The Devin Townsend Project – Addicted

Crayons of Townsend

Crayons of Townsend

Even on his 1997 debut Ocean Machine, Devin Townsend proved to be a wholly original visionary. His lyrics are poignant, his voice is a schizophrenic marvel, and his guitar work is unconventionally amazing. His ideas and songwriting range from the tragedies of human existence to ridiculous insanity of coffee obsessed alien puppets. And best of all, his production techniques, like “wall of sound” overdubbing, give listeners an experience they truly can’t find anywhere else.

Over the last twelve years, and with almost as many albums, Townsend has continued to release magnificent work. In an industry which promotes commercialization and massive sales, he is one of the few true artists still crafting music simply to create art. His newest release, Addicted, carries this torch well, introducing some new styles while still wowing listeners with the unmistakable Townsend charm. It’s not his best work, but it’s still 100% Devin Townsend, which is great.

Addicted is the second of four albums Townsend plans to release under the guise of The Devin Townsend Project. Each album will have a whole new set of musicians (so his last record, Ki, which was released a few months ago, has completely different players). The story behind this project is essentially that after 2007’s Ziltoid the Omniscient, Townsend decided to completely give up his addictions and negative personality and pessimism. He became born again (though not in a religious sense) and he wanted to see how he could write in a sober and less chaotic mindset. The result so far (with two albums released) is a simpler Townsend output overall, but it’s still quite brilliant. This album marks the first time Townsend has truly shared the vocal duties with a collaborator (Anneke van Giersbergen of The Gathering and Ayreon fame), and her presence is a crucial part of why Addicted is a unique and very catchy entry in his catalogue.

The album opens with the extremely heavy title track. It follows a similar style to tracks like “Regulator” and “Seventh Wave.” Giersbergen multitracks notes as the track builds, and it brings a great juxtaposition to Townsend’s evil screams. Near the middle, there is a strange instrumental break that harkens back to the odd timbers of Infinity. Always self referential, Townsend sings “You’re addicted. And it makes it hard to be your friend.” Clearly, he is reflecting on how he pushed friends and family away with his problems. The track is your standard Townsend metal track, but as always, the production keeps it interesting. Anyone new to Townsend may be turned off by his angry side, but those who “get it” know that it’s part of what makes him a genius.

“Addicted” segues seamlessly into “Universe In A Ball!,” another heavy track. Honestly, it’s like a second half of “Addicted,” which means as a separate track, it’s not really different. The dynamics shift during a brief bridge which showcases Townsend’s normal singing voice. He also uses his famous falsetto in the background, and that’s always welcome. Again, so far, Addicted may be downright annoying to certain people with its brutality, but if you’re a fan, it’s just what you expected.

Townsend shows us a totally new side with “Bend it Like Bender!,” which he himself proclaims as a “…a pretty bippy-boppy-Euro-type dance track,” but it’s cool all the same. He still sounds aggressive in the verse, but the music isn’t, and Giersbergen sings a beautiful, fun chorus that complements his section surprisingly well. I never thought I’d hear a Devin Townsend song I could see people dancing to in the 1980s, but here it is. Its tongue-in-cheek lameness is part of the appeal, and it is catchy.

Aggressive guitar riffs and a glorious female harmony open “Supercrush!,” a fairly straightforward rock song. The lush production, sublime verse (sung by Giersbergen) and hypnotic chorus (sung by Townsend) makes it perfect as a single. It’s a cut that benefits from attentive ears (preferably under headphones) to fully appreciate all the subtle production additions Townsend adds to give it his unmistakable personality. The way he and Giersbergen counter each other is fantastic.

Some may few the inclusion of a remake of “Hyperdrive!” (originally from Ziltoid) as a cheap, lazy way to extended the length and track listing, but I don’t. As I said, Townsend creates his music for the love of expression and creativity, not to sell records. Obviously, he liked how Giersbergen gave it a new spin, and it fits well as a centerpiece in Addicted. It’s basically the same track musically (maybe a bit rougher and lower in pitch), but really it’s just the female vocal that gives it its own identity. The original is still better, but it’s a great cover.

“Resolve!” opens with a fairly proggy keyboard riff and grungy guitars. Giersbergen sings as Townsend lightly harmonizes, and it’s a simple rock track. The music accompaniment is more interesting than the vocals, but overall it’s kind of forgettable. However, the fade out fades into one of Townsend’s most beautiful songs.

“Ih-Ah!” is a great song. Townsend complements his clean vocals with clean guitar, clean piano and a wonderful melody. The chorus is moving, and the production is powerful without being overbearing. Lyrically, he discusses his love for “you” (as usual, we never quite know who it is). And, in Townsend’s typical ironic slant, he titles his track as a mockery of the clichéd emotional “key words” such songs usually have. Even as he writes a great love song, he makes fun of what he’s doing. Brilliant.

Another straightforward rocker, “The Way Home!” features Townsend’s operatic voice at moments, and the tracks is engaging. His “wall of sound” once again provides a beautiful, if indecipherable, atmosphere for him to sing in. It’s a track that doesn’t grab you instantly but will reveal its true quality over several listens.

Giersbergen provides one of the catchiest, greatest moments on Addicted with her simple chorus in “Numbered!” She sings “We are numbered. We are numb. We are not alone,” and it’s a section you’ll anticipate during the whole album and sing along with when it finally happens. Surrounding this is some great arpeggio guitar work and several of Townsend’s vocal styles. It’s got some heavy riffs to offset the purely angelic section Giersbergen gives us. By the end, everything except her vocals fades out, giving us a few seconds of blissful A Cappella.

The final track, “Awake!,” is the epic Townsend usually leaves us with. His verse has a great energy as a build up, and once again, Giersbergen steals the show with the superb chorus of “All the world’s a stage and we are home again.” The way he combines glorious female vocals, his equally affective clean vocals, his death metal vocals, and heavy production is genius. You’ll be singing along with this track. At the halfway point, the original song fades out, and a slower, lighter, dreamy section finishes it off. It’s mostly ambience, but there is the subtle alteration of “All the world’s afraid” reprising a Townsend sings an afterthought. Then, like “A Day In The Life,” it slowly disperses.

History has shown that artists are at their most creative, unique and revolutionary while under the influence of drugs (just look at Sgt. Pepper and SMILE,) and unfortunately this hold true for Townsend. While Addicted (and Ki before it) still engulf catchy, weird material in the Townsend sound, he has definitely become more commercial and simple. He has moments of oddity, but it’s not like it used to be. Without whatever evils he used to use, he will never make an album as emotionally revealing and powerful as Terria, nor an album so ludicrously brilliant as Ziltoid, nor an unquestionable masterwork of genius like Syncestra. While still going quite strong, he is only a shadow of his former self. I certainly don’t want him to destroy his health and personal life for the sake of his art, but with this new and improved Devin, we must accept that Townsend’s best work is almost certainly behind him.

Townsend classifies Addicted as “…a very direct and ‘to the point’ album with an emphasis on groove and the chorus…11 rocking songs and no bulls**t.” This is pretty accurate. There are moments of beauty, of anger, of ugliness and of despair, and all of it comes wrapped in Townsend’s signature bow. While he has certainly lost something with this “project” and personal reformation, there is still enough Devin to make it work. At the end of the day, this still sounds like a Devin Townsend record, and that’s all that matters.