Devin Townsend. To those in the know, the name of this maverick Canadian will spark fevered fanboying or fierce debate. Having spanned a dizzying array of musical styles in 20 years of creativity, this album-churning machine has amassed one of the most devoted fanbases from within and beyond the metal community.
Following some success as the voice of Steve Vai’s band, Devin’s first foray into the metal world’s consciousness was in Strapping Young Lad, a project formed to create some of the most unrelentingly aggressive and totally deranged music ever concocted. SYL’s music was Devin exorcising the deepest, most unhinged parts of his mind, no holds barred. This was ‘extreme metal’ taken more literally than it has ever been, yet always with a sense of twisted melody in Devin’s riffs and astonishing vocal range, alongside a strong element of black comedy, Devin’s tongue often welded to his cheek. The insanity peaked with the 4th SYL album, 2005’s ‘Alien’, which also marked the zenith of Devin’s drug abuse. Though there would be one SYL album after this, by his own admission Devin made ‘Alien’ his ultimate statement of what Strapping was intended to be: a middle finger to the system and the posturing of the mainstream metal scene, and a horrifying glimpse into the twisted human psyche at its most depraved, all with a sick sense of humour and an unnerving knack for earth-shattering riffs and bizarrely catchy hooks.
However, this is one facet of the rich Devin Townsend tapestry. Shortly after SYL’s second, landmark album ‘City’ in 1997, Devin also began a prosperous solo career, which would keep him busy alongside Strapping and beyond. Beginning with the ‘Ocean Machine’ album, Devin was making a statement that he was also capable of hugely emotionally dynamic music. Though largely rooted in the progressive end of metal, the songs in Devin’s solo cannon boasted far more varied influences, exploring all manner of emotions between the anger he was known for, and some truly beautiful, honest outpourings of emotion, enriched by some of the warmest production ever heard.
After 5 SYL and 7 solo records, including ‘Ziltoid the Omniscient’, an absurd metal opera about a coffee-loving alien, and a smattering of electronic EPs, Devin took a deserved break from recording, leaving a huge legacy and a hole in the metal landscape. Returning two years later for 4 albums under the ‘Devin Townsend Project’ moniker, displaying 4 disparate sides to Devin’s writing (soft bluesy rock, pop-laden metal, SYL-esque complex heaviness and atmospheric new-age), the Canadian album factory had some catharsis to work through. The resulting albums and their follow-ups, another fearless slab of pop-metal and a country album, have earned Devin a slew of new fans, who now eagerly await Z2, the Ziltoid sequel.
Arguably the most consistently interesting and surprising artists to spring from the metal scene, Devin Townsend continues to amaze, with his old work still sounding huge today. Long may he continue to reign.