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There has not been another album in the progressive metal world that I think comes closer to the realm of world music than Devin Townsend's Synchestra. There is a great feeling of unity on this record, as if all the denizens of the world have come together to hold hands and bask under the warmth of the sun. It sounds strange, but only a simile or abstract metaphor could even begin to describe the warm power that Devin Townsend's music has. Maybe it's the pure originality, maybe it's even the unique way in which the music is produced. The fact remains however, that 'Synchestra' is one of his best works, second only to 'Terria' in terms of brilliance.
This is really what Devin Townsend's music should sound like. The production is perfect, and theres a fair balance of childishness and seriousness in order to make a piece of art that is enjoyable and fun yet credible and intelligent at the same time. This is not the sort of prog music you would ever see Dream Theater making. There are different layers that make this music progressive. While Devin Townsend may very well be one of the most talented rock guitarists out there on the music scene today, unlike your typical Petrucci or Yngwie, he doesn't flaunt his powers. Instead, the majority of his work is pretty laid back in terms of technicality, except for the occasional solo, where he'll go all out and truly make a statement about his virtuosic talent as a musician, and put his contemporaries to shame!
The two cornerstones of this album are 'Triumph' and 'Notes From Africa.' The later is where the 'world music' aspect of 'Synchestra' really comes together. The heavy overdubbing typical of Townsend's work really comes into play here, and gives a feeling of global cohesion. It's a feeling I have yet to find on any other record.
The only possible shortcoming this album has is it's bonus track 'Sunshine And Happiness' but it's become increasingly clear that the bonus track is meant as nothing more than a light hearted joke. Therefore, taken as it is, there is nothing wrong with this album at all. This is album that has the uncanny ability to lift your mood no matter what. It has a really warm, positive feeling to it.
Fantastic. A true testament to the body of talent that is Devin Townsend.
Ocean Machine: Biomech is just as brilliant (if not moreso) as the day I bought that enigmatic album, so it was with some considerable excitement that I received this package in the mail a few months ago. BUT IT SUCKS
It's annoying because there's a few moments that if developed properly could've been pretty rad. Babysong's got this hella lush intro that I dig, that sweetass solo in Triumph would've taken ages to get right. That strange tribal/orchestral deal in Pixillate is really quite great, interesting and unique, when it's not surrounded by super boring riffing. The best bit of proof that surprisingly, Townsend does still have the knack would be Vampira, which is basically the only song that works all the way through; where Townsend's habit of "krazy whackiness" actually compliments the simple and catchy semi-thrash riffs.
The rest? Well, I'd probably like it more if Townsend called it a production showcase and was down with it. 'Whacky'/'Funny' interludes (only Yankovic is allowed to Polka), Notes From Africa where a simple midpaced riff is repeated until you hate the entire universe, Triumph's complete lack of meaning, where a bunch of cool stuff is just slapped together in a really unsatisfying way. Or you could try 'A Simple Lullaby' which tries (and fails) to make up for it's boring as hell downtuned, happy-doom guitar work by virtue of its' massive production. So on and so forth.
Just no focus, no point to the whole thing. It's weird that these songs sound so utterly unfocused, so scatterbrained, so completely pointless yet the production is amazing (although his guitar tone has never made my dick hard and here's no exception). I get the feeling that the time spent on producing this compared to the time spent writing it is easily 100:1. Unfortunately, the pristine tones and millions of layers can't hide the fact that hardly anything here goes anywhere.
Yeah so this basically sucks a great deal and I can't see even the biggest Devin fan digging on this. That's because it's shit.
Three years passed between Devin’s first record under the name Devin Townsend Band, which was a longer gap than that between any of his preceding ‘solo’ albums. Rather than signaling a bout of inactivity, however, it simply meant that he had released a solo ambient/drone album in 2004, the monstrous metal onslaught of 'Alien' with Strapping Young Lad in 2005, and then both 'Synchestra' and SYL’s 'The New Black' in 2006. So, yeah, I think we can cut the guy some slack here. There’s no sense beating around the bush: I totally fucking love this album. I think it’s the best thing that Devin Townsend has done so far, which is saying a lot, given the strength of much of his other solo material and the industrial-strength viciousness of Strapping Young Lad. Still, none of that other music, admirable though it may be, quite touches the holistic brilliance of this album. I will not, therefore, try to be objective in discussing this album, though I will try to convince you of its merits with more than just relentless cussing and exhortations.
The opening trio of songs is a perfect suite, flowing smoothly from one musical theme to the next. Throughout the album, it is apparent that Devin has thrown essentially every trick he can muster at these songs; the thing is, the songs are so goddamn unbelievably strong that this instrumental excess never even comes close to overwhelming them. Check out the brief excursion into front porch-sitting country twang in the middle of “Triumph” – I dare you to tell me that it doesn’t just work, beyond any reason. “Babysong” works its way through some almost, but not quite, cloyingly winsome melodies in a very sing-songy way. About midway through it, though, the song changes up its rhythm and just starts swinging furiously. The light-hearted instrumental “Vampolka” introduces the melodic theme of “Vampira” with some surf guitar, organ, and, yes, a motherfucking tuba. If you’ve ever tried playing a tuba (as I have), you’ll know that it’s no mean feat to make the instrument sound as jaunty and light as it does here. Interesting to note, by the way, is that it’s really only with “Vampira,” which is six songs into the album, that we got a song written more or less on the model of a classic heavy metal rager, replete with thick, aggressive riffing, muscular rock drumming, and some intensely pungent howling from Devin His Fucking Bad Self.
Accordingly, the break between “Vampira” and “Mental Tan” is the first time there’s been a full pause between tracks on the whole album. Rather than proving tiresome, however, this fluidity of movement between songs is indicative of the unified nature of this album as a composition. Unity and oneness are indeed prominent themes in much of Devin Townsend’s solo work, but on this album those lyrical themes find equally full expression musically. “Triumph,” for example, does both. Its lyrics reference Carl Jung, in regards to which the simple but insanely powerful chorus reveals a deeper meaning to the song itself. Jung’s psychological theory of the collective unconscious suggested that the human species, in addition to having in common certain biological traits, also shared a species-wide psychological reservoir. The idea was that, simply by virtue of our shared humanity, every individual had access to a set of precognitive ideas, archetypes, and so forth. Our species, thus, was not only one body, but also, in some respect, one mind. So, yeah, fucking belt it out with me: “ONE WORD – COLLECTIVE! MANKIND, CONNECTED!!!”
Even the title of the album is similarly inspired. 'Synchestra' obviously combines the words ‘synthesis’ and ‘orchestra’. But ‘orchestrate’, as a verb, already means to arrange, to bring about, or to control the movement of numerous components. ‘Synthesis’, then, would seem to be superfluous, as it typically denotes the combination of parts into a hybrid whole. Or, in philosophical terms, the synthesis is the outcome of the operation of the dialectic: one begins with the thesis, against which is opposed the antithesis; the confrontation and negotiation between a thought and its opposite thus results in a third way, the syn-thesis. In the context of this album, then, and its other lyrical preoccupations, it’s difficult to see the title as the suggestion that Townsend is attempting to fashion an orchestra of opposites, or to combine, beyond the fullness already suggested by the word ‘orchestra’ on its own, as many disparate parts as possible in order to arrive at a newness – a rejection of both prior supposition and flat refutation. I mean, it’s still heavy fucking metal, sure, but conjured and synthesized right before one’s eyes into an untrodden path.
After the marathon of musical brilliance and songwriting acrobatics on display in the first half of the album, the pacing of the latter half is comparatively deliberate and thoughtful. To be honest, the 14-minute stretch of “Gaia” and “Pixillate” drags a little bit, which may be the only fault I can find with this album. Still, even that slight dullness makes sense when arranged into the sequence “Gaia”-“Pixillate”-“Judgement”-“A Simple Lullaby.” As further evidence that this album is somewhat all over the place, the sound effects and melodic construction of “Gaia” are reminiscent of new wave, while the introduction to “Pixillate” makes me think of “Dragonaut,” the first track from Sleep’s 'Holy Mountain', though this latter thought is merely a tonal similarity rather than compositional. Around five minutes into “Pixillate,” this synthesizer joins which sounds a bit like a kazoo and noodles around for a while until the chorus kicks back in. The stretched-out nature of this tune, with its deliberately stomping pace, is suggestive of a dirge, which, given the otherwise jubilant nature of the remainder of the album, is an effective contrast. In fact, because of the thoughtful sequencing of the album, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to suggest that it can be organized into four suites along the following lines:
Suite A – Introduction & Primary Theme:
1. “Let It Roll”
Suite B – Refinement of Theme & Rising Tension:
7. “Mental Tan”
Suite C – Reflection, Doubt, & Reaffirmation:
11. “A Simple Lullaby”
Suite D – Epilogue & Valediction:
13. “Notes from Africa”
14. “Sunshine & Happiness”
If you haven’t been able to parse it by now, this is my absolute favorite Devin Townsend record, and it may, in fact, be one of the very closest things I have ever heard to a perfect album. It’s hard to put a precise finger on it, but something about Devin’s approach to songwriting, singing, emotive guitar playing, and overall tonality makes my otherwise objective and critical faculties turn completely to mush. For fuck’s sake, these songs could all be ballads in celebration of goat molestation, and I’d keep prattling on, like, “Oh, Devin! What a marvelous way you have with words/goats!” “Judgement” continues the dirge tempo from “Pixillate” somewhat, but has an altogether more mournful tone; towards its end, the drums kick into some great martial snare rolls, as the bass and piano trace out a deep melody. The closing section, which has got the drummer following the chiming guitar with deft hits at the center of the ride cymbal, is but another breathtaking moment among many. One of the album’s biggest strengths, in fact, is that these little moments of genius are scattered across its entire breadth, so that the listener picks up on more (and different) details each time through the album.
“Notes from Africa” continues to change up the pace as it closes out the album, featuring some chunky slap bass playing at the front. The song is constructed primarily in a modal fashion, especially in the verse sections, where the guitar keeps fleeing from, but eventually finding itself drawn ineluctably back to, that same high note. The chorus section does eventually pull in some chord changes, but the song is effective in the way it winds itself around that central note. The song also contains a very reedy-toned synth which flits across the stereo spectrum, daring you to follow it. The song eventually deposits you on a bed of flowing water and various animal noises, a fairly clear reminder of the terrestrial grounding and thematic focus on nature and oneness. The “hidden” track, “Sunshine & Happiness,” is almost ludicrously upbeat, sporting a bluesy, boozy, boogie shuffle with pure classic rock and roll piano vamping under the AC/DC-esque riffing. “Sunshine and happiness for all!,” it goes. Yeah, it’s absolutely cheesy as hell, but Devin’s got the musical chops to pull it off, singing these wry, winking gestures at sixty years of rock and roll history without coming off as engaging in pastiche or soured irony. To put it somewhat simply, if this tune doesn’t smack a tremendous fucking stupid grin all over your face, the world may be in sorrier shape than we’ve been told.
This album is an honest-to-goodness masterpiece.
Overall rating: 99%. I have quite literally injured myself stomping around and flailing my arms in time to those massive drum beats in the chorus of “Triumph”: MAAAN-KIIIIND, CONNNNECTEEEEEEEED!!!!!!”
(Note: Originally published at http://spinaltapdance.wordpress.com)
The one thing one can expect from Devin Townsend is the unexpected. His works are classed as progressive, first and foremost, and considering the term “progressive” is defined as; “favouring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are”, it would be naïve to assume that Devin is going to, being the non-conformist that he is, stick to conventional methods and similar roots to the beginnings of this band, named after himself. ‘Accelerated Evolution’ was one of the first metal records to consume my life and, though it took a brief vacation from my play lists, has confirmed its brilliance due to its longevity in the memory. Though I may have neglected this record in recent years, it has never been far from my mind because of its individual nature and willingness to breach barriers. Though I don’t consider The Devin Townsend Band to be the pivotal Devin expression - that accolade belongs to the incredible Ocean Machine, who’s music is a fine depiction of life - this project does hold a position on the leader board for being one of the better progressive bands, despite the niggling pretension behind some of the bands antics.
‘Accelerated Evolution’ is a massive record, so to aim for a sophomore that simply continued its breath taking themes would have been naïve on the part of Devin, who is a smart musician. His talents lie beyond simple instrumentation as he is a visionary leader. He creates almost farcical records, given the experimentation and ability of the record to actually give the listener a real sense of the meaning of life, in its many forms. Ocean Machine’s ‘Biomech’, for example, is probably the best concept record I have ever heard. It draws the most universal elements of life - birth, love, death, rebirth and so on - and projects them to an even bigger state than they already are within our lives. Everything, despite being so complex, becomes so clear and concise that we’re elevated to a euphoric state of consciousness due to his excellent song writing abilities and showmanship at the front of the band. Ocean Machine’s ‘Biomech’ and ‘Accelerated Evolution’ are the epitome of the Devin projects, as far as I have heard, so achieving these levels of excellence was always going to be a feat that Devin couldn’t always live up to. Expectations, given his previous bouts, are raised ever so high and, unfortunately, ‘Synchestra’ doesn’t maintain the incredible pace set down by ‘Accelerated Evolution’, in terms of this project alone and no other.
Three years is a long time in regards to your average everyday band, but in terms of a Devin project, it is even longer. His projects are bound to undergo a complete transformation in that space of time and this project has, unsurprisingly. ‘Synchestra’ isn’t, in my eyes, despite the hyperbolic reviews, as accessible as ‘Accelerated Evolution’. Though experimentation did exist on that piece, it is carried on here to a much higher phase of experimentation, during influence, once again, from the industrial genre and highly atmospheric forms that make the essence of this band unlike any other - even each record greatly differs in most aspects. There are, as expected, a few similarities, like the elongated screamed vocals on songs like ‘Pixillate’, but other than these minor elements, the record is completely different and suffers from the stop-start implication adding so many interludes and minor songs like ‘Let It Roll’, ‘Hypergeek’ and ‘Vampolka’. These songs give the structure a much looser feel than ‘Accelerated Evolution’, which didn’t contain any short interlude songs, giving it a much tighter feel, pulling everything together in synchronicity. It isn’t only in this particular area that I find ‘Synchestra’ wanting. In terms of the lyrics and how they’d structured into a conceptual base, I find this record trying too hard to be a follow up to ‘Biomech’, by Ocean Machine. Lyrical concepts suggests this band is a depiction of life, in general, and this mirrors Ocean Machine’s ‘Biomech’ which, simply put, managed to say more about life in a much smarter and more coherent way. The lyrics here, at times, just seem odd:
“Why don't you have a baby?
Why don't you have a child?
Babies are good,
And part of humanity's charm.”
Comparisons aren’t limited, though the records do differ in places, but to compete with such a monumental piece, which epically showcased the sublime talents of this man, is pretty foolish. I suppose, to some degree, I am showing bias towards Ocean Machine since I discovered them first and find their debut to be one of the best records in the music business, let alone for Devin, or in metal. However, this bias doesn’t stop me from enjoying the best moments of this record, like the incredible ‘Gaia’, or the stirring ‘Judgement’, which echoes within my mind over and over with its lush guitars and brilliant Devin screams and clean vocals. His clean vocals are amongst the best I’ve heard in the progressive field. I love his voice. It resonates in me and reverberates around my entire body, making me feel his every emotion as it drains out of his body and seeps into mine. Despite this, the records lack of cohesion and direction still hampers it in the back of my mind. Unfortunately, we’re never far from a lacklustre moment, but perhaps this is only in comparison to his others, better works, not a judgement made on the basis of the material here alone. I don’t dispute my bias. I admit it and stand by the fact that there are a number of pleasing elements on this record, but it doesn’t, despite some glorious moments of vocals and with the lush atmospherics, which are uplifted and euphoric (usually due to the high level of bass in the foreground), raise the bar in terms of the emotional value that the sullen ‘Accelerated Evolution’ mustered with such ease and class.
There were deviations from the sorrowful context on the aforementioned record, but the direction was towards a sombre place in the heart, where melancholy had been resting for a long time, waiting to unleash its grief upon the stricken heart strings. ‘Synchestra’, with its complex emotional patterns and diverse nature doesn’t intend to sit still and be soaked up like water to a sponge. The pace, despite slowing down and even hitting mid pace on occasions, is quickened in terms of a comparison to the long winded ‘Accelerated Evolution’ and by this I don’t necessarily mean tempos, but the level of experimentation within a song is heightened to frightening levels as bass weaves in and out of the foreground, percussion imposes itself and the guitars, as expected, lead the Calvary charge to a bitter demise. As well as this, additional musicians are brought in to offer pieces of piano, mandolin and even tuba. The content is obvious dynamic, but lacks a sense of self that made ‘Accelerated Evolution’ a long lasting hit. This is perhaps a record where the pretension spilled over and negatively affected the state of opinion whereas, in the past, it might have intrigued more than anything else.
After listening to an album countless times it may have a tendency to become boring and dull. This is not the case with Synchestra.
On Devin's second album with "The Band", he seems to be taking a more experimental approach than he did with Accelerated Evolution. One glance at the page for this album helps reveal what I mean. Tuba, hammond, mandolin -- just some of the instruments listed. This is not your average metal record. The instrument playing is superb and the band blends together perfectly. The guitar work is fantastic. There are plenty of mellow acoustic interludes, but enough crunchy riffs to keep everybody satisfied. The drumming is also memorable; Ryan Van Poederooyen is certainly an overlooked artist. The keyboards are simple, yet effective. The aforementioned, strange and obscure instruments provide a nice change from the standard guitar/bass/drums/keyboards seen in most metal bands. The bass is a bit lacking, but manages to poke through during a few songs, most notably during "Notes From Africa". Then there are Devin's vocals, which are some of the best he has ever put on record. The production is excellent as well, which helps create a beautiful, moody atmosphere. The atmosphere itself is constantly changing; "Mental Tan" creates a feeling of space, whereas the ending of "Notes From Africa" leaves a jungle impression. Staring at the album art may help give the listener a better idea of exactly what they're about to hear.
The songs themselves are truly moving, sweeping, and exciting. They grab the listener and will not let go. Of course, Devin manages to fit in his trademark humor during the tracks "Vapolka" and "Vampira". These help give a short break from the powerful tracks sandwiched around them. Make sure you check out the hilarious video for "Vampira".
Devin continues to pump out consistently brilliant work, and Synchestra only shows he has no signs of slowing down.
Indeed, it is definitely one of the best records I've ever heard and another brilliant Townsend record. Count another high rating for Devin Townsend from me. This man just cannot be stopped in his brilliance. His sound has evolved from the more straightforward atmospheric metal found on Ocean Machine, to the sounds of divinity themselves on Infinity, to straight forward atmospheric SYL-lite, to the song of the earth, to straight forward heavy rock from heaven and now...finally, the culmination of all the sounds, all the sights and smells of Devy's crazy career, here on this record. It's all here, catchy hooks, brutal walls of sounds with screaming vocals, catchy poppy songs, pure prog metal, pure prog rock, beautiful melodies and segments, all of it, and it's all awesome.
Let It Roll opens with a wonderful acoustic guitar and nice vocals from Devy. A very nice relaxing intro. When the drums come in it's real inspirational, and the album's strongest point hits you for the first time: this is an album to cheer you up and set you right in life. This is in album you put on after something awful has happened, and by the end you are emotionally drained of anything except a fuzzy warm feeling. Hypergeek is exactly as the title suggests: insane and off-the-wall with some strange as hell sound samples. Not ambience, but just weird. There's an ok melody going on... until the double bass hits and there's a crushing guitar riff and now the album has begun. There's another inspirational section with an uplifting melody, then the song ends, fast and furious.
It leads into the first big standout of this album, Triumph. Not to say the first two songs weren't amazing; they were. But Triumph is where it all really kicks off and grabs you and doesn't let go. The vocal lines are infectious as hell, I was saying, "And they said it was this, and they said it was that" and "hooray for Doctor Young... hooray for earth born and son" or whatever the lyrics are for weeks. The "One word ...collective! Mankind...collective!" section is awesome. There's a shirt folk country interlude, a sublime guitar solo from Steve Vai, an amazing build up with some terrific Devy vocals, this song has it all. Awesome. Triumph leads into Babysong, which is a strange one. It's like a heavy metal lullaby. Bludgeoning yet precious. Lyrics are strange, but the whole song pulls itself off pretty well. Not the strongest offering on the album but no slouch. A formidable song.
Then comes Vampolka. This one is a really strange one, a joke by the band revolving around organ and trombone and sounds and a "surfs up" style guitar, I forgot what the song was that popularized it. It takes the melody of Vampira and twists it. Meh, ok, I'll listen to it. Vampira comes...the single of the album. Some good vocal work by Devy...pretty great, actually. The rest is simply ok. Overall, Babysong, Vampolka and Vampira are probably the three low points of the album, but the fact that they are contiguous is good so they don't destroy the flow of better songs. And...they really aren't all that bad, especially Babysong. Just not as good as the rest of the album. However, 99% of music out there isn't as good as this album, so that's not saying much.
Anyway, next is Mental Tan. It introduces a lovely melody and is quite pretty, but nothing happens. I really like it though. It goes into Gaia, which comes in full steam ahead, all band members pounding away. A lovely melody, lovely keyboard work to give a earthy-windy feel to the song, I really can't describe it. This is another big song on the album. Amazing stuff. It goes into Pixellate, which is the longest and biggest (Devy's wall of sound) song on the album. The different emotions and feels it goes through is amazing, and is overall a breathtaking song. That's three perfects in a row now...and Judgement doesn't disappoint either. It's probably the most powerful song on the album and has some truly colossal yells from Mr. Townsend. It brings that that lovely melody from Mental Tan at the perfect time, after a brutally badass yet really cool and pretty section with Townsend screaming.
Next is A Simple Lullaby, which is anything but simple or a lullaby. It's pretty simple in concept, and revolves around the same melody, but I find this song passes the quickest on the album. It's just a really interesting listen if you get engrossed in it. Fun to listen to. That's now five aces in a row. Can it continue? Yes! Sunset, while simple like Mental Tan, is no less pretty. In fact it's got some of the prettiest, most inspiring and genuinely happy moments on the album. Six in a row. Notes from Africa? Well...great melody? Check. Lovely layering? Check. Reference to SYL's 'Love?'? Check. Great vocals and lyrics? Check. Make that seven aces in a row. THAT'S HALF THE ALBUM. Unfortunately that spree is broken by the last song Sunshine and Happiness, which, as it suggests, is stupidly happy. It's a fun listen once or twice, but it offers no real depth. I usually stop the album after the rainforest at the end of Notes from Africa, cause S&H offers nothing to the album and even mars the experience.
So overall, this album is exceptional. Devy's songwriting isn't quite where it was with Ocean Machine, but his vocals are more consistant and his ideas excellent. Yes, at some points he rips himself off a bit with some layering affects, but it doesn't matter, simply because the end result is incredible. In the future, I'd hope to see more songs like Judgement with some incredible layering and pure power. Great stuff. This album only loses a ltitle steam at Vampolka/Vampira, but those songs are still fun. I tip my hat to you, Devy, you cannot be stopped. Let's ope the new SYL dominates as well.