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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.