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Townsend, Devin: Synchestra

Listed as the antithesis to Strapping Young Lad's latest Alien, the Devin Townsend Band's new release Synchestra is, like most of the Devin Townsend solo material, something that takes quite a few listens to really digest and discover all the dense nuances. Once you have done that, you uncover a wealth of lush and symphonic soundscapes, soaring melodies, tricky musical passages, and moments of crushing aggression. It's what Devin Townsend is all about, keeping the listener on his or her toes, as he manages to reinvent himself with almost every release, whether it be with DTB or SYL. Synchestra is a major achievement, easily on par with albums like Ocean Machine or Terria, which are considered the classics in the DTB cannon. While those fans who prefer the more maniacal and heavy side of Townsend's character navigate towards his other band SYL, those who want to hear his progressive and melodic side usually can find what they are looking for on his solo works.

The album opens up with the lush acoustic "Let It Roll", featuring tender guitars and Townsend's poignant vocals, before blasting into the symphonic metal frenzy of "Hypergeek", a quick and powerful instrumental of raging keyboards and guitars. This then segues into the melodic and progressive rocker "Triumph", an instantly memorable and lengthy tune with emotional vocals from Devin and a stunning and unmistakable guest guitar solo from Steve Vai. Devin really has that "wall of sound" going on this one, with layers of guitars and keyboards along with pounding rhythms.

Next up comes perhaps the strongest part of the album, at least from a more melodic and progressive standpoint. "Baby Song" is a lush pop song with plenty of symphonic orchestration and alluring vocals from Townsend, and this is followed by the wild 1-2 punch of "Vampolka" and "Vampira". The former is a throwback to 70's prog bands like ELP and Gentle Giant, with dizzying unison organ and guitar melodies, which then crashes right into the muscular "Vampira", a song that is highlighted by raging organ and huge prog metal guitars. It also contains Devin's most maniacal vocals on the album. "Mental Tan" is a calming keyboard instrumental, not unlike something Tangerine Dream would do, and again the calming after and before the next storm. On "Gaia", Townsend and the boys have crafted an upbeat and memorable symphonic heavy rocker, with thick guitar riffs, bubbling and spacey synths, and plenty of multi-tracked vocals. "Pixillate" then quietly kicks in with a lead bass line which gives way to plodding, crunchy guitars augmented by ominous keyboard washes. Devin's urgent and aggressive vocal attack works well off the female vocals on this one, making for an almost gothic progressive metal feast. Thick organ and beefy guitar riffs punctuate the angry "Judgement", a song that also goes through a metamorphosis mid-way, as what starts out metal quietly becomes a lush and 70's inspired prog rocker in the style of Styx or Kansas.

This brings the whole thing to the sweeping and symphonic closing tracks. "A Simple Lullaby" is anything but simple, but presents that huge wall of sound again that the band creates so well throughout this album. Unless you are watching the track timer, you won't even know that "Sunset" has started, as a continuation of the theme started in "A Simple Lullaby" continues until the orchestrated crescendo. Once the waves settle, it becomes an inviting melodic rocker featuring soothing vocals, tasty lead guitar harmonies, and majestic piano. "Notes From Africa" returns to hard rock & metal sounds, but with plenty of catchy vocals amidst the thunder. The CD ends with straightforward, almost glam rocker "Sunshine & Happiness", which comes across almost like Townsend's tribute to the 80's hair metal bands. It's a fun tune, although it sort of doesn't fit with the rest of the album, but it does feature some of Devin's best guitar solos on the CD.

While Strapping Young Lad's Alien was all about "in your face bravado", bulldozing metal precision, and shocking, maniacal brutality, Synchestra is the calm after the storm, the soothing of the savage beast. It's a beautiful and heartwarming album, charming as well as being completely adventurous. Nice to know that we have an artist in our midst who can deliver the goods from a metal perspective as well as progressive rock, and do it extremely well from both angles. The deluxe edition will feature a full DVD of the DTB performing live, so don't miss out on that. Highly recommended!

Track Listing
1. Let It Roll
2. Hypergeek
3. Triumph
4. Baby Song
5. Vampolka
6. Vampira
7. Mental Tan
8. Gaia
9. Pixillate
10. Judgement
11. A Simple Lullaby
12. Sunset
13. Notes From Africa
14. Sunshine & Happiness

Added: February 26th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Devin Townsend Website
Hits: 7442
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Townsend, Devin: Synchestra
Posted by Steve Ambrosius, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-02-26 18:49:16
My Score:

I know it is such a cliché, but Synchestra is truly a roller coaster ride. Devin Townsend has pieced together as varied of a CD as you are going to find, from melodic acoustic soundscapes, to extreme-metal ranting. Each time you get going in one direction, Townsend yanks the floor out from under you and you have to catch your balance all over again.

The highlight of the album has to be "Babysong", switching from harsh and speed, to symphonic and broad. This song leads to the low moment for me: "Vampolka" and "Vampira". "Mental Tan" rekindles the creative juices. The ending of "Sunset" and "Notes from Africa" are explosive rockers and a perfect climax for this joyride.

Overall a fun experience. If you are a Townsend fan, you probably will love this one by listen 5 or 6. If you are just looking to challenge yourself, then Synchestra is a perfect fit. When finishing with this CD, as with most by The Devin Townsend Band, I am left feeling that the experience I had, although highly enjoyable, was not the one the band was trying to convey. Still, the CD is recommended purely for its creativeness.

Townsend, Devin: Synchestra
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-02-01 16:32:27
My Score:

Synchestra is by far Devin Townsend's most varied work to date. It is underscored with every single trait that makes his music so unique and his artistic expressions so powerful. The album is characterized by complex guitar work, creative mixing, densely nuanced rhythmic anchor, and Devin's unmatched vocals. Stylistically, Synchestra seems like a combination of the production of Terria and the quirkiness of Infinity. Musically, however, it's a completely different piece of work, emphasized by Devin's two diametrically opposite approaches to songwriting.

As you might know, Synchestra is supposed to be the antithesis to Strapping Young Lad's last album Alien. That said, the album is neither as SYL-influenced as Physicist nor as atmospheric as, say, Ocean Machine. It does present an alternative to the Alien track "Possessions" in the form of "The Baby Song", which basically addresses the responsibility required if you want to have children. Its poppy, big chorus that repeats, "Why don't you have a baby? / Why don't you have a child?" becomes utterly engaging and sticks to your mind for days on end. With great dynamics and a big symphonic backdrop underlying it, the song then morphs into a textured number with awesome piano and concludes with a mercilessly heavy and fast outro section. Contrary to this catchy piece, the album has a slower, almost dramatic start. Beautiful acoustic segments on "Let It Roll" segue into the earthy tones of "Hypergeek", a track reminiscent of Terria, with lots of roosters, frogs and birds humming in the background, amidst insanely heavy, rapid-fire machine-gun riffery and plodding kick drums. The band wastes no time achieving that huge wall-of-sound vibe synonymous with any Devin Townsend work, be it solo stuff or Strapping Young Lad. Now with two brief tracks, the atmosphere is set and the colour of Synchestra defined. The first real track, "Triumph", kicks off with soaring melodies, great drumming, both clean and harsh vocals, awesome keyboards, until its first breaking point in the middle - a country type of acoustic jam will surprise many, including the biggest Devin Townsend fans, but the song then goes back to where it started, only to be interrupted by a dreamy guitar solo by Steve Vai.

The brief hook-laden "Vampolka" is busy with phenomenal bass (fretless?), some classical influences, raging organ, and awesome percussion. The piece immediately leads into its counterpart "Vampira", where Devin's vocals are so unusual and off-the-wall that I had to think of Infinity. His singing is catchy, yet at the same time very aggressive. This track would be a killer choice for a live performance, considering those "hey, hey" chants at the end. "Mental Tan" is a nice keyboard instrumental that once again brings to mind the more peaceful moments on Terria. It is followed by two of the album's most progressive offerings. "Gaia" (which was originally titled "Nail Broth") has a steady rhythm guitar throughout its six minute duration and features Devin singing in both gentle and growled styles. The piece then makes a foray into a challenging unison lead where each member finds the opportunity to display their chops. "Pixillate" may be a personal favourite for me. Going from the intense, stormy depths of Arabic vocals' dirge-like effect to the heavily pronounced bass and crashing cymbals, the track also a female singer who contrasts Devin's beast-like screaming with her beautiful vocal harmonies.

The vulnerable throbs on the densely layered "Judgement" lead into "A Simple Lullaby", which climaxes the album, thanks to its live vibe overall. Mixed with a wild concert crowd in the background, the song is mostly instrumental punctuated by "Earth Day"-like dynamics, but it does contain a lullaby sung in classic Devin Townsend fashion. Similarly, "Sunset" is also instrumental save for the melodies in the end, and it's highlighted by lush acoustic guitars, hand drums, organ sounds, and piano. If memory serves, "Notes From Africa" is a song that didn't make it onto Terria and has perhaps the strongest rhythms on the album. Drummer Ryan Van Poedervooen plays stunning polyrhythms whilst Mike Young on bass has a great bass bottom. It has a tightly-knit pattern that Devin follows with a complex counterpoint vocal line at the end.

Synchestra is another powerful musical statement by Devin Townsend. The deluxe edition is even better, as it comes with a DVD where the band performs live. This is bound to become another top release of 2006.

» Reader Comments:

Townsend, Devin: Synchestra
Posted by Julian Valentin Hansen on 2016-11-29 09:15:15
My Score:

Itīs not Devins lyrics, in itself. Itīs the music, the songwriting, and the performance, and foremost the vocal delivery. The mood and energies it transcents, that is absolutely above masterclass.

The lyrics are at times really good, and rather personal and/or universal. But itīs the music, the goes hand in hand with them, that makes it all appear so powerful and "godlike"

Devin are blessed with vocalrange and power the size of a mountainchain, is Himalaya huge enough for you? That should sum it up i think..
And his guitardelivery, heavy chording, lots of delays/echoes and tonal perfection. The guy also have a good band behind him, who especially recently, now we talk 2016, participates a lot in the arrangements and stuff. I think that Devins music was equally good back in the late nineties where he did almost everything himself apart from drums and bass apart from maybe "Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing" and also "Physicists"

I i have to choose standouts, itīs got to be Triumph and Pixilate, absolute mountomous tracks. Triumph, who had a guest appearance of an old buddy of his the infamous guitarvirtuous "Steve Vai"

I have to give this 10/10 as its like Ocean Machine f.eks, complex and even sad at times, but yet rather soothing and uplifting.

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