Devin Townsend, "Terria"
This is an album dedicated to a dog. A dead Canadian dog, called Happy. Happy is fortunate enough to provide some guest vocals on this, Devin Townsend's 2001 offering. From the first track Olives, you know that this is not going to be an easy ride, especially for those of you expecting a Strapping Young Lad or Physicist-type of adventure. Terria is a gentle giant next to these earlier projects, carrying the same power, only oozing it out on slow release.
Olives creeps in with its deeply distorted voice to offer us a martini, fading out and creeping back before cutting into second track Mountain with its assertive, powerful slabs of guitar-work, more difficult timings and Happy's hungry howls. Townsend provides both clean vocals and harsh throatiness with apparent comfort in Earth Day, a strong track and one of the few from this album he played live in London last month. The variation within each track is not limited to the vocals and a number of themes intertwine and play before respectively returning with gathered power and momentum. This is particularly true of the often-cutting drum patterns provided by SYL regular, Gene Hoglan. Deep Peace has some stunning guitar soloing of the more melodic type with silky vocals smoothing everything down whilst still maintaining momentum.
Canada and Down and Under sit next to each other as perhaps comrades in style, with the former being unusual in that it draws from [dare I say it] perhaps some sort of country influence [yes, country music!], the latter being a building acoustic guitar and string section affair with a hefty bass line. Don't be scared. It bloody works!
The woeful Nobody's Here may bring a tear to the eye, but is more likely to elate with its kind, clean, echoing lyrics and distant piano.
Terria begins to round off with the most rock'n'roll track of the piece, Tiny Tears, a riff-tastic sing-along wonder. Again, do not be afraid, Devin will have you wrapped around his finger in seconds. Stagnant brings the album to a folky, humorous close. A piss-take stuck on the end? Maybe, anything seems possible by this point.
'Musical genius' is not an easy crown to carry and such dramatic titles usually limit their grandeur to within a few feet of a certain Mr. Reznor. However with this latest release, Townsend once again demonstrates his ability to not only produce awesome sounds, but also manage it across a huge spectrum of genres. Sweeping, majestic layers of sound [mostly organic in production] flow over you in such a way that you feel able to actually swim in the music.
The concept is one that Townsend seems to need to deal with, to either get it out of his system or to nurture it within himself. Terria was written whilst touring Canada with his various projects and inspiration is drawn from this, his home country. At the same time, some form of humbleness is maintained as we are reminded in Earth Day that, "Music, well that's just entertainment folks."
The limited edition of Terria includes a yet-to-be-bettered [for me] CD-ROM containing artwork, 6 full video clips [live in Tokyo 1999] and Devin's comments on the concept, writing and making of Terria alongside one bonus track.
The stunning artwork rates among the best I have ever seen on a cover [Michael Whelan excepted]. Dali meets Escher in the design creations of Travis Smith that adorn the sleeve notes. Smart eye-candy that runs well with the concept.
A fantastic album even if it may need more than one spin to break into. My handy hints would be [a] don't expect SYL and [b] approach with an open mind.