Hey! You! Get Onto My Epicloud!

There’s “positive” and then there’s Devin Townsend, or more appropriately, the Devin Townsend of today. This guy’s been through a lot. From a near complete mental breakdown in the late ‘90s to venturing to the sharp, rusty edges of humanity in Strapping Young Lad, it’s an understatement to say that he’s seen his ups and downs. Well, it’s been almost thirty years since Townsend’s picked up a guitar, and twenty years since music has swallowed Townsend whole. With time and age come perspective and wisdom, and both of these elements are front and centre on the Devin Townsend Project’s latest effort, Epicloud.

Examining the disparity between the feeling of SYL’s City and Epicloud is like trying to compare The Devil himself, full of murderous rage and disdain for the pathetic and sad human race, to a heavy metal Teletubby with wings that eats cotton candy and craps out pink bunnies. Alright, maybe that’s a bit strong. But it’s close and it’s just as entertaining.

The doors of Epicloud blast wide open with “Effervescent” with a choir exclaiming “Everyone into forever / Everything a part of me / Dancing all into whenever / Effervescent quality”. Screw subtlety. You’ve been slapped in the face with happiness and you better get used to it – there’s a lot more to come.

If the first track didn’t release some endorphins in your jaded human brain, the warm hug of “True North” will provoke some kind of response; if not, check your pulse. “I love you / I love you / I need you / I’ve always been around you.” Now isn’t that nice? Smiley face. There must be some hard-rocking parents out there that are singing this little mantra to their babies right now. I’m surprised Townsend didn’t release a deluxe version with a fuzzy animal mobile…

Is all this fluffy talk scaring you, rockers? Fret not. “Where do we go from here?” is asked in “True North” and you’ll be happy to know that the answer is “heavy”. Townsend’s signature guitar chugging rears its gigantic head, and layers of dueling, melodious choirs and synth-scapes add to the bigness of it all. “Where We Belong” introduces Townsend’s more soul-searching, introspective side as this one turns into a reassuring mini-epic that hints at the possibility that maybe we’re not doomed as a race. Maybe things will be okay, who knows?

I get a real kick out of “Divine”, largely because of its sweetly confusing opening line – “Loving you is the best thing and the worst thing in my life.” Amen, brother. However glib those lyrics may seem here, soundless on a screen, there’s something about the way Townsend delivers his music that makes one want to sway from side to side and flick a Bic to this tune instead of skipping it. “Loving you is divine.”

People tend to exaggerate to the point of redundancy to get their point across these days. Is your sandwich truly “unreal”? It’s a sandwich. There it is – completely real. Is your new couch “awesome”? Really? You’re in awe over your couch? If so, good for you, freak. “Epic” is another one of these words that gets carelessly thrown around. How was your night Saturday? Epic! Wow, really? Yeah, I went to the bar and got super drunk, woo! Huh. Epic indeed.

Townsend cannot be counted among the throngs of cavalier, hyperbole-chucking word-butchers. If he’s calling something “epic” and “loud”, it’s going to be just that. The appetizers of epic-ness that are served during the first half of the album (like in “Liberation”, for example) finally culminate in the main course that is “Grace”, a thick, juicy steak of a tune that fills you up makes you lean back in your chair. This is without a doubt the album highlight, but wait! Resist the urge of instant gratification! Do not go running to hear “Grace” without first following the trail that precedes it. Think about it. When you watch Apocalypse Now, do you start watching when Willard enters Kurtz’s lair? No. Of course not. (If you said yes, just… just get out.) No, you start in Willard’s room staring at the ceiling fan; you get your mission; you get on the boat and head on down the Nung river for days; and then you get to the middle of the jungle. Take your time. Enjoy the journey.

“Grace” is worth every second of anticipation. If one were to build an army of elite soldiers trained in unconditional love, caring and understanding, this might just be its battle anthem. “Life! Love! Live! Learn! […] Never fear love!” I can visualize an armada of smiling peace-bringers chanting this and practicing their disarm-by-hugging attack. “I know the way, and you know the way – We all fall down if we fear love.” Chill-inducing and life-affirming, this is.

Epicloud brings you back home, hopefully cleansed and reenergized, with “Angel”, which echoes the immense power of “Grace”. Anneke Van Giersbergen’s beautifully powerful and soaring voice pushes the album to a satisfying close and, at the end of it all, the effervescent choir that first welcomed you in ushers you back through the gate from whence you came, eager for your inevitable return.

Music can be a pretty powerful thing for some people. Seeing Townsend live is always a pretty big deal for me; it’s a guaranteed mood enhancer. Granted, not every song that makes me happy will make you happy, and vice versa. But if you’re looking for some great new music to dive into and maybe fall in love with, give Epicloud a shot.

Check out Vancouver Weekly’s recent interview with Devin Townsend.