(2012) Devin Townsend Project – Epicloud: Anniversary Special

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In the late naughties, renowned Canadian metal musician Devin Townsend withdrew from touring life, as well as drinking and drugs, in order to rest and spend time with his family. This time period spawned a new musical identity in the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT. This group was originally planned to release a 4-album series of records, but after they were all finished, Townsend continued working under the same moniker, with (more or less) the same group of musicians. The first album to come out after the soul-searching quadrilogy was entitled “Epicloud,” and was released via HevyDevy on this day, September 18th, 2012. Today, we reflect back on this release to celebrate its 10th anniversary!

“Epicloud” continued Devin‘s collaborations with Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen on this album, much to its credit – one could even consider her an unofficial band member, as she is present on so many of their songs in general. The album opens the church choir -styled intro, “Effervescent,” which is an entirely vocal track, with Devin backed up by a choir of singers. It ends abruptly, yet somehow still flows smoothly into Anneke‘s gentle and beautiful vocals that open up “True North.” The song is surprisingly lovely and shows off Devin‘s progressive sound quite nicely. Ryan van Poederooyen‘s pounding drums really drive the song until it hits what I would currently call a traditional Devin-style proggy part. It’s hard to describe these moments, but the drums get unusual and the instrumental layering boarders on industrial-sounding, while the vocals don’t stick to a single melody. The song ends on the line from the intro – arguably these two songs did not need to be separated from one another, but as someone who likes to put songs on playlists without committing to the intro popping up in the middle, I’m glad they were.

We should all know “Lucky Animals” by now, perhaps as one of Devin‘s most simultaneously beloved and hated tracks. It’s easy to see why – it’s weirdly catchy and obviously silly, not the most outstanding musically or instrumentally, but the deep rhythm section and weird effects included in the song’s atmosphere really work to its advantage, as well as the little tidbits Anneke adds for icing on the cake of strange that is this song. It may not be for everyone, but I – like Devin himself – also enjoy seeing a room full of metalheads doing jazz hands to this live every single time.

From here on out, the album is sort of divided between common live songs and the other stuff. My first time seeing Devin live was probably when I heard most of these tracks for the first time. “Liberation,” “Divine,” and the last three tracks, “Lessons,” “Hold On,” and “Angel” were never hard-hitters, despite all having their own positive merits. “Liberation” is a pretty upbeat, driven track that is generally fun when you listen to it, especially in the chorus, but shines best during the choir parts, while “Divine” is a rather pretty ballad that focuses on a simple guitar melody and Devin‘s vocals, but isn’t overly memorable unless you’re a real romantic.

Among the harder-hitters, “Where We Belong” is the more memorable album ballad, following a bit more of a complicated pattern than its simple sibling “Divine,” with a really strong chorus despite its very mellow pacing, especially (again) when the choirs come in; “Save Our Now” is an ambient, upbeat, poppy track that features gorgeous vocal harmonization between Devin and Anneke. Again, rocking a fairly gentle pace, the song still manages to lift a lot of weight due to all of the details in the music, as well as the general happy and positive atmosphere. “Kingdom” may be well-known by more modern Townsend fans as having come from this album, but it was, in fact, originally released on “Physicist,” one of his solo albums from 2000, but was re-recorded because it had become such a live staple and needed a facelift.

“Grace” starts out on a softer note but then amps up the power considerably as the drums come thundering in alongside the choirs and other instruments. It’s a proper blast in the ass of a song and one of the few (please don’t burn me at the stake) 6+ minute Devin songs that doesn’t feel like it drags or repeats itself too much, despite not really having any sort of notable verses or chorus. There are simply parts where there is singing and parts where there isn’t. Sometimes it’s Devin, sometimes Anneke, sometimes there’s a choir… frankly, it’s kind of a prog masterpiece and it doesn’t hurt that it ends with Devin just screaming “NEVER FEAR LOVE” a whole bunch of times. I recall the impact of having those words blast at me on a backing screen live and the rumbling drums making my heart quake – it’s a great track. If I have one comment, it’s that this would have been a sick album closer because of the impact of its finale, and is a little out of place where it is, even if it slides nicely into “More!”; incidentally, this track amps up the energy again, blasting its not-so-subtle message on top of a good rhythm riff, with really tasteful additions from Anneke.

The album then begins closing up with the intriguing just-over-1-minute instrumental, “Lessons,” which leads into “Hold On” on an acoustic guitar line. There is a relaxed-yet-vibrant and atmospheric overall vibe to this song, which punches up in the chorus. The album then comes full-circle with “Angel,” which begins with organs and Anneke wailing, before the rest of the sound booms in. Again, this is a slower-paced track, yet quite bombastic due to the wall of sound that comes at the end of the starting wail, “my angel.” As an album closer, the song certainly has the musical-style feeling of a finale, but could have used a bit more of a dynamic punch to make it more epic. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but as mentioned before, “Grace” would have been a really incredible finale track, so having it not be the last song is a bit of a bummer. That said, if you don’t mind a softer ending to an album, “Angel” brings the overall vibe of the album to a close when contrasted with the intro, even bringing lines from “Effervescent” back in proper closing form.

On the whole, “Epicloud” is a pretty accurate title for this release, as it is both epic and loud, but it also moves away from the earlier DTP releases and finds its own – albeit occasionally strange – sound. We love us some Devin Townsend on any given day, but it’s nice to see that he is always willing to follow wherever his instincts take him, to unusual yet often delightful results. The album is quite long, with thirteen tracks, though a few are intros or interludes, and yet it works consistently for a straight listen-through for a casual spin, and has surprisingly few low moments on a more focused listening. “Epicloud” coincides with a timeframe wherein other experimental sounds, like that of CASUALTIES OF COOL, showed that Devin Townsend is always willing to go with whatever flow suits him, regardless of genre, and the results are pretty much always worth checking out. On this occasion, I’d go on record saying that “Epicloud” holds up on its 10th anniversary, and if you haven’t given it a spin yet… there ain’t no time like the present!

Tracklist

  1. Effervescent!
  2. Lucky Animals
  3. Liberation
  4. Where We Belong
  5. Save Our Now
  6. Kingdom
  7. Divine
  8. Grace
  9. More!
  10. Lessons
  11. Hold On
  12. Angel