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How Devin Townsend Saved My Ass This Summer

484215_2837138226619_1606233193_nOne of my personal highlights of the 2012 Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards was hanging out downstairs in the bar/dressing rooms area, where I got to meet and chat with the likes of Chris Jericho (the show’s host that year), Frank Bello, Phil Demmel and the incomparable Devin Townsend. In my review of his new album with the Devin Townsend Project, Transcendence, I introduce the man with a favorite story from that evening to underscore just how important he is within our ranks. Outside of metal, you’re not likely to hear a lot of chatter about Devin’s sprawling artistic legacy, but that’s no reflection on the importance of his work; it’s simply a bleak reflection of popular music in the 21st century, where ambition and experimentalism are tolerated in the smallest of doses and only so long as they don’t jeopardize an album’s commercial viability. In fact, in all of music, you’re hard-pressed to find an artist who can match Devin’s vision and talent; here’s a guy who could write the perfect sort of unforgettably-hooky love song that you might hear in the final scene of a romantic comedy— the kind of Top 40 chart-smasher that pops up on the movie trailer and becomes the reason everybody downloads the soundtrack and that attracts things like Grammy awards and royalty checks bigger than the GDP of small European nations. Instead, Devin Townsend follows a clever and quixotic muse, flirting with the familiar elements of mainstream song composition, then pumping them up with bludgeoning metal riffs, skyscraping melodies, mind-bending proggy aggression and arresting, atmospheric interludes so profoundly dramatic that you half-expect to see Darth Vader walk into the room as soon as they begin playing.

13738327_10204973734902128_2358874574490116594_oOn a personal level, July sucked ass for me. It began with the disintegration of one of those relationships that actually gets you thinking about the future, but instead it ended with a whimper long before any real momentum could occur. Ten days later, my beautiful Cabo passed away suddenly — my first ever dog, my constant companion and during certain dark stretches in my life, my whole goddamned raison d’etre. Still reeling from this emotional dick punch, I received a call one week after that, advising that my dad had a terrible accident — one which proved fatal. In the span of exactly three weeks, I’d lost a relationship, my dog and my father. Even back in my drinking days, I couldn’t conceive a more ruthless string of events than this. But as our species does so well, I adapted, adjusted, regrouped, reached out and began the healing process, a cornerstone of which has been the majestic sonic experience called Transcendence. I’ve linked to my review above, so you can read the gory details there, but on a personal level, this record tugs at every string, rope and cable in my heart, conjuring waves of chest-pounding triumph, soft, drizzly emotional valleys and provocative, deeply-contemplative lyricism. It provided one sturdy foothold after another for me to crawl back to normalcy, serving up couplets that felt like they’d been scooped straight out of my soul and pointing my spirits north with one reminder after another that in the end, everything is alright. And it is.

When I finish reviewing an album, more often than not, I’ve spent three to five days listening to it nonstop, and I’m more than ready for something new. Transcendence is a rare exception, continuing to enjoy robust swaths of time in my weekly playlist, and with each passing spin it continues to reveal vibrant and transfixing charms. It’s been a long time — decades, in fact — since I’ve felt that music could truly and literally save me, but with this record, I’m reminded that you’re never too old for an album to change your world.