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, and somehow even more. His last four albums, released under the Devin Townsend Project moniker, were supposed to be an exploration of the vastness of his artistic abilities, and they certainly lived up to that billing, covering hard rock, pop dance, progressive metal, and soft ambient. Of course, throughout all of this stylistic experimentation, there was just one thing missing: the huge heavy metal that put Townsend on the map in the first place. As if to fill that void, a fifth album, Epicloud, was appended to the tetralogy, and though it was originally conceived as a quick collection of song ideas to get out of the way while working on Z2, it turned out much bigger than anyone expected it to be.
If you've listened any of Townsend's big and heavy albums, like Ocean Machine: Biomech or Addicted, you know he has a propensity for writing music that pulls at the most guttural of musical instincts we posses, reaching the listener and becoming enjoyable on a level that's almost physical in its primality. It should come as no surprise then that Epicloud is true to its name, brimming with intensity, full of heavily melodic compositions, and artfully-overdone in its instrumentation. All of this is done exactly to entrap the listener in its catchy, bouncy grasp. There are two sides to this coin: on one hand, the music isn't as challenging or unpredictable as his more progressive works with Ziltoid the Omniscient or Deconstruction. On the other, since it plays to some of our basest and most basic desires, the music is always enjoyable, compelling you to headbang on an instinctual level. The melodies are big and powerful, full to the brim wit gratifying resolutions; the songs are simply constructed, using predictable traditional song structures to build up expectations and intensity; the instrumentation is nearly symphonic in its largesse, featuring a gospel choir, brass section, string section, and the fantastic pop vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen; in short, everything about this album is designed to get you fucking pumped or die trying. It's designed to bring about the most orgasmic musical catharsis you've ever had.
And through all of that, Townsend never remains staid; the songs constantly evolve and change over the course of the album, creating a full-length piece that feels satisfying and developed. Songs like “Liberation”, “Save Our Now”, and “Hold On” \were written to be played in huge stadiums to mosh pits of dancing metalheads—they exude the melodic intentions of arena rock bands like Journey and REO Speedwagon combined with Townsend's penchant for the thickness of traditional heavy metal bands like Metallica. Tracks like 'Grace”, “More!”, and the rerecording of his earlier track “Kingdom” reach further into the annals of heavy metal, betraying Townsend's admiration for bands like Meshuggah with their uncompromising heaviness and heavily rhythmic streams of chugging. And, of course, there are some lighter explorations in “Lessons” and “Divine” to break up the pace here and there, pointing towards the contrast of intensity that is ever-present in Townsend's work.
The only downsides I can find with this album are with some individual songs, and even then, “Lucky Animals” is the only one that really sticks out like a sore thumb, sounding like a misguidedly bouncy tune that aimed for levity and landed squarely on annoyance. The way the song utilizes the same two phrases repeated over and over with very little innovation or movement is incredibly grating, not to mention uncharacteristically shoddy writing for Townsend. A few other tracks also aren't quite up to par for Townsend, including the surprisingly lacklustre ballad “Where We Belong”. But on the whole, the album still tends to be amazing, and a few missed shots here and there don't mar the overall experience at all.
While I admit I wasn't that impressed with the original Devin Townsend Project albums, Epicloud is a welcome addendum, and without a doubt the strongest release for the (now) pentalogy. If you were feeling a bit let down by some of Townsend's latest releases or really yearning for a return to form, you must give Epicloud a listen—it's easily a contender for the best heavy metal album this year. And if you haven't been introduced to the catalogue of this fantastic musician yet, there's no better place or time to start.