Townsend Band, Devin - Synchestra

Year of Release: 2006
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 236/SPV 48742
Format: CD
Total Time: 65:27:00

When I first played the new Devin Townsend Band release, Synchestra my first thought was this: classy, sophisticated progressive metal. Subsequent listens have only confirmed that initial impression. That sophistication comes by the way of incorporating those non-typical-metal textures into the music such as classical and acoustic elements - easily switching from lyrical prog metal to something just a few growls shy of "cookie monster" metal. Multiple styles of metal are seamlessly melded together, the "seams' between each track absent as each piece leads to and blends into the next. That gives this the field of a suite, of a concept album. We get a mix of vocal and instrumental tracks, all helping to set the mood ... which ranges from mellow to manic. The performances are tight, no moment wasted.

One element that stands out for me is the drums and percussion ... and mainly the percussion, as out of the chugging swirl of guitars, bass, and keys (on pieces like "Hypergeek," "Triumph" and "Gaia" for example), snickers of percussion rise up, drawing attention to themselves, but not doing so overtly or dominantly. It's bass that takes the lead in the darker, somewhat menacing, grinding "Pixillate," a piece that contrasts high, sweet female vocals with Townsend's screams. There's a middle eastern aspect to the rhythm as well, bringing to mind Orphaned Land.This leads naturally into the cathartic "Judgement" where harsh vocals take over (and seem a natural evolution of the mood building up throughout the previous 9 tracks). "Clean" vocals are inserted sparingly, and it's during these moments that I'm reminded of Evergrey a little bit. In fact, there's a bit of seasoning by others throughout this album, and to my ears, some unexpected... There was a brief moment where I thought of ELP, for instance (well, Dave Young does include Hammond in his arsenal); but also a hint of Dream Theater elsewhere ("Triumph") ... similar tonal colors. "Judgement" segues into the heavier - weightier, that is; darker "A Simple Lullaby." Which it is not. It's a full frontal assault of guitars, bass and percussion, coming at you like a solid wall of sound ... Wall-period Pink Floyd (no pun intended) comes to mind, the heavier moments, though this much heavier. Mainly this is due to the descending bass-line. Except for some vocalizations, it's all instrumental. The final seconds are like bombs going off on the 4th of July, the scream of fireworks included.

"Notes From Africa" has a groovy rhythm that sounds like a very heavy version of "Dancing In The Streets," at times (the Martha and the Vandellas hit). A 90s synth tone gives this a modern feel, with a crisp though "whiny" guitar lead. The layering of vocals is both clever ... and I suppose over time will become annoying to some. I'd call it progressive extreme pop-metal -- Townsend screams here, you see. It is at present my favorite piece, which is only a matter of degree because I quite like everything here.

"Let It Roll" opens the album with an acoustic passage (strummed guitar) and remains a mellow, acoustic based piece throughout. It may seem a strange way for a metal band to open an album, but rather than pull you in with demanding force, you are eased in ... lured and thus ensnared without fight. It leads into a howling, epic-string, short-in-length "Hypergeek" which comes out the other side with the measured, tension-filled, taut and chugging "Triumph" (well, there is a brief banjo interlude) This piece features a guitar solo from Steve Vai, too, which is sweet in tone and restrained in execution. "Triumph" becomes quite an epic piece, large in sound, grand in scope... as befitting the title. The lyrical, heavy "Babysong" includes some distinct piano accents; "Vampolka" features, what else, a polka... creating something like a comedic Keystone Cops chase scene. "Vampira" is suitably over-the-top, dramatic, and a tad 80s goth-pop (The Cult meets The Cure meets The Clash) and more than a tad extreme metal. It's a cool piece that is sure to be single, or signature piece for this album.

"Mental Tan" lightens things in a hard rock direction (Van Halen's "Dreams" comes to mind, perhaps due to the feathery keyboard that opens this piece). Keeping that late-80s/early 90s rock feel musically, not so much vocally, is "Gaia." It?s the 80s/90s updated for the 00s, actually ... the edges sharper, the aggression a little more sharp. Guitars are out front here. We can say the same thing about "Sunset," which features some very nice touches - piano, keyboard washes.

Although "Notes..." is the last listed song, there is a bonus, "hidden" track that actually closes the album (after a few moments of birds chirping, creating an idyllic setting) -- the rock 'n' roll piece "Sunshine And Happiness" that sounds quite Queen-like (a bit like "Tie Your Mother Down," and mostly in the guitar) but also like 60s-influenced sunny pop-rock (more Kinks than Beatles, rhythm and vocals).

Even if there a moments that aren't serious - "Vampolka," for instance - this is serious progressive metal. It's... well, classy and sophisticated... Townsend and company making this into not just a chance to thrust fits, bang heads, and yell out cathartically, but a work of art for a chance to exercise one's brain... thinking man's metal, that is. One gets the sense that Townsend didn't just slap together an album, or even a bunch of songs that worked, but that he carefully crafted something that would shift from mood to mood whether song to song or moment to moment within a song... sometimes a smooth transition, sometimes a contrast. And yet, it doesn't seem over calculated; the flow is natural. Great album and I think at the top of 2006's "best-of" list.

There is also a special edition (IOMSECD 236/SPV 48740 CD DVD) that is a DVD

Let It Roll (2:52) / Hypergeek (2:20) / Triumph (7:08) / Babysong (5:30 / Vampolka (1:36) / Vampira (3:27) / Mental Tan (2:15) / Gaia (6:03) / Pixillate (8:17) / Judgement (5:55) / A Simple Lullaby (7:09) / Sunset (2:31) / Notes From Africa (7:42) / Hidden Bonus: Sunshine And Happiness (2:35)

Special edition includes live DVD

Devin Townsend - vocals, guitar, programming
Ryan Van Poederooyen - drums
Brian Waddell - guitar
Dave Young - keyboards, grand piano, Hammond, mandolin; all guitars (14)
Mike Young - bass, stand-up bass, tuba


Steve Vai - guitar (3)

Ocean Machine: Biomech (1997/2001)
Physicist (2001)
Infinity (2001)
Terria (2001/2003)
Accelerated Evolution (2003)
Synchestra (2006)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: March 5th 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1029
Language: english


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