head-banging ‘Liberation,’ and I guess that’s why ‘Lucky Animals’ works so well as a part of the four-track-crescendo. Devin shows with these tracks that he’s just here to rock out, and with lyrics like, “The time has come to forget all the bullsh*t and rock,” that’s exactly what he delivers. Hard, solid, fast Rock. But the music isn’t always fast and catchy, Devin makes sure to segue a few songs into slow, monumental ballads (e.g. ‘Where We Belong,’ ‘Divine’ and ‘Hold On.’)

The album features a rerecorded version of ‘Kingdom’ from his Physicist album. The new recording and production has improved greatly since the original. Rather than having his vocals drowned and bogged down in the production like the original, Devin’s falsetto soars over the top and features some of the best vocal work from him on the record. Along with ‘Kingdom,’ the album forays into Metal lightly with ‘Grace’ and ‘More!,’ the latter of which feeling like a b-side from Addicted (not just in title, but in sound). The album closes with the incredibly epic ‘Angel,’ featuring all the sounds explored on the album and finishing the record with a bang, before cutting back to the gospel choir chant found on ‘Effervescent!’

Epicloud is inherently Devin through and through. It isn’t something he’s done before, but then again, it is everything he is in a nutshell. Borrowing elements from everything that made his previous four albums work, this is perhaps his most diverse offering yet. He wasn’t joking with us when he named the album. So strap yourselves in, because it’s epic, and, oh boy, is it loud.

Effervescent quality. - 80%

ConorFynes, December 15th, 2012

Although I don’t think Devin Townsend’s Project series has ever come close to matching the jaw-dropping quality of his masterpiece “Terria”, it’s exciting to hear the man being so prolific with his art. With five studio albums released over the past three years, it’s clear that Devin is enjoying a sense of revitalized spirit and inspiration. Most importantly, Devin now seems to be at the point where he is most open and unrestricted with his musical expression. There’s no telling whether he might do a theatrical metal masterwork next, a soothing ambient record or, as is the case here on “Epicloud”, a peppy and melodic album to showcase his cheerier side. Although initial reactions may have left me yearning for something more creatively ambitious from the mad scientist of metal, Devin’s latest offering has a much longer lasting appeal and charm than the ‘pop’ label would suggest.

It’s obvious that Devin Townsend is picking up on “Epicloud” where he left off on “Addicted”, his pop-oriented and danceable chapter in the original four album Project. Although it didn’t leave as strong an impression as the atmospheric “Ki” or the balls-out mania of “Deconstruction”, I ended up listening to “Addicted” more than the others, if only because it allowed for the enjoyment of Devin’s unique style without having to invest the undivided attention necessary for his most adventurous albums. Although “Addicted” was about as poppy and commercial as I could have imagined Devin would go, he seems to up the ante here. The proggy arrangements and signature dense ‘wall of sound’ production are still here, but the songwriting is an unabashed celebration of everything catchy and fun. Townsend’s guitarwork still occasionally brings out the best of his talent, but the focus here is on the vocal side. “Epicloud” has fewer ‘standout’ tracks than “Addicted”, but an overall greater sense of consistency and flow to it. Overall, this is some of the cheeriest Devin’s music has ever sounded, possibly rivaled only by the hyperactivity on “Synchestra”.

By this point in Townsend’s career, a killer, unique sense of production and bombastic atmosphere are pretty much granted. Indeed, “Epicloud” sounds incredibly vast, especially considering that most of these tracks revolve around a familiar verse-chorus structure. Although the mix can get a little overwhelming at the album’s loudest moments, it really fits the album’s ‘epic’ approach. Although the larger-than-life instrumentation is sure to impress (especially if you haven’t heard anything by Devin before), the real highlight are the vocal performances. Drawing upon his work on “Addicted” once again, Devin continues to enlist the talents of Anneke van Giersbergen (of The Gathering and Ayreon), whose unique and wonderful voice works really well with Devin’s quirk. Although Devin’s over-the-top and versatile voice has always been a highlight of his music, some of his vocal parts here are out of this world. The undeniable highlight “Kingdom” features possibly the greatest operatic vocals he has ever put to record.

Although the execution here is top-notch, “Epicloud” leaves the impression that only a few songs here really stand out. Among them, the epic “Kingdom” is the one that will stand the test of time, although the sugar-coated “True North” and atmospheric “Save Our Now” also distinguish themselves. Although I wouldn’t say it’s quite an inevitable by-product of Devin’s ‘accessible’ approach here, many of the songs lack the shock factor to create a memorable impression in their own right. Especially considering that some of the tunes here are jaw dropping, I would have loved to hear an album that manages to hold up that amazing level of quality throughout. Seeing how much Devin has improved the pop metal approach on “Epicloud” over “Addicted” however, it’s very possible that we’ll hear something even greater from this end of Devin’s music in the future. For the present, however, it’s doubtful progressive metal has ever been catchier than this.

Devin Townsend - Epicloud + Epiclouder - 93%

trollhammer666, October 21st, 2012

Epicloud. I'm not sure if this is supposed to mean epic and loud or whatever an epi-cloud would be, but I was really excited to hear this and was not disappointed a single bit. We were all warned the lyrics on this album were going to be simple, and for the most part they are. I find most Devin Townsend lyrics to be rather simple though, so it's not a shocker. Overall, the instruments sound amazing. One thing I love is that for the majority of the album you can hear the bass very clearly. The drumming sounds great, like a refined SYL-type deal on the heavier songs. Devin did a great job and from what I've read so far there has been a lot of criticism for this album. I think it is another feather in his cap.

A rarity for metal, we are introduced to Epicloud with a gospel choir that repeats a verse that is also found in track two and tracks thirteen, but there really is no point to it. They should have merged this opener with track two, or better yet, left it out completely. Now, onto the goods of Epicloud. First off, here we can find Anekke, quite famously known as the chick who sings in DTP. As usual, her voice sounds absolutely breathtaking. She and Devin trade verses back and forth in a few songs and we all know they do it very, very well. As the album progresses we hear solid staple after staple. Kingdom is in my opinion the best written track on this album. It has heavy riffs and drumming for this supposed 'hard rock' album. Devin sings with wild clear howls and Anekke backs him up during the main verse, sounding absolutely perfect. It has a beautiful, relaxing chorus as well. There is no need for the skip button because every song brings something new to the table and does it with perfection. Lessons, a short instrumental, really brought me back because it sounds like something you could find on Synchestra or an old school Devin Townsend album, ah those were the days. But here we are now, and things still sound great thankfully.

Alright, now that that's said and done, just when you think things couldn't get any better, there is a second disc packed with demos of songs that didn't make it onto album entitled 'Epiclouder'. Here we get a healthy dose of anything from western sounding string plucking soft rock to traditional Devin Townsend heavy metal. It's not even like there shitty songs that didn't make the final cut, it's basically a whole other album for you to listen to. All the songs featured on the second disc are quite diverse, each sounding like they’ve individually taken a part from one of DTP’s previous releases. Singing styles range from evil genius banter to rambling cowboy vocals to arguing couples over heavy riffs. One song I must mention from here is Quietus, an enchanting Ki sounding song with endless build-up that will lift you off your feet with Anekke's wicked backing vocals and its steady instruments the way through. I honestly don't know how this song didn't make it onto the primary disc. Also, Socialization, probably the heaviest song on disc two that sounds like it's taken from Deconstruction with a seriously fucking wild SYL guitar solo and unholy demon chants in it. Epiclouder is packed with haunting and mesmerizing choruses that either sound like they were written by a genius locked in an insane asylum or are sweet enough to melt your heart over and over.

Throughout Epicloud I get this 'life is fucking awesome so just live it' sort of vibe and I fucking love it. It's just a bonus that it's Devin of all people singing it, too. The man’s voice is so flawless, and for me he is by far the easiest clean vocalist to listen to that I've ever heard. I am so happy that Anekke is here on this album. She is a wonderful singer and I hope she is on future DTP releases as well. Everything sounds so complete on these two discs. I can't get enough, and you won't either.

I think Epicloud sounds like Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction, and Ghost all morphed together and thrown into a musical. Seriously a must have for the casual metal head, since I'm sure all the Devin Townsend fanboys have this already (like me). Just a god damn masterpiece.

Clever review title #8851: Epicloud - 92%

Caj1, October 7th, 2012

Epicloud is the fifth release by Devin Townsend under the "Devin Townsend Project" banner, and his fifteenth overall. One might think that after such a prolific career, he might show some signs of slowing down or losing steam; however, an album or two aside, he's been pretty consistent, at least as far as quality is concerned. Epicloud is no different. Over these thirteen tracks, Devin once again showcases his diverse songwriting ability, with songs ranging from Addicted-type pop and hard rock to Ki or Ghost-esque new age to Deconstruction or Strapping Young Lad levels of chaotic heaviness and grandiosity. Proving he hasn't run out of ideas, he even adds a gospel choir to many of his songs, and they actually don't sound out of place.

Some (maybe all) of the things I described might not be your cup of tea. Essentially, this is another horizon-broadening experiment for Devin, and he had even expressed some apprehension before releasing the thing, citing the fact that he'd never really done anything quite like this before. However, going out on a limb seems to have worked. The album consists of Devin on guitar and vocals, Anneke Van Giersbergen once again on backing vocals, Ryan Van Poederooyen on drums, Brian Waddell on bass and Dave Young on guitar, as well as additional keyboards. This backing band are fully capable of performing the music. Anneke's honey-sweet vocals are always welcome, and the rest of the band sound great. The production is spotless and (of course) densely layered, which helps to add even more grandiosity to some of the more spectacular tracks (True North, Kingdom, Grace and More!). However, several other tracks are quite simple, following a more conventional rock/pop song structure, albeit with a Devin Townsend twist (Lucky Animals, Liberation, Where We Belong). There are also a few slow, ballad-like songs that end in a very huge climax, such as the aforementioned Where We Belong, as well as Hold On.

Much of this album might be described as very candy-coated and poppy, and upon first listen, I tended to agree with that, save a few songs. However, after having some time to digest the music, I can confirm that the complexity is there... just scaled back. Those expecting something like Strapping Young Lad or one of Devin's earlier solo albums, like Accelerated Evolution or Ocean Machine: Biomech will probably be disappointed. However, this is an album that makes up for the loss of complexity by really letting the emotion flow. "Lucky Animals," the first single from the album, is some straight-up pop-metal, but by never taking itself seriously, it's a very fun listen. The song "Divine" is a slow love song with nothing but Devin's voice, a finger-picked guitar and some ambient effects. However, the minimalism allows expression that might otherwise not be possible in the heavier sections of the album. Another good example of this would be the song "Save Our Now," which at first felt like a mid-tempo slow jam. However, Devin's half-whispered singing and Anneke's more clear, yet restrained singing, along with a gentle 4/4 riff will periodically build into a more dense, soulful chorus passage. Imagine "Hyperdrive," except more pop-influenced. I won't lie; the song would easily fit on top-40 radio, but Devin is able to add something to this kind of music that the big-label manufacturers cannot. "Grace" starts very similarly to "Divine," with Anneke's vocals and acoustic guitar. This, however, gives way to electric instruments and a heavy rhythmic riff, layered vocals (Devin, Anneke and the choir) and most of the song is much like this, before being bookended by a passage much like the opening of the song, and then ending with another grandiose climax before transitioning into "More!," another very heavy rocker.

Devin has demonstrated his song-writing chops once again with this album. At first I was skeptical; I wasn't sure how to feel about Devin Townsend going pop, but after giving it a chance, it's not such a bad thing. This album might not be perfectly suited to every mood or time. It's more suited to, say, working out, taking a ride in the car, or kicking back and jamming to something a little less demanding. However, if one listens closely, they will still be rewarded, as Devin has left plenty in the music for us to digest. If anything, this is a nice palate cleanser from the past four albums. Devin incorporates a lot from each of them, but does it in a way that doesn't feel muddled or uncertain. This is definitely a guy who knows what he's doing and what he wants out of his music. Long-time Devin fans will not be disappointed; newcomers will probably find this to be a good album to start with. It's miles away from Strapping Young Lad, and it might not even qualify as metal, but it's a great listen nonetheless.

Laugh, Love, Live, Learn - 78%

Left Hand Ov Dog, September 28th, 2012

Epicloud is the newest experiment from everyone’s favorite mad metal scientist Devin Townsend. Examining this new species makes it quite clear that Townsend was not telling pork pies when he admitted this would be his attempt at a ‘pop’ album, and indeed, one that concerns his views on the concept of love, in both lyrical and musical dimensions. To that end, it certainly feels like that, and your enjoyment of Epicloud is going to absolutely depend on what you’re looking for in it. If you just want to see this latest creation and bathe in whatever it offers, you’ll do fine, but be warned: this is not a metal album. It contains elements in many tracks that are metallic, and at times it can be heavy, but at length it’s much too calm and fluffy to ever truly cross over, and headbanger bro’s are going to find nothing here, just a lot of bright, streaming emotion. Which is gay, right bro? Best to move along, man. Best move along.

Immediately and thoroughly, Epicloud feels to me like the audible approximation of a nice dose of MDMA. There’s this subtle, vibrant energy that pulses throughout it, thanks to constant background synths that cast a heavenly hue to the entirety of the proceedings. The lyrical matter also tries to deal with the complexities of human behavior intrinsic to the flabbergasting oddity we call ‘love’. Though oftentimes a bit abstract (who woulda guessed), and sometimes too damn obvious, they work well with the tracks themselves, so no complaints here. This constant background energy is consistent with this overarching concept, but at length I felt the songwriting only partly succeeded.

This is indeed a pop album, but not in any horrid, MTV way. It’s more creative and unique than that, more loveable Queen that shit-yourself-and-die Adam Lambert horror, but as such, it needs some incredibly strong, endlessly repeatable songs to truly succeed in this more simplistic universe. Devy has got the diversity down, no question, as there are a number of beautiful tracks which are stylistically lightyears apart. My favorites are the dreamy elecro-pop duet of Save Our Now, and the boundary-smashing, uplifting metal number Kingdom, with its insane vocal performance, which are actually back to back, and together make up the absolute strongest part of the album. However, the rest of the album is merely good, and generally not nearly as compelling. It’s funny, though, that with Devin Townsend, the biggest insult I can come up with is that it’s ‘good’.

It is though, it’s only good, and not in a way I can see a whole lot metal fans appreciating, as I mentioned earlier. Less than half the material here is metal, and a lot of it is quite calm, simple, and flowery… but in a good way, in that it feels like legitimately passionate, creative music, delving into a whole bunch of stylistic spheres, as Devy tends to do, and I wouldn’t count any track here as a failure. However, some of them simply do not continue to resonate with me, and I find myself skipping a couple to get to the good stuff. These include the vibrant but repetitive True North and the accessible rocker Liberation, by no means bad songs, but simply not nearly as exciting for me as the tracks above. That said, I enjoy the omnipresent variety, and the outlandish, gushing amount of synths, choirs, and all sorts of over-the-top madness really adds to the streaming purity of Epicloud’s vibe.

I feel like this is going to mostly appeal to an entirely different audience than the more demented of Hevy Devy’s fans (like myself), and indeed many a metal head will simply find this a bit too, well, loving, to stomach. Not all of its songs are fully enrapturing, but enough are, and while this is appreciably outside of the norm for me, I thankfully don’t require things to be ‘fuckin metal, bro!’ for me to enjoy them, not at all. So, though I feel it’s something short of a masterpiece, I still recommend it to the more laid-back amongst you (especially if you’ve got some E and a beautiful woman), and when it’s going strong, it’s going so strong that I’m going to continue listening to it, even after the review is done. Already got a copy sitting in the car, an appreciable break from my usual array of punishing, decrepit brutality. Devin is always defying the norm, and defying expectations people place upon him (always hilarious to read moronic reviews like ‘This isn’t the Devin I know!!!’), and that’s how he succeeds as not just a musician, but as an artist. Continuing evolution, doing what feels natural and inspired for him at the time. While this time it doesn’t happen to resonate with me as much as some of his other stuff, I still appreciate it for what it is, and if you’re an open-minded fan of good music (not just metal), you should definitely give it a shot.

-Left Hand of Dog
http://reaperdivision.blogspot.com/

Too much cheese - 40%

JTR4, September 18th, 2012

To be fair, Devin did warn through some of his interviews that the musical approach for this album would be more to the point and easy to listen to. Devin has also done more than enough to prove how brilliant he is as a musician. That being said, this album provides little more than a cheesy approach to his trademark progressive sound. Devin's "Addicted" album had plenty of poppier moments, and it certainly didn't lack any cheese itself, but this album provides such profuse levels of it that it becomes a rather sickening endeavor before long. It has a similar effect of eating too many pieces of candy corn. At first, the sugary substance tastes exquisite. But upon further ingestion, the overly sweet concoction becomes difficult to keep enjoying.

The album does feature a rather bizarre addition to metal in the form of a gospel choir. Dominating the opening track as well as helping throughout the album, they are talented vocalists, and they are added into certain moments to increase vocal power and dramatic flair. I'm not for or against their use, but I will say that the opening track could have easily been cut out without causing much damage to the album. Despite this trivial annoyance, the album becomes a bit more enjoyable once "True North" rolls forth. Guest vocalist, Anneke, shows off some marvelous singing, and her voice remains truly beautiful throughout the entirety of the album.

Despite all the good things that can be said about this work, the bad far outweighs the good in terms of enjoyment. The single released from this album, "Lucky Animals," is grating after multiple listens. The song plays around with simplicity, which isn't always a bad thing, but in this case it is. The chorus is good for chanting at live shows, but rather poor for repeated listening.

Simplicity pervades other tracks such as "Liberation," "Where We Belong," and "Save Our Now." Now, while I do find the simplicity of this album rather unenjoyable for the most part, there are some really good songs to be found. "More!" and "Hold On" are excellent examples of simplicity being used well. "More!" with its insanely catchy feel and "Hold On" with its dazzling emotional punch are the best tracks on the album. I only wish that more of the album could have followed the lead of these two tracks. The over-the-top, operatic rock feel combined with progressive metal makes the album become droning after a while, and while the album was unashamedly aiming for such a sound, it's more often than not an uninteresting and mediocre cheese-fest. For Devin fanboys, this album will most likely be an instant hit. For this fan, the attempt at being overwhelming left this album feeling underwhelming.