There should have been no way to fuck this up.
So imagine you've set out to write a progressive metal album, and your aim is to create a really light, jocular atmosphere while keeping the music heavy as all get out. Naturally, Devin Townsend is the number one choice for such a creation. Now imagine that you have a guest list a dozen or so names long, including big names like Joe Duplantier of Gojria, Michael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, Paul Masvidal of Death and Cynic and Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah. Already you're pretty well off for yourself. But throw in both a symphony and a choir for good measure and it should be clear that this potential album could not possibly suck without the artists actively trying to make it an unlistenable mess.
And yet, here we are.
Let's start with the basics. Devin Townsend is a fantastic musician and writer, and he has the ability to create music that is not only hilarious but doesn't sound forced. His album Ziltoid the Omniscient is a perfect example of this; the album is good, but it is so ridiculous that you can't help but have fun while listening to it. Even his really heavy albums such as the landmark City (with Strapping Young Lad) don't take themselves seriously. It's that exact casualness that makes him such a wonderfully enjoyable artist to listen to.
With Deconstruction, however, he seems almost entirely preoccupied with maintaining that image, to the point where it gets in the way of the music. If you'll pardon the phrasing, he's taking not taking himself seriously entirely too seriously. Even though Devin Townsend has stated that he was not trying to make this album humourous and that he takes the topics within it very seriously, it's hard to take him at his word when this album is trying to sound as ridiculous as it does. His music attempts to sound like it is silly and over-the-top, but it is trying so hard that the songwriting turns out strained and forced.
This is especially apparent in the longer pieces on the album. In earlier Townsend epics such as “Earth Day” (from Terria) or “Bastard” (from Ocean Machine: Biomech), the pieces were long but still felt musically unified. They had a definite sense of cohesion that made listening to them enjoyable and fulfilling. The longer songs on Deconstruction, however, try to cram too many disconnected ideas into the same space. “The Mighty Masturbator” is definitely the worst offender here; the different sections feel so disconnected and irrelevant to each other that it's hard to care about the full piece.
In other pieces like “Deconstruction,” the writing just degrades to the point where the music becomes emotionless and aimless noise, sacrificing enjoyability for speed and technicality. Even during the moments where the songwriting isn't too chaotic to be listenable, the writing is extremely formulaic and predictable. There aren't really any standout or memorable riffs to be found anywhere on this album.
The musical straining is often reflected in the lyrics as well. Though of course this is a concept album and some lyrical discomfort is the norm, the lyrics here often made me cringe rather than chortle. “Planet of the Apes” in particular sounds like a drawn-out commercial for Burger King with it's refrain of “I say have it your way!” The piece “Deconstruction” is another big offender here: aimlessly repeating words like “beer” and “cheeseburger” is annoying to listen to, not amusing. This album is stuck with the misconception that talking about a man with seventeen testicles and listening to the sounds of a man struck with diarrhoea are funny and purposeful instead of just immature.
In fact, the best moments on the album are the times when it actually sounds like its taking the music as seriously as Townsend wants it to be. “Stand” in particular doesn't try to do anything too out of the ordinary, and it actually is a lot better off for it. Even the straightforward slice of metal “Juular” is one of the stronger pieces on the album simply because the song structure doesn't try to be overtly silly. I do admit I am being a little hard on him here; I was indeed laughing a few times throughout the album (especially with the special “saving the world boots”). However, those moments where I found myself actually enjoying the music were extremely sparse.
Finally, what's up with the guest appearances? All of these huge names in metal make appearances on this album, and yet you could listen to the whole album and not realize there were any other performers. Almost all of the guest vocal performances are small and inconsequential, and they will likely go unnoticed by all except the most careful of listeners. Additionally, the fact that Thordendal's excellent guitar playing is wasted on a songwriting mess like “Deconstruction” is inexcusable, especially since he doesn't get the chance to properly solo. It's not like Townsend is any stranger to working with other artists—the man has done highly successful work with artists like Steve Vai and Ayreon. The underwhelming quality of the guest work here is nothing short of baffling.
I really am being extremely hard on this album, but that's because Devin Townsend is established enough that we should be expecting higher-quality material from him. For everything that it has going for it, Deconstruction doesn't live up to its potential. The songwriting ranges from passable to painful, the guest performances are boring, and the album itself is entirely too self-aware to be taken seriously. It's unfortunate, but the Devin Townsend Project tetralogy has turned out some of the worst music of his career. If you still enjoyed some of his weaker albums like Physicist or Infinity, then you'll still enjoy this album. If you're expecting top-grade writing like Ziltoid the Omniscient or Accelerated Evolution, then you'll be sorely disappointed.
3.5 / 10
You may never suspect it, but listening to the catalogue of Canadian musician Devin Townsend will cause you to run the gamut of extreme metal, new age, arena rock, ambient, ...
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