Anneke Van Giersbergen is back adding her infectious, joyous vocal to the mix. Here though, surprisingly, she is used more sparingly, adding harmonies to lift the vocal blend rather than performing a reprise of the starring role she took on the band's last release. So less is more? Huh? Certainly, those thrilling bursts from her that bubble up through the mix, pop like little, effervescent fireworks. Less may actually be more effective! It's almost hard to imagine a Dev album without her now. Wouldn't it be like drinking flat Coke? That gospel choir fill is also back making things "epic" and here he uses them to flood the senses - just don't try counting the layers.
There's strong hints from his back catalogue, from Sky Blue, Epicloud and also Infinity. In fact, originally featuring on that 1999 Infinity album, the opener is a remaster of the song "Truth". That, coupled with an inspired remix of Ween's "Transdermal Celebration" bookend the album. The former re-introduces Dev's calling card; his ultra-high production values and those big, expansive layers. The latter is catchy as hell and is certainly worth inclusion if just for the lush line "Laid on the lawn, he's already home when the morning rain hits his face". Despite it's spaced-out crystal backline, it does feel disconnected from the rest of the album and should be viewed as a bit of a bonus track. Certainly, that 5-minute cosmic, multi-part extended wash smacks of showing off.
In fact it's a slight over-simplification, but you could almost divide this album down the middle. The best tracks do all seem to come straight off the bat. "Stormbending" features Dev at his most heartfelt, belting out his lyrics like his chest is bursting with pride; determined to expand our minds and souls with lines like "Time is a human construct / A new world below the waves". The warbling guitar solo looms large here; a mere hint of its increased use later on. It is back firing behind the strutting pomp of the chugging strings that drive "Failure". The volume of it certainly adds a burst of grunt to Dev's wandering vocal. You do get the sense that he's more interested in building the sonic crush this time round than throwing out unique vocal tricks. It is driving us assuredly down a fantasy/power metal road.
There are a few weaknesses to consider and those do come in the promised latter half of the album. "Stars" certainly provides the same sort of initial comedown as it's neighbour. Deliberate, but here it is less ambitious. The chord structures begin to feel a little anachronistic; the slumbering vocal hush yearns to be adored. But still that walking middle-eight in repose is a killer cut-away. These little moments of genius make such simple songs essential. The main vocal certainly knows when to take a backseat in the mix to the glorious warmth of the choir. What doesn't run so smoothly is the continuous full-bore hit that the title-track attempts straight after. The baritones in the choir set the mood and then Anneke takes over and the oppressive flood of the thing begins to melt away. But does it go anywhere, does it say anything or is it mere filler? It seems you can be crushed by heavily-layered mood music. Who knew?
One final thorn is left but all I'll say is have a listen to the song "Have I Told You Lately?" by Van Morrison, Rod Stewart or any other artist, before listening to "From My Heart" and try not to marry the two. It's impossible, right? Even a heart-warming message like that isn't worth an eight-minute run time though.
So yes, it's a cracking release from DTP but it's not without fault. You certainly get your money's worth though and only a fool would hesitate before recommending it. With an insanely-successful career like that behind him, you can be sure that an on-point Devin Townsend is a goddamn genius. Out-of-synch, he's merely essential listening.