Deconstruction and Ghost are probably two of the most eagerly awaited records of the year for many metal fans. These albums make up the second half of the tetralogy initiated last year by Devin Townsend with the acoustic Ki and the lively Addicted. The master knows how to titillate our curiosity when it comes to describing his work. He thus affirmed that Deconstruction “just sounds like a journey up my own ass in a lot of ways”. Speaking of which, we asked Devin to explain what he meant by that when we met him at the Hellfest in 2010. To which he concluded: “I have a very interesting ass”. A statement his former buddy Gene Hoglan undermined by saying: “Devin’s ass is like two elbows put together. I have to admit that I found Byron’s (Stroud) ass way more interesting than Devin’s”. Who should we believe here?
To decide between the two men, let’s take a look at this detailed track-by-track of Deconstruction.
Praise The Lowered (6:02):
It all starts with electro beats and relaxing sound effects. The trip-hop universe we’re evolving in is close to what a band like Archive could create. Devin’s very soft voice is at times interwoven with itself on several tracks. From 2’40’’ on, the singer increases the intensity by pushing his head voice to higher notes. Prepare to be thrilled. A few seconds later, in perfect continuity, a double bass drum pattern and an under-toned riff are silhouetted in the dark and seem to intensify through a fade-in. All of a sudden, Devin changes radically and uses a shrieked voice, while hypnotic choirs appear and a big death voice fades in. In this part, Devin asks for alcohol and drugs, while he was advocating sobriety just a few moments before:
“Ah, gimme that wine!
Gimme that acid!
And I wanna lose everything that’s policing us, and then everything must begin !
And I wanna do heroin !
And I wanna do crack cocaine !
And I wanna lose everything but release…”
Then comes a short pause, shattered only by Devin’s double grating voice: “Why don’t you just smoke that fucking weed boy, drink the wine !”
That’s when a wall seems to fall down on the listened: huge, heavily-tuned riffs, big orchestrations, a choir, a maelstrom of death voices getting more tangled and enriched by the second. It all ends with a fade out, leaving only a latent keyboard. This “Praise The Lowered” is built around a crescendo, that literally goes from one extreme (calm and peaceful) to the other (powerful and terrifying). From this first song on, it’s pretty obvious that Deconstruction will be a real roller-coaster, all about contradictions and trampled self-righteousness. This is not an album meant to be comfortable. We should expect the unexpected.
This song starts with a crossed fade in/fade out, between the keyboards at the end of the previous track, a linear drums rhythm and a light, palm-muted guitar. Devin’s vocals are worrying. Various voices and sound effects make flash appearances, then the sound of a marching army rings out, in time with the drums. Devin’s voice hardens, whispers: “Ready?”, and thick guitars appear, along with a hammering snare drum that gives the song a new intensity. Then come Mikael Akerfeldt’s (Opeth, Bloodbath) big death voice, deep choirs and an assortment of overlapping voices. A few seconds later, brass and string instruments take shape. A steadier double bass drum follows, along with powerful choirs that make way to a melodic guitar solo and to this punitive death voice again. When the climax finally comes, everything stops and we’re left with a murmuring Devin and a discreet guitar. The snare drum/under-tuned guitar duo is back again, before a crescendo leading back to the bigger sound, choirs, and orchestrations. The death voice comes back to conclude this track. Everything stops a little suddenly, with only the voices and brass instruments ringing out softly.
A grating scream (“eeh-yah!”) introduces this track, made up of fast-paced drums and rhythmic choirs. Devin’s clear voice rings out above the choirs and various orchestrations of variable intensity. At 1’30’’, a powerful black voice appears, supported by huge Dimmu Borgir-like choirs. Ihsahn, Emperor’s former screamer, is easily recognizable. A true black metal part starts at 2’00’’, for a full ten seconds of particular violence, with blast beats and guitar tremolos. Back to Devin’s singing, then to Ihsahn vocalizations, which make way for a strange blast beat part with a wonderfully wacky guitar melody. Finally, the black metal part already heard earlier comes back to conclude this song.
Planet Of The Apes (10:59):
A discreet keyboard arpeggio and a greasy, under-tuned riff make up the introduction of this 10-minute-long track – and it’s not even the longest. Here, the riffs are heavy, and the snare drum rings out powerfully and regularly in time with the guitars. It all sounds slightly unstructured, vaguely reminiscent of Meshuggah, but with very expressive, if not theatrical vocals from Devin, sprinkled with a touch of aggressiveness. At 2’48’’, after a passage led by a grating voice, luminous, sublime choirs appear all of a sudden, their two layers – one low, one high – leaving you feeling like you’re soaring. A little later comes a particularly catchy part that could have been on the Addicted album, or even Steve Vai’s Sex & Religion. This is followed by a synth loop on a background of choirs. Since the beginning of the songs, the sequence of the various parts is extremely quick, and atmospheres change in a heartbeat. At 5’40’’, the music fades and leaves only Devin’s soft, clear voice and keyboard and guitar arpeggios; these elements are soon joined by a catchy drum rhythm and make for a happily insistent part – which disintegrates as soon as the grating voice comes back in the play. This is the opportunity to recognize Tommy Rodger, vocalist for Between The Buried And Me, more easily. Speaking of which, this passage and the frenzied atmosphere changes of the song are a little reminiscent of the American band. The track ends with a fast drum rhythm, the constant hammering of the snare drum, and an alternation of riffs, lead guitars, singing, choirs, orchestrations and keyboard sounds that Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) would probably approve of.
This track gets off to a cracking start, with double snare drum, heavy guitars, big tenor choir and big orchestrations. The choirs and orchestrations later give way to Devin’s powerful singing and some strange keyboard sounds in the background. At 1’38’’, the chorus performed by the choir makes its first appearance, and the melody is particularly insistent. At 2’50’’, against a background of syncopated rhythm, a new guest vocalist appears: this powerful, aggressive voice can only belong to Joe Duplantier (Gojira). After a second chorus appearance, the intensity increases once again, with the superimposing of a double snare drum, a greasy riff, huge choirs and Joe screaming his hatred. Suddenly, everything stops and makes way to a little music box melody, soon joined by acoustic guitar chords and Paul Masvidal’s (Cynic) soft voice. Thus ends Summera, which is probably the catchiest track on the album, thanks to its sublime chorus.
The Mighty Masturbator (16:28):
That’s one interesting track! Not only is the title deliciously silly, but its length (16 minutes and 30 seconds) makes it the longest song on the album. Before the song starts, the listener might feel a slight sense of dread at the thought of what he’s going to find, and given what he’s been through so far, it would be understandable. But Devin Townsend really does things properly and always manages to keep his audience well-disposed. “The Mighty Masturbator” starts softly, with a nice, palm-muted guitar melody and Devin’s soft, soothing singing. Then come massive guitar chords, sustained by a layer of choirs and Devin’s emphatic voice. From here on, the song unfurls progressively, taking various shapes while maintaining a constant level of intensity for about 3 minutes. At 4’20’’, everything stops and makes way to an off-beat classical guitar rhythm, with a monologue declaimed in Devin’s silly voice. The song starts again with one of those drum shuffles Devin likes so well, and a “funny” keyboard melody. It all switches temporarily to a slightly “saloon” atmosphere before going back to basics. Synthetic sound effects, various voices and crazy screams tangle together against a background of snare drum rhythm. At 6’58’’ comes the big break, with the introduction of sound effects and experimental electro rhythms. Devin chants lyrics like a dictator and is acclaimed by a crowd. A more sustained electro beat appears, followed by various sound effects and a fake voice beating time. At this point, the result is close to what a band like Pain could offer. But the part evolves progressively, all the while keeping its rhythmic electro base. Devin Townsend sings opposite to Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan), who confers true intensity to this part (it’s no real wonder that Devin declared, at the end of the recording: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Greg Puciato just tore me a new asshole.”) It all goes back to normal around 11’50’’, even if the word “normal” is extremely relative when it comes to Devin Townsend. At 14’22, big guitars and drum rhythms, both frenetic and heavy by turns, stop to make way to… a kind of Christmas-y waltz sung by a choir, with Devin chanting in the background like a circus ringmaster! Thus ends “The Mighty Masturbator”, with two bombastic, orchestral layers and choirs.
Another cracking start for this song, with blast beat drums and huge choirs, fast-paced voices in the background and Devin’s long scream. Then comes the diva Floor Jansen’s lyrical singing, in striking contrast with Devin’s yells, against that same background of blast beats and choirs. This track, the shortest of the album (3 minutes and 30 seconds) is all about intensity and power practically from beginning to end, and is marked by a crazy guitar solo.
The strained voice of a man sitting on the throne, followed by a farting sound, (yes, you read that right) introduce this eponymous track in the most elegant manner. Ensues a short, albeit improbable monologue from Devin: “You could take anything! A benign object of any sort… You could take a cheeseburger and deconstruct it to its source!”. A very Buckethead-like guitar riff/lead appears on a background of voices chanting “Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger! Cheeseburger…”, then the drums ring out to support the riff. This intro gives way to a sequence of unstructured (deconstructed?) riffs, both heavy and fast, quite typical of Devin Townsend, supported by various types of grandiose choirs and a few weird keyboard sounds. The whole thing sounds pretty insane. After reaching a sort of climax, the music suddenly falls apart at 2’40’’, a few dissonant clean guitar chords ring out and the farting sounds and other doubtful effects come back. The music starts again in a frenzied way, but this time, it is accompanied by aerial choirs from Devin. When the tone hardens, supported by a super-fast double bass drum, Gwar’s Oderus Urungus and his typical phrasing make their entrance. There could have been no better guest on this track, given that the man shares Devin’s taste for coarse humor. The various parts follow one another in a chaotic way, until a new interlude at 4’33’’, introduced by a shout from Devin: “Good lord, it’s a cheeseburger! A double!”.
Ensues the now famous line: “All beef patties, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun!” sung by a choir and punctuated by Devin expressing his veneration for said cheeseburger: “Oh glorious cheeseburger. We bow to thee. The secrets of the universe are between the buns”. All of a sudden, Devin exclaims: “But I don’t eat the cheeseburgers guys, I’m a vegi-ma-tarian!” before the music takes off again with blast beats and sweaping guitar leads that could come straight out of a Buckethead or Bumblefoot album. A few seconds later, Devin starts screaming: “beer! beer! beer!” at a crazy rhythm, a blast beat part ensues, and so on and so forth. Once again, Devin Townsend favor the listener with one of his stupendous vocal flights of fancy at around 7’15’’. His voice is so emotional it will move you deeply. The man is second to none when it comes to make you shiver after bombarding you with the worst, most tasteless stupidities. The song ends with his sublime voice, blasts and… a burp. Just exquisite.
“Let’s finish this!” Devin exclaims. It’s indeed time to finish the foolhardy listener off with this 100% Strapping Young Lad “Poltergeist” – to exception of a “lighter” moment toward the end. Devin brings out the big guns for the last time: Gene Hoglan-like drums, hammering riffs, crushing choirs, furious singing… Special award to the more military-like passage at around 2’40’’, where the tenors deliver a series of highly masculine “heys!”.
Phew! We can pat ourselves in the back for making it this far!
Joking aside, on paper, Deconstruction contains every possible element needed to be as easily digestible as five maxi best of menus with extra mayonnaise at McDonalds’. And yet, Devin Townsend systematically manages to keep the listener’s attention without losing them too much – enough to make them want to go back and discover the album again. This record is crammed full with details, and you can’t possibly become aware of everything with just one listening – it’s my fifth already, and I still manage to discover some details.
The various guests all appear at the right time and at the right place. Their presence seems to arise from a real artistic need, to the point that the Canadian master’s artistic nature seems to shine even through the various guests’ interpretations. This results in a real coherence to their interventions, which is quite remarkable and rare.
It is clear that this is by far Devin Townsend’s richest, most bombastic and most hardline album ever. Hardline in the means employed, in the contrasts, in the violence, the emotions, the bullshit… In short, a sort of wild musical diarrhea that spatters the listener and that Devin Townsend took care to lay out in the most aesthetic and coherent way possible. Probably the richest album to ever be released in the history of rock’n’roll (with Chinese Democracy somewhere nearby…). No more, no less.
This post is also available in: French