Released: 2016, Inside Out Music
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
There are workaholics, and then there is Devin Townsend, who takes the term to a ridiculous extreme. Between May 2009, when he re-emerged after disbanding Strapping Young Lad two years earlier, and November 2015, Townsend produced a half-dozen widely divergent Devin Townsend Project (DTP) studio albums, a follow-up to his Ziltoid The Omniscient opus, debuted his Casualties of Cool side project and recorded and released three live album/DVDs. Factor in all the touring that went along with this, not to mention writing a book and god knows what else, and that is one insanely busy schedule.
So in spring 2015, Townsend decided he needed a bit of a break – and who could blame him, since he’d done essentially a career’s worth of work in six years. By early this year, though, he was back at it, and here we are not long after with DTP’s seventh studio album, Transcendence.
While the break wasn’t especially long by most standards, it nevertheless was a pause that seems to have relaxed the famously manic Townsend. Transcendence is the most low-key and easy-going of DTP’s “rock” albums – which would exclude the ambient/new-agey outliers Ki or Ghost – and a far cry from the utter chaos of Deconstruction or the Ziltoid sequel Z2: Dark Matters.
As the introductory opener “Truth,” a remake from Townsend's 1998 solo album Infinity, segues into “Stormbending,” the ample wash of keyboards, measured tempo, wall-to-wall vocal harmonies and symphonic grandeur set the tone for the rest of the album. It’s got the big, plush, majestic sound and pop-metal sensibilities of Sky Blue or Epicloud, but is more laid back and expansive.
While there certainly are peaks and valleys, especially on the sprawling “Secret Sciences” or “From The Heart” - and in the careening prog freakout amid the monumental “Higher” - there are few truly boisterous moments here. Indeed, “Offer Your Light” is the album’s lone anthemic hard rocker.
“Stars” and the title track do show some spunk at the outset, but soon settle into a comfortable jog - though “Transcendence” does deliver a brash crescendo. A faithful cover of Ween’s wonderfully catchy “Transdermal Celebration” gives Transcendence an upbeat finish – if you subtract the five minutes of hazy ambient synths tacked onto the end that nearly triples the song’s original length.
Anneke van Giersbergen, whose buoyant vocals have a welcome presence on most DTP albums since 2009’s Addicted, also takes something of a backseat here, which is a bit of a shame. While she occasionally shares time with Townsend, as on “Offer Your Light” or “Truth,” her contributions tend to more ethereal, as part of the choirs that supply the generous backing vocals.
The pair’s tag-team/duet dynamic has such a natural ebullience that a bit more of that here might have helped perk up Transcendence, which tends to be overlong in stretches as it chill mood invites meandering. The album’s big, bold sound, colossal melodies and occasionally hymn-like vibe are inviting and often hypnotic, to be sure, but since Townsend declared “the time has come to forget all this bullshit and rock” on Epicloud’s “Liberation,” perhaps he could have stuck more to his word here.