We’re taking another diversion from our usual Starter Kit format to focus on the work of another seminal artist. Let’s face it; if you’re a reader of this website then you’ve probably already at least heard of some of Devin Townsend’s music. He’s one of the most electrifying, prolific, and impressive musicians to ever come out of Canada and is unquestionably one of progressive metal’s leading figures in the modern age. With almost thirty records to his name spanning a number of different projects and names, Dev’s output has practically never ceased since he first came onto the scene as Steve Vai’s frontman for a number of years. Whether it’s the manic and terrifying industrial/death/thrash assault of Strapping Young Lad, his heavy take on pop music, or even his forays into ambient, new age and even country music, there practically isn’t anything that this guy can’t do at a frustratingly-virtuosic level. That being said, if you’re not familiar with this guy’s extensive back catalog, it can be quite a daunting thing to undertake. That’s why we here at Heavy Blog Is Heavy would love to guide on your quest to getting into what may be metal’s best current musician. There will never truly be a definitive way to get anyone into such a multi-faceted body of work, but these five shouldn’t be passed up.
The man has said it before, and it’s worth saying again: City is the most purely visceral and intense record that Devin Townsend has ever cut to tape. In an age where industrial music had just become established and accepted, Strapping Young Lad’s second LP obliterated eardrums and truly challenged the idea of how truly upsetting and heavy metal could really get. While the album is highly mechanical in nature, its roots in death metal and thrash metal always help keeps things from ever getting too lifeless. Helmed by the drumming mastermind Gene Hoglan (of Dark Angel and Death fame), this album consistently hurls itself at you from beginning with an equally powerful and paranoid wall of sound that is so impenetrable, it’s understandable to see why the band could never quite capture this level of ferocity ever again. Yet despite this savage assault, songs like “All Hail the New Flesh,” “Detox” and “AAA” are instantly memorable and deliver some of the band’s most iconic riffs and songwriting moments. City is one of the biggest middle fingers to listeners out there, and it couldn’t be better for doing so.
Now with proper context, Terria is perhaps the perfect middle ground in looking at Dev’s solo career and his time with Strapping. It’s also arguably his most well-rounded LP ever. Despite running over 70 minutes in length, this album never gets tiring on the listener and masterfully balances psychedelic ambience with pummeling grooves, drugged-out leads and occasionally ironic lyrics. While his previous explorations with repetition and layering had been done before, this was the album where both the structuring of parts and the production value matched the scope of Devin’s massive visions. His trademark, delay-ridden guitar tone is arguably at its peak here, helping each moment and musical idea flow into one another seamlessly and really helps solidify the album as a cohesive and perfectly-actualized piece of work. It doesn’t matter whether Dev’s cranking out prog-metal masterpieces like “Earth Day,” sensitive pieces of acoustic rock with “Deep Peace,” or getting downright poppy in “The Fluke,” this simply isn’t something you should pass up. Actually, you should probably just start right here above any other album.
Though it’s certainly a flawed project, Ziltoid is quite possibly HevyDevy’s most iconic and memorable album. Yes, it’s a ridiculous concept album about a coffee-addicted alien who wants to destroy Earth, summon monsters from other dimensions and discover the true meaning of reality. It’s completely fucking absurd, but’s it’s also amazingly entertaining and probably the most fun you could possibly have with any of Devin’s albums. Recorded on a laptop entirely by himself, the album’s modest production may pale in comparison to some of the discography’s more high-budgeted albums, but it’s a fantastic exploration in comedy, parody and (believe it or not) true artistic integrity. Though it’s understandable that some fans may be turned off by Ziltoid’s juvenile humor and wacky transitions, the record is still just as well-organized and dynamic as any of the man’s more serious material. Oh, and let’s not forget that “By Your Command,” “Solar Winds” and “Color Your World” definitely stand as some of the finest examples of progressive metal in the late 2000s.
After the implosion of Strapping Young Lad, quitting drugs and a whole lot of soul searching, Devin eventually began playing music publically again as The Devin Townsend Project and released four records within a two year span. So much for a break. Deconstruction was the third of the initial four releases and was touted as the man’s heaviest and most ambitious release since Strapping dropped the cataclysmic Alien back in 2005. After abandoning his former band and seemingly drifting away from metal with records like The Hummer and Ki, it was hard to fathom that the man would have it in him again to deliver another pummeling piece of challenging and catastrophic metal. Boy, were we all wrong. Deconstruction is without a doubt the most grandiose, absurdly over-the-top, and expansive album of them all, and is almost unbearable for doing so. Luckily, it’s rooted in plenty of grooves, wanky guitar wizardry, incredible vocal hooks, and more guest appearances than any other record that comes to mind. Honestly, when’s the next time you’ll hear another record with guys from Opeth, Emperor, Between the Buried and Me, Gojira, Cynic, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Gwar, and Meshuggah ever again? Probably never. If this was the last absurd metal album that Devin ever made, things would be perfectly fine. Even though it’s exhausting and chock full of farts, Deconstruction couldn’t be more worth your time.
Every other album on this list is firmly rooted in metal, but Casualties of Cool couldn’t be further from it. Sure, Dev has been giving us plenty of diverse albums over the years like Devlab and Ghost, but Devin’s newest project has taken his music to a now-unrivaled level of inspiration, vision and beauty. It’s now perfectly clear that 2014’s Z2 record ends with Ziltoid being banished through a wormhole, ending up on a barren moon and is completely alone, save for his sole communication with a woman through a radio. Guest vocalist Che Aimee portrays the aforementioned female character, and carries the weight of the album on her shoulders with some of the most beautifully melodic vocals you’ve probably heard in the past decade. Casualties of Cool is a tripped-out journey of ambient country and rock music, filtered through a dark atmosphere with a heavy emphasis on repetition, isolation and discovery. Like many of the man’s projects, it’s a massive musical undertaking, but its nuance, lush mixing and awe-inspiring clean vocals never get tiring and always change at the perfect time. In an age where it seems like Devin Townsend may be getting a bit tired of riffing away, Casualties of Cool is one of the best records he’s ever come out with and feels like the most passionate album to come out in some time.
There’s no way we can ever recommend just these though! Here are five more records that are definitely worth your time.
Devin Townsend – Ocean Machine (1997)
Devin Townsend – Infinity (1998)
Devin Townsend Band – Accelerated Evolution (2003)
Strapping Young Lad – Alien (2005)
Devin Townsend Project – Ki (2009)