Devin Townsend - Devlab
HevyDevy Records
Ambient "Metal"
15 songs (65:54)
Release year: 2004
Devin Townsend, HevyDevy Records
Reviewed by Ken
Archive review

Devin Townsend has been one of the most prolific and unique musicians of the past 20 years and he’s not even been making music that long. His musical visions range from chaotic to serene, melancholic to happy, and everything in between. The man is a musical genius, a talent that knows no bounds. Whether it’s the relentless onslaught of the controlled-chaotic-mindfuck that is Strapping Young Lad or the sweeping, sonic and majestic beauty of Terria, there is no denying that Devin Townsend is one-of-a-kind.

His musical tentacles extend far beyond metal, too. With his Ass-Sordid Demos I and II compilations we saw that he could stretch his musical being into realms not often explored on his main albums and still come up with some amazing music. But it’s an album like Punky Brüster’s Cooked On Phonics, for example, that really showcases the extent of his talent. The album is a tale of a Polish death metal band by the name of Cryptic Coroner that sells out and goes punk because they weren’t making any money (see Pyogenesis for a real life comparison, doom-death to pop punk). In 1995 Devin called up the record company and said, “Give me $1,500 and I’ll give you a new record in a week.” They gave him the money and he sat down and in a week wrote and recorded one of the best punk records you’ll ever hear. A week! Seven days! And it’s funny, too. Who does this? Who can do this? Granted, punk isn’t the hardest style of music to write—which obviously helped—but it’s the whole package: Great riffs (far more metal than basic punk chords, though), killer vocals, an hilarious story, and great songs. And it took just one week. The man isn’t even capable of writing a bad punk song.

More recently he’s been branching out a little further, in a different direction. A few years ago with the special edition release of Accelerated Evolution there was a bonus CD included: The Project EKO EP, three songs of light and fluffy ambient music, layered with clean guitar strumming and soloing, smoothed out with soft, swirling lullaby-like vocals. It wasn’t anything mind-blowing, just an experiment with some new software that Devin had picked up, but it was still very good, and considering that there are people out there that make their living off of writing and recording music like that it was simply another display of his seemingly endless prowess.

From Project EKO there spawned Devlab.

When this album arrived last year or so, upon first listen I started to realize that I would have a difficult time commenting on it. It’s just plain weird, and it's definitely not for every Devin Townsend fan (read: Not for the close-minded). Devin calls it "heavy metal ambience," but there's really no metal in it at all. There is definitely ambient music in the mix, even a little techno (“Track 8”), but the “metal” aspect is more in line with Japanese noisecore than anything metal. It is, however, exactly what I think Devin intended it to be: An experiment in sampling and loop-based music, much like Project EKO, but this time fleshed out and explored with a more focused passion for the end product. In that respect I think it succeeds, and probably surpasses all my expectations. There are fifteen untitled tracks on the album, so it plays like one song, one narrated journey through countless insane minds. Some of it is very mellow and sounds like the backing tracks to songs from Devin's various solo albums, while some of it is noisy and very disjointed; some both. The sampling throughout is captivating, the randomness and absurdity of some of it is just baffling because it works so well. Listening with good headphones makes it even better, the richness increases tenfold and it’s clear that this is no lazy man’s product; a lot of work went into the making of Devlab. As with Project EKO there is not much in the singing department, at least not in the foreground. Devin seems to more or less hum and whisper his way through the disc (think “The Death Of Music” from Ocean Machine), which also adds to the album’s haunting insistence.

When I first heard this album I wasn’t anywhere close to being blown away, but then it caught me in the right mood, and then it was a stunning piece of work. I’ve now found a place of deep respect for Devlab. For the most part, though, this will be background music for many people; you won’t always be able to give it the attention it demands, the time it takes to dig deeper and deeper to find the harmony in the shifting and seemingly unconnected layers. It's unobtrusive and subtle, but arresting in its own quietude. I give Devin credit for putting this out there, it is an ambitious album, and one that I think should be applauded. Devin Townsend’s willingness to once again try his hand at something different is even further proof that the mind of a genius never sleeps.

AUDIO: Track 10

Note: In time these links will likely becoming outdated.

Killing Songs :
Track 3, Track 8, Track 9, Track 10 and Track 13 (Killing being relative, of course)
Ken quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Devin Townsend that we have reviewed:
Devin Townsend - Infinity reviewed by Goat and quoted 93 / 100
Devin Townsend - Ziltoid The Omniscient reviewed by Dylan and quoted 95 / 100
Devin Townsend - Terria reviewed by Paul and quoted 80 / 100
Devin Townsend - Physicist reviewed by Danny and quoted 95 / 100
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