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CD Review: The Devin Townsend Band – Synchestra

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I am very, very cautious with my use of the word “genius” to describe musicians. I think it is overused almost to the point of rendering it a cliché. As such, if I call someone a musical genius, I really mean it. In that case, let me say up front that Devin Townsend is a musical genius. He is almost overflowing with musical ideas, and has various outlets for that musical energy. He first became known to me as the vocalist on Steve Vai’s album Sex and Religion. And while I do believe he is one of the most versatile vocalists out there, I think we should all be grateful he didn’t get pigeonholed into that gig. His solo work covers the spectrum of progressive music from the atmospheric grooves of “Ocean Machine”, to the speed-metal pop of “Physicist”, and the earthy, emotional “Terria”. If that wasn’t enough, he shows yet another side in his other band Strapping Young Lad and their extremely aggressive brand of metal (too aggressive for this listener even!). Finally, we have The Devin Townsend Band, a more balanced approach that provides an outlet for Devin when he needs a break from the pummeling, punishing power of SYL. And Synchestra is the most recent release from this band.

Synchestra really runs the gamut of styles. From the opening, acoustic, folksy song “Let It Roll” to the almost ’80s-ish pop-metal of “Sunshine and Happiness”, the album challenges the listener. Never content to just write a catchy riff and play it over and over again, most of the songs on the album are free to explore their own musical ideas, roaming from one passage to the next. If you are looking for an accessible album, Devin never was writing for you. Certainly not as aggressive as his SYL work, nevertheless there is no shortage of electric guitar and metal riffs on the disc. In contrast with the previous Devin Townsend Band release, Accelerated Evolution, Synchestra seems to capture more of the earthy, organic feeling that predominated on previous masterpieces such as Terria. In fact, I feel that this album captures the best of those two albums and manages to use those parts to create something fabulous. Eminently more listenable than Terria, it also has much more depth than Accelerated Evolution.

What else is there to say about Synchestra? If you aren’t familiar with Devin Townsend, well, this is as good of an album as any to start with. Just be prepared to explore music that has sprung from the mind of one of the most energetic, brilliant, bizarre and crazy artists out there. Don’t try to make the music “make sense”, just let the massive wall of sound pour over you, batter you a bit, then gently recede and see where it has taken you. You just might be pleasantly surprised with what you discover.

Tracks to catch: “Let It Roll” is a wonderful tune that both reveals and deceives the listener. You’ll just have to hear it to know what I mean. “Hypergeek” is astounding in its sudden transition from calm, quiet acoustic song to a stunning, brutal attack of speed metal. This song is the reason sub-woofers exist. “Vampolka” and “Vampira” are pure music magic. The first, a polka with accordion, tuba and the whole works, the second a powerful metal romp. “Pixellate”, “Judgment”, and “A Simple Lullaby” are a terrific prog-metal trifecta. You just have to hear them. In fact, there isn’t a single song on the disc that isn’t worthy of some sort of effusive praise.

Rating: 9 out of 10

If this album is not high on my list of 2006’s great albums, well, it will only mean 2006 was one of the greatest years in prog music ever. Period. Synchestra rocks, it rolls, it moves the listener, it challenges you to expand your horizon and expect the unexpected. The sound is pure Devin, a crystal clear wall of sound that is so full of ideas and themes that you just won’t get it all in the first, fifth or even tenth listen. No one even comes close to sounding like Devin, and with Synchestra, The Devin Townsend Band has released the first truly great album of 2006.

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  • http://trinimansblog.blogspot.com/ Triniman

    It always pleases me to see more people discover what an incredible talent Devin Townsend is. Great review.

  • http://progged.blogspot.com Progged

    Thanks for the comment Triniman. I have to admit, I didn’t “get” Devin at first. His music just seemed too manic for me. Then I listened some more. Then a little more. Things started to click and I realized just how great the music was.

    He is now one of my favorites.

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