The Devin Townsend Project Delivers on ‘Transcendence’ (ALBUM REVIEW)


Like many other musicians who are prolific and remarkably talented, Devin Townsend is a notorious over-tinkerer. This point was never more true than when after the Z2 album had already been sent to reviewers, Townsend completely changed the album’s major single “Fallout” to swap out his vocals with those of frequent collaborator Anneke van Giersbergen. Perhaps this notion of Townsend as a control freak (it is called The Devin Townsend Project) is why the primary focus of the pre-release album documentary series on YouTube for Transcendence is on the songwriting contributions of the rest of the band. The results? Like most of Townsend’s solo work: quite good.

The album starts off a little bit flat with an unnecessary re-recording of “Truth,” which is the opening track to Townsend’s classic 1998 album Infinity. As one of Townsend’s most recognizable songs, the cover does nothing to improve upon the already fantastic original. There’s a larger presence of Ryan van Poederooyen on drums, but beyond that, it feels over-produced and superfluous.

Thankfully, the rest of the album shifts gears into something that sounds both exactly like Townsend and a bit different from his recent output. The first song released to the public, “Failure” has Townsend exploring with Meshuggah-style Djent riffing before leading into a trademark epic chorus. Townsend’s vocals remain a standout as one of the best in all of heavy music. The textured sounds and layered vocals make Transcendence sound, at times, like a rock opera of sorts. This track leads directly into the 2nd best track on the album, “Secret Sciences” which features a solid guitar riff, very present keys, monstrous sounding strums and the most anthemic, catchy hook on the entire album.

The album itself feels very guitar driven with many of the tracks on the album featuring wah-heavy guitar solos, which are beautiful, but also signify a change of pace. Townsend is a very proficient guitarist, but his recent output has relied more on complex riffing, song structure and atmosphere than guitar chops. The result is an album that feels like some of the more progressive music that Townsend has done.

In addition to being guitar driven, Townsend also unleashes drummer van Poederooyen on the world. From the get-go, it’s clear that the drums are a huge part of the structure of this album. Van Poederooyen’s fills are perfect, complicated and, perhaps most impressively, unbelievably engineered. They are, in fact, one of the best produced drum sounds in recent memory.

If there’s one thing that sticks out as a flaw, there’s a bit of a lack of memorability as some of the songs sort of blend together. This is most evident in the films last 2 tracks, “From The Heart” and a cover of the Ween song “Transdermal Celebration.” They are by no means bad songs, but they are very similarly structured and get lost in the mix. The project could also use a lot more of van Giersbergen, who is the perfect vocal counterpart for Townsend. As an entire project, however, Transcendence is further proof that Townsend is one of the most unique voices in heavy music. It’s an album that while may not stick out as one of the best in his catalog, is still impressive in its ability to recapture a lot of Townsend’s best qualities while taking it into new territories.

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