Sprawlingly, Scrawlingly “Epic”
If there’s one thing Devin Townsend’s fans have learned to expect it’s this: Don’t expect anything. The Canadian singer/multi-instrumentalist, who founded extreme metal group Strapping Young Lad in the 90’s, has released 25 records across various projects, and while each one departed from the one before—last year’s simultaneously released Deconstruction and Ghost are exampes of this range—no one could ever accuse him of being “pop,” or even “positive.” That has been remedied—to successful effect—with his latest masterpiece, Epicloud.
As stated in his recent mxdwn interview, Townsend didn’t initially set out to make a “happy” record, but when you spend your career writing what you feel, it’s bound to happen. To accentuate the point, the soundscapes explored on Epicloud include gospel, 80’s arena rock, Broadway and even a little bit of country—all genres known for leaving audiences feeling good.
The album begins with the brief, psalter-sounding “Effervescent!” leading into “True North” with Anneke Van Giersbergen (of The Gathering) repeating “I love you / I need you / I’ve always been around you” over simple synths and guitars. Townsend and the rest of the instruments join her, and the end result is spectacular. The problem Townsend has had in the past was not only using every crayon in the box, but scribbling so much that by the end of a song, the listener would lose focus. Not so on Epicloud. There are moments of excess (“True North” threatens to veer in this direction), but there are also passages of simplicity and restraint. “Lucky Animals” is a tight, heavy number with an unforgettable refrain that keeps you locked in.
The huge “Liberation” and “Hold On” need to be sung by 20,000 people with fists in the air. But “Where We Belong” and “Divine” would leave a more intimate crowd speechless, even though the former gets to rocking pretty hard. “Save Our Now” marries Duran Duran with Bon Jovi and Van Giersbergen shines again in “Grace,” where once again Townsend goes astray, but never so far as to lose the listener. “More!” is good fast fun, devolving into the short instrumental, “Lessons.” The very end of the album reprises “Effervescent!” but this time the chorus sounds more like Queen—a cool and effective touch.
Yes, Epicloud has everything, but this time that includes a real appreciation for hooks and songwriting. There is nothing wrong with tried-and-true chord progressions and catchy melodies, and when they are mixed with Townsend’s ever-growing bag of tricks, the result is indeed something magical.