Devin Townsend Project - Epicloud [Century Media/HevyDevy Records - 2012]Astoundingly prolific and well on his way to becoming a metal legend in his own time, Devin Townsend isn’t subtle and he doesn’t do things lightly. Having completed his promised four-album conceptual cycle in 2011, he has already delivered another record and, on a roll artistically, has retained the DTP name for it. The all-new Epicloud means to defy expectations entirely in terms of genre while preserving Townsend’s trademark huge multi-tracked sound and bombastic production (he’s humorously referred to the work-in-progress as “heavy Enya”). It succeeds wildly at both of these things, even if it’s not a wholly satisfying listen.
While obviously still rooted in just enough big bad metal to keep Grandma away, Epicloud is mostly a pop-friendly suite of slightly gospel-tinged power ballads and soaring anthems where every note and sound weighs 40 tons. As if the guitar playing alone weren’t enough to push the needle into the red, the onslaught of choirs and choruses and female guest vocalists and production gimmicks simply breaks the meter altogether. There is no space in this music, but despite the wall of sound, everything sounds cavernous, not compressed. And the songs flow into one another, creating a stopless, breathless experience performed with undeniable energy and joy.
Though Townsend has an amazing voice—operatic, fierce, and forceful, best demonstrated here on the densely purifying “Kingdom”—his greatest strength remains his musical technicality and several of the songs preserve his well-learned sense of progressive drama. “True North” and “Grace” both launch with sing-songy female vocals (courtesy Anneke Van Giersbergen) that threaten insipidness but then explode into two of the most massive sounding tracks put down in a studio. “Lucky Animals” is crushing camp glam, filtering Queen and Def Leppard through late ‘90s Marilyn Manson. “Liberation” rocks at punk speed, while “More!” chugs along with White Zombie’s sense of heavy metal motorcade. In terms of the ballads, “Where We Belong” is the best: undulating and pretty, the production on the chorus inflates the song with a constantly-expanding atmosphere that is beautiful to behold. “Divine,” on the other hand, succumbs to naked, lowest-common-denominator emotion.
The main drawback of Epicloud is that its ear candy quality isn’t matched by artistic weight and thus the experience is oddly unaffecting when it so obviously means to be a celebration. Unfortunately, happiness isn’t always conductible. Townsend is aiming for an “agenda-free” revelry in humanity and as such co-opts trappings of Christian/spiritual music in the song titles (“Save Our Now,” “Kingdom,” “Divine,” “Grace,” etc.), the lyrics, and the gospel stylings, when in fact the whole thing is kind of vague. And while Townsend is a guitar virtuoso, you occasionally want him to peel back all the thick layers of production and just be virtuous. The playing on the record is fine, but this is mostly a record about voices: 5000 layers of them. Heavy Enya, indeed.Richard T Williams