Reviewed: February 2017
Released: 2016, Rocket 88
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Exclusively-released autobiography of Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad)
Released exclusively in two formats by mailorder through the UK’s Rocket 88 Books, ONLY HALF THERE is the long-awaited autobiography of Canada’s own, Devin Townsend. Formerly of freak-out industrial metal stalwarts Strapping Young Lad, Townsend’s solo output has leaned more towards progressive metal and fallen under several different monikers over the past twenty years, including the volatile SYL period, a brief stint fronting Steve Vai’s band as well as high-profile production duties. Prolific doesn’t even begin to describe his release schedule, either, with over thirty albums now to his name. ONLY HALF THERE tells the whole story of one of metal’s most respected and talented geniuses in his own words.
Rocket 88 is establishing itself as a “boutique” publisher and rightfully so, given the price and quality of ONLY HALF THERE, as well as THE BOOK OF OPETH released earlier in the year. Like the gorgeous Opeth tome, Townsend’s book is available as an affordable £35 stand-alone “classic edition,” which features the 312-page hardcover and an exclusive EP of music entitled ICELAND, recorded and released solely for this package. For those collectors with deeper pockets, the limited-run “signature edition” comes housed in a snazzy box and also includes a cassette tape of unreleased demos, some art prints and the book is personally signed by Devin himself for a cool £100.
ONLY HALF THERE follows the typical music bio format and never attempts to reinvent the wheel. Kicking off with a brief forward explaining his anxiety towards the project, Townsend tells his story right from birth, through his childhood in Vancouver and eventual discovery by Vai that led to a messy and disillusioned introduction to the music business. Townsend never scrimps on the details or sordid tales (case in point: Jay Leno’s office phone) but at the same time, this isn’t THE DIRT, either. Especially grim are the mid-nineties and his stint as touring guitarist with The Wildhearts, failed auditions with Geezer Butler and Judas Priest and, of course, the whole Vai debacle. The bulk of the book deals with Townsend’s own social awkwardness and eventual spiral into drug use, institutionalization and mental illness that fueled Strapping Young Lad. However the attention to the music is the real draw. The Strapping years have been the best documented in the press but Townsend’s highly-regarded solo material including OCEAN MACHINE, TERRIA and the road that led to ambitious The Devin Townsend Project and Casualties Of Cool are perhaps lesser-known. His production work (including Soilwork, Lamb Of God, GWAR and Stuck Mojo) and the evolution of what has become his signature sound gets its own chapter, as well. A few sections drag a bit as Townsend gets philosophical but his self-deprecating tone and humour keep the narrative flowing for the most part.
This isn’t a book for the masses but fans of Devin Townsend will be glued to the pages of ONLY HALF THERE. Having met and spoken with the man several times over the years, Townsend’s personality is unforgettable and he is a natural storyteller despite his reservations. As a fan, it is nice to see he has (hopefully) left the dark times behind him and come out arguably more successful as a result. His musical palette continues to grow with each release and reading his words begin to make some sense of the long road that has got him to this stage in both his personal life and his musical trajectory. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.