Album Review: Devin Townsend, ‘Transcendence’

Written by Lucas Jones


Devin Townsend has had what some would call a pretty kick-ass musical career. Founding member of extreme metal band Strapping Young Lad, lead vocals on Steve Vai’s Sex and Religion, And solo projects that range from the crazy prog of Deconstruction, to the mellow tunes of Ki, to the 5th dimensional concept album Ziltoid the Omniscient, in which earth goes to war with the alien named Ziltoid after the planet was unable to produce the “Universe’s Ultimate Cup of Coffee”. But underneath the eccentricities and the shifting styles is the unrelenting musical genius of Devin Townsend. Regardless of the style he chooses to present, you can be sure that his albums are going to be chock full of vocal and instrumental layering, wacky lyrics, and a general self -awareness that is hard to find these days. Transcendence, DT’s newest album was released in early September, and it is by far one of his best works to date.

The album kicks off with an updated version of “Truth”. Devin has a tendency to rework older songs for newer albums, and this iteration is no exception. Just as when he redid “Kingdom” on his album Epicloud, the extra work pays off and the result is a fuller, better done version of a song. Right off the bat, I want to comment on just how good the mix is. It’s stellar. Every instrument can be heard clearly, the mix is wide, spacious, and loud without distorting. In an age of brickwalled mixes and loudness wars, this album is a breath of fresh air. “Truth” goes right into “Stormbending”, and while the lyrics here are a bit cheesy even by DT standards, the instrumentation and Devin’s melodic vocal lines are superb, especially once the chorus kicks in. The ending is operatic and epic, sending chills up your spine.

“Failure” and “Higher” take a turn into slightly heavier territory, featuring simple, chug filled rhythm sections perfectly layered under string and synth sections. “Failure” has some insane vocal passages, reminiscent of Matt Bellamy’s soaring high notes on the Muse track “Stockholm Syndrome,” as well as some reverb and wah heavy shredding. With DT’s pattern of big, complex, layered mixes, it is easy to forget that Devin is as accomplished a guitarist as he is a composer. “Higher” breaks down further, very nearly reaching djent levels of heavy. Frantic drums, growling vocals, and breakneck riffs all stop at start seemingly at random, making this one of the heaviest tracks on the album.

The title track, “Transcendence” does what any good title track should do. It gives you a sense of all the components of the album. Symphonic, heavy, spacey, powerful vocals; it seems to encompass everything that defines Devin Townsend as a musician. “Offer Your Light” seems to be a result of Devin deciding he wanted to a EDM artist for a song. Yet again, even though it comes out of left field, the song still kicks major ass, maybe even more so because of the abrupt shift in structure. “From the Heart” is an eight plus minute power ballad with vocal layers galore and an outro that, with its synth and acoustic back and forth, is reminiscent of Ki, a more mellow DT album. The album ends with a cover of Ween’s “Transdermal Celebration,” and “Gump,” which offers a bit of behind the scenes audio before launching into one more heavy track to close out the album.

If you picked up the Deluxe Edition, you’ll be treated to some pretty fantastic demo cuts of songs, but even the standard album is killer. It is 100% Devin Townsend, chock full of everything we’ve come to expect from the only man who can properly rock a “skullet.” As far as a rating goes, I’d easily give this a 10/10. For me, it is perfect. It is mixed well, it’s adventurous in its attempts to try something new, but still remains grounded in the core Devin Townsend sound. Vocals, guitar, solos, synth and strings layers, its all just perfect. Each song can stand on its own; there is zero filler here. And to my ears, Transcendence sounds like perfection.

Rating: 10 out of 10