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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.