Well well well, if it isn’t Devin Townsend (and his Project). This guy does not know when to stop. Epicloud is his third studio album in the past 18 months, following the prog-metal opus Deconstruction and the acoustic, new-agey Ghost. Unlike those two records (which were part of a 4-album concept), Epicloud has no elaborate concept and no unifying sound. To hear Townsend tell it, the plan this time was to simply create an album of good vibes and diverse, catchy songs.
Of course, Townsend’s back catalog provides plenty of reference points for what’s going on on Epicloud. The most obvious comparison would be 2009’s Addicted, which shares the same “just a bunch of catchy songs” platform. Some of the heavier material could’ve been on 1999’s Physicist (especially “Kingdom”, which actually WAS on Physicist and given the do-over here). And the balls-out rock of “Liberation” is not far removed from Devin’s onetime band mates The Wildhearts. Other highlights include the Euro-dance “Save Our Now,” and “Grace,” which is from an alternate universe where Oprah writes lyrics for Meshuggah [Kill it with FIRE!!!! – Steel Druhm]. These songs are pretty immediate, for whatever that’s worth, and I found myself familiar with their titles and most of their lyrics after only a listen or two.
Of course, there are a couple of new twists. Most obvious is the extensive use of choir and orchestra. The choir in particular gives this album a slightly different flavor, somewhere between a gospel chorus and maybe “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The orchestra did appear previously on Deconstruction, but while its purpose on that album was to simply sound huge, it’s utilized here to add drama and beauty to these songs. Coupled with Townsend’s typically over-the-top production, the sound is pretty overwhelming. Otherwise, Devin is backed by the same core band he’s had for years — Mike Young (bass), Dave Young (guitar), and Ryan Van Poederooyen (drums). Guest vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering) also makes a return appearance, pretty much filling the same role she did on Addicted.
The real difference, though, is the overwhelming positivity of the songs here. Album opener “True North” is mostly built on the repetition of this lyric: “I love you, I love you, I need you, I’ve always been around you.” Several other songs continue in this vein, especially the bordering-on-sappy “Divine.” In fact, the word “love” probably makes up for at least 50 percent of the lyrics on Epicloud. Townsend is still a maniac, but this time he is maniacally loving everything in his life, and he’s making damn sure you know it. It might be the weirdest “feel-good” record ever made [I think the term you were looking for is “needy” or maybe “stalky” – Steel Druhm].
The Dev may not break a lot of new ground musically, but that’s to be expected from someone who’s already released about 400 albums. The heavy songs are heavy, the slow songs sound like ’80s power ballads and/or the shit you hear at the chiropractor, and there’s a healthy dose of cheese and humor about the whole thing. Townsend KNOWS this stuff is pompous and ridiculously overblown, and he pushes it as far as it will go, maybe even too far (see “Hold On,” which is more or less the same song as “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey).
The refusal to stick to one sound is Epicloud’s main strength, and it’s probably the single most diverse album in Townsend‘s hefty back catalog. The man has been on a roll these last few years, and Epicloud is no exception. If you dislike keyboards and choirs, or you’re too necro to listen to anything happy, you’ll probably fucking hate this. But if you’re a fan of Townsend‘s more song-oriented work, such as Addicted or even Ocean Machine, this will be a welcome addition to your collection.