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"Epicloud" is the 15th studio album by Canadian heavy metal artist, Devin Townsend. It was released in 2012 on HevyDevy Records and produced by Devin Townsend. The line-up for the album was Devin Townsend (vocals/guitar/keyboards), Anneke van Giersbergen (vocals), Dave Young (guitar), Brian Waddell (bass) and Ryan van Poederooyen (drums).
Nobody could ever accuse Devin Townsend as being lazy. Hevy Devy is a man who cannot keep still for one moment and to that end he brings us his 15th solo album. Devin incorporated a lot of genres into the album as he was experimenting with different sounds. According to the Devin himself, he was originally trying to write the follow-up to "Ziltoid the Omniscient", but songs that didn't really fit the whole theme kept coming out of his head, and thus "Epicloud" was born. I'm always skeptical when musicians tinker with something that doesn't need much tweaking, but this is what Devin has done throughout his career. Is the album any good? Let's find out!
The album begins with a 43-second gospel choir (is this really Devin we're talking about here?!) which Devin calls "Effervescent!", and you can hear his distinct voice amongst the singers. I'm not sure how I can review a song that has no instruments and is only 43 seconds long, as previously stated, but I'll attempt it. This is showing that Devin has no fear of what he writes and records. He's always enjoyed mixing it up a little and has never been afraid to experiment, so why not do a gospel introduction?
"True North" begins with the neatly polished vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen, set to an ambient backdrop. The one thing that throws me off about the song is its repetition of one line which loops around the first minute or so. When it gets going, though, it's an absolute beast of a song. It's complex but easy to understand, it's grandiose yet simple, but most of all it's typically Devin. He's never afraid to do something different and if that means confusing the hell out of the listener, then that's what he'll do. Actually, I'm not sure he's intending to confuse anyone. What he may be doing here is making the listener open up to new sounds and think to themselves "oh yeah, I see what he's done in that part, and I can understand why there's so much going on with it."
"Lucky Animals" is one of those songs that you just have to smile at. You know it's Devin having fun and you know you shouldn't think too much into it. The song has a circus big top feel to it or a carnival, if you like, and could easily have been part of the "Ziltoid the Omniscient" recordings. For the second time in a row, though, there are lyrics that are repeated a little too much. The melody reminds me of an old computer game I used to play on the Commodore Amiga 500, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called. Maybe I will further on in the review, and if that's the case, I'll come back and edit this part. Ah yes, that's it. "Cannon Fodder" was the game, and I'm not 100% sure that Devin would have played it but we are two weeks apart in age and I know I fondly remember playing it. Still, great song, and it's one of my favourites on the album.
"Liberation" is a rocking song that moves along at a good pace and immediately I think of The Wildhearts, a great British band that Devin was a part of for a short while. It has a pop/punk/metal sound to it and a riff that, although it's nothing too special, is telling in its delivery. The chorus is the song's crowning glory and is simply stunning. It's full of great arrangement that can't fail to please the ears, and this is definitely one of my favourites on the album. If you was to compare this song to a wine, it would be fruity, red and full-bodied.
"Where We Belong" is one of those epic songs that starts off slow and builds for the chorus. There's an almost ambient feel to the song during the verses as Devin plays acoustic guitar and Anneke's haunting melodic voice sails on a smooth ocean in the background. There's nothing really special about this song but what it does do is gives you a bit of calmness after a frantic opening. Devin's no idiot and clearly loves to play around with his music, especially track order on an album.
When I first heard "Save Our Now", I didn't even think it was Devin and assumed my CD had been pressed with someone else's song on there, as it sounds a lot like an 80s pop song but with slightly heavier guitars. This is a strange one to call, if I'm honest. I want to like it but that bit of my commercial pop music hating soul just doesn't. You could very easily imagine Kylie and Jason doing a duet on this one instead of Devin and Anneke. I really don't know what else to say about this song. It's confused me to no end!
"Kingdom" is a complete contrast from "Save Our Now" and brings in the style of Devin's now defunct band Strapping Young Lad, especially in the drumming. What is more impressive is the incredible vocal range that Devin has always had, but has now chose to let it all go on this one track. He's backed once again by the amazing Anneke, but he's outdone even himself here. This is my favourite song on the album and it's brilliantly stuck right in the middle. I absolutely adore the harmony, and the riffing completes something very special.
"Divine" is a slow and romantic song that is played with a softly-picked acoustic guitar and Devin singing along as if on some Simon & Garfunkel track. I did say think this album would blow hot and cold and some in-between, and with this track we have the cold. Now here's the thing: it may have been a great track had it been longer and evolved into something heavier, but it seems like it stopped before it really got going if that makes any sense. It's over 3 minutes long but that could easily have been a slow intro before a bone-shattering finish.
"Grace" is the longest song on the album and begins with some harmonic vocals from Anneke before giving way to more Strapping Young Lad-esque drumming and riffage that are backed up by a choir. There is a lot going on here, but it's not confusing as everything is structured so that the ears can pick out the different things and enjoy the reason why this or that has been put in there. It is, however, a frustrating song. I feel if Devin had pushed the metal boundaries a little more, I'd have no doubt enjoyed it even more. As it stands, I only like it.
"More!" is an insanely catchy heavy metal song with some great riffs, but I'm not a fan of the basic hook at the end of each verse line riff. The song comes to life in the chorus, though, and Anneke's vocals take centre stage with Devin backing up the same words. I'm actually very surprised Devin let this one on "Epicloud" because it's in the mould of "Ziltoid" and could very easily have wound up on its eventual sequel album. There some excellent thrashy guitar playing near the end that closes the song, which made me bang my head on the desk. See, Devin is a very clever musician, and the title of the track is a brilliant pun because that guitar playing wasn't long enough and left me wanting more of it.
"Lessons" is basically album filler that's just over a minute in length. It's nice and ambient, but I'm not sure what it's doing there to be perfectly honest, and it either belongs at the beginning or at the end of a song. What it does do, though, is show off Devin's talent at being able to pick up a guitar and pluck away at the strings.
"Hold On" is one of those power ballad sort of songs in where it's soft and quiet during the verses and then heavy and loud in the chorus. I like the harmony on the chorus but that's about it. I think the verses are too softly-softly and pretty basic if I have to be blunt about it. Some people may like it but for me it just doesn't do enough to make me enjoy it and on an album that has had some pretty impressive songs, it fails.
"Angel" completes the album with a song that once again begins with some incredible harmony in the vocals by Anneke, who is then joined by Devin himself. There's a nice up and down the fret board riff that accompanies the duet, and the song is very orchestral in arrangement. It's a nice end to the album but it isn't a great end, and that's what's frustrating.
In summary, this album is complex, diverse, insane, moody, uplifting, frustrating, epic and loud. Devin has certainly created something here and it's very much a joy to listen to - even the frustrating parts. However, the last three songs have just not completely done it for me and that's why I have to mark it down to a 7. I think that Devin would have been a bit cleverer had he left it at 10 tracks instead of adding on with some songs that I didn't quite enjoy. It's a very good album but it's not quite brilliant.
2. True North
3. Lucky Animals
5. Where We Belong
6. Save Our Now
12. Hold On
My rating: 7/10
Disc #1 Tracklisting 1 Effervescent! 2 True North 3 Lucky Animals 4 Liberation 5 Where We Belong 6 Save Our Now 7 Kingdom 8 Divine 9 Grace 10 More! 11 Lessons 12 Hold On 13 Angel