"I’m too sacred for the sinners/And the saints wish I would leave." - Mark Heard
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Review - Devin Townsend Project - Deconstruction
Devin Townsend is either a genius or insane. Probably both. His latest album, Deconstruction, was released at the same time as his other latest album, Ghost, both of which cap off a four-part music cycle that includes Ki and Addicted, a glorious metal-pop album that easily ranks as of my top 25 albums, if I were the kind of person to make such lists. Somehow these four extremely different albums fit together but I’m not enough of a genius to figure out how. Heck, I can’t even figure out some of the songs on Deconstruction. As best as I can cipher, it’s a concept album about God, Satan, the human ego, and a cheeseburger.
Musically the album contains some of the heaviest stuff Townsend has ever committed to bits, and that’s saying something coming from a guy who was in the band Strapping Young Lads. The cover of Deconstruction is a spooky kid in front of a demented Alice-in-Wonderland-like carnival world constructed completely of metal. That about sums up the album. Dark, heavy and demented with a skewed sense of humor. As much as I loved Addicted I almost threw in the towel on this one. It is seventy demanding, punishing minutes of chaos that only now, after dozens of listens, is starting to fall into place. It’s the kind of album where you need a nap halfway through.
But I kind of like it. Especially the shorter songs, shorter here being those under nine minutes, of which there are five. My favorite on the album, and the one that first grabbed my attention, is the simplest. “Praise the Lowered” begins with a quiet techno beat, more space than notes, and appropriate introductory lyrics of “Close your eyes, get ready”, placidly sailing along until halfway through with Devin angelically basking in his sobriety (“I’m so sober”) when the music takes a mean turn, bringing the hammer down with a massively heavy version of the earlier easy-going melody and screamingly anguished lyrics of “Gimma that wine / Gimme that acid / I wanna lose everything that’s policing us.” I’m not sure who “Juular” is but the song seems to be about putting away childish things, though for all the triple-kick-drums and symphonic choirs it’s a bit difficult to tell why “Nothing ever bothers Juular.” While I’m not a fan of noise for the sake of noise, the chaotic smear of distortion that ends the song gets the adrenaline flowing. The choir serves as a Greek chorus in “Pandemic”, a frantic song that packs ten minutes of notes into three and a half minutes. And though Devin claims the album is not a joke it’s difficult not to wonder if this itself is a joke when he has this orchestral choir singing “I farted.” Oh, to have been at the recording sessions of this album! The final song, “Poltergeist”, opens with Devin shouting “Let’s finish this!” before ripping into your ears with everything he’s got, throwing angular rhythms on top of choirs and some of the heaviest riffs I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. As best as I can tell, this song is about how even though an addict may put his addictions behind him the past and the old ways tend to come back and cause problems.
Now for the big ones. “Stand” takes it’s time moving through its sections, sedately pacing for three minutes before becoming Mr. Hyde and adding a symphonic backing (with a real symphony, rented from some small European country) with lyrics of “Change the world? / You better change yourself, boy!” Although nearly ten minutes long “Stand” is, for the most part, an easy listen. Not so for the remaining three behemoths. “Planet of the Apes” magically mixes a ragged detuned guitar riff with symphonic backing, somehow keeping up with the non-rhythmic blank verse that Devin has created, coming together for a mini chorus of “I stay heavy for my God.” The song also includes lyrics of “Jesus, Jihad”, “While we all have lots of bands who influence still / We all rip off Meshuggah!” and “One is all connected / Tungsten body glowing mind.” The meaning of this song is like a name that’s just on the tip of your brain in that I almost get it and then it’s gone. The sixteen minute “The Mighty Masturbator” and the almost ten minute title track are likewise all over the place. One moment they are just voice and clean guitar, then for five seconds it’s a barrage of sweeping metal arpeggios and then it’s a full choir for half a minute and then it’s a carnival in ¾ time and then screaming and double kick drums for two measures before somehow ending up as a beat-heavy rave-up held in a stadium stocked with a marching band. It’s all very Zappa-like and ADHHHHD and very complex. The lyrics seem to be a kind of argument or internal conversation that probably should be read as a kind of opera with parts performed by different characters. Oh yeah, there are ten famous guest musicians singing the different parts (name them all and win a cheeseburger.) Devin keeps his grounding in humor, though, with Canadian voiced parts and snobby theologians discussing deconstructing cheeseburgers and whatnot. Much like the human mind, it’s just a big mess, a study in excess, but it somehow has a cohesive structure that keeps it from destroying itself as the songs gyrate wildly around an axis. The album is so rich and dense that if it doesn’t drive me insane I’ll surely be discovering new bits to enjoy six months or even a year from now.
In less skilled hands the concept and execution behind Deconstruction would be total chaos. The songs are exceedingly complex, layered beasts that scream in the pain of their birth. But ya know what… they’re growing on me. Maybe I’m losing my thin grasp on reality but I’m starting to catch on. It’s starting to make sense. It’s… oh wait. I lost it again. Nope. It’s all just crazy talk. But good crazy talk. Besides, where else can you hear an orchestral choir sing “All beef patties / Pickles, sauce on a sesame seed bun”? Totally whacked.