It’s one of the amazing musical moments of 2011 so far: after various levels of straightforwardness in the first 10 minutes of Deconstruction – some heavy, some restrained – Devin Townsend demands ‘show yourself!” and all the savage energy left dormant since the dissolution of Strapping Young Lad is unleashed, grabbing you by the throat and dragging you back to its skull pit before you know what the fuck happened.
The minutes leading up to that moment – “Praise The Lowered” and “Stand” – leave hints at what’s going to happen next. The former gradually increases in intensity from floaty electronica to metal screams, never dropping the steady but restrained tempo even as the death screams build up. The latter sounds like the spiritual cousin of “Destructor” from Ki (the first album of the Devin Townsend Project tetralogy), and it also drops little crumbs of heaviness behind it, leading up to that ‘Show yourself!’ moment. From then on, anything goes. Crushingly heavy rhythm guitars. Choirs. Blast beats. Death metal. Fusion-tinged chord progressions. Spoken word interludes. Fast passages. Techno beats. Someone taking a particularly cathartic shit. A cheeseburger.
Reaching the centre of Deconstruction is a prize not won lightly. Some sections drag on a little longer than comfortable, and if you find yourself at odds with Devin’s sense of humour, there are a few uneasy moments. If you like the progressive elements of albums like Terria and Accelerated Evolution, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer heaviness of Deconstruction. But the point at the heart of the entire Devin Townsend Project set of albums seems to be “this is me.” Free of the persona of ‘the SYL guy,’ Townsend is able to explore exactly where within himself that persona comes from, what drives him, and what he’s capable of, just as Ki went deeper than ever before into the quieter musical moments first hinted at in Ocean Machine, and as Addicted! explored groove and melody. Guests include Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, Emperor’s Ihsahn, Dillinger Escape Plan’s Greg Puciato, Gwar’s Oderus Urungus, After Forever’s Floor Jansen, Meshuggah’s Frederik Thorendal (Meshuggah also get namechecked for their influence on one track), Gojira’s Joe Duplantier, November’s Doom’s Paul Kuhr, Soilwork’s Dirk Verbeuren and Cynic’s Paul Masvidal, but Deconstruction isn’t about the guests, and their use never feels forced.
Deconstruction is released simultaneously with Ghost, an unapologetically low-key, beautiful, completely and utterly non-metal album. Taking the lighter moments of Ki and pushing them even higher into the clouds, Ghost is big on melody and acoustic instrumentation. It doesn’t demand your attention in the way that Deconstruction does, but it’s much more welcoming. The flute, bawu and electronic wind instruments provided by Kat Epple give Ghost a haunting, intimate feel which counterpoints the death metal vocals of Deconstruction – two extremes of a very organic, human-driven sound.
The melodies, arrangements and vocal performances on Ghost are some of Townsend’s most direct, and it’s hard to imagine Deconstrcution existing without Ghost. One interesting aspect of the entire Devin Townsend Project is that fans were told what to expect with each album: therefore it’s impossible to listen to Decon without knowing it will be followed by Ghost. And the knowledge that Ghost is designed to be digested after Decon means you enter the experience completely aware of its aim of providing a relaxed, peaceful experience. Ultimately though, none of this matters. Each album can be listened to on its own, if you can isolate it from the experience of the others, and it makes sense.