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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.