Lasting success is hard to come by in the modern music industry. All too often, artists are compromising their integrity and standards for the sake of gaining fans and attracting attention. It takes a truly remarkable talent to achieve lasting success in the music industry and also maintain an individual, unique style that is not watered down or conforming to the popular trends of the moment. It also helps if that artist has limitless perseverance to go with that talent. A slight dash of crazy doesn’t hurt, either.
As it happens, those three things are the dominant characteristic of Canadian metal virtuoso Devin Townsend. The mastermind behind Strapping Young Lad and his eponymous Project, Townsend has been an icon of metal excellence for over fifteen years. An expert in numerous styles and genres, not to mention one of the most sought-after producers in the world, Townsend is already destined to be remembered as one of the most vital figures in metal in the ’90s and 2000s. And today is a very special day for the metal faithful of the world, for we are rewarded with a double dose of Devin today. His two newest solo albums top today’s extensive list of new releases.
As frequently happens with Devin Townsend’s material, I’m at a loss for words on how to describe either of these albums. I will do the best I can, though. Ghost is, simply put, the most well-crafted piece of purely ambient, melodic metal I’ve heard in recent memory, to the point where describing it as “beautiful” is simply a criminal understatement. Deconstruction, meanwhile, is a concept album that revolves around three things: the secrets of the universe, Satan, and a cheeseburger. Anything else I could say beyond that wouldn’t do the album justice. There is only one thing about these albums that disappoints me: the fact that they can’t be purchased as a package deal.
Symphony X, Iconoclast (Nuclear Blast)
Let’s face it, prog fans have it made this week, as the three biggest releases of the week all come from huge artists in the prog scene. Iconoclast is the first album of Symphony X’s new contract with Nuclear Blast, and unlike its three predecessors, it doesn’t seem to have any story elements or concepts based in history, literature, or mythology. Instead, vocalist Russell Allen says that the album has an overall theme of machines and technology taking over humanity and causing our demise. This takeover isn’t an actual machine uprising, so all you fanboys of The Matrix and Battlestar Galactica, calm down. Allen is actually referring to the idea of people’s livelihood being dependant on technology and that dependency causing our downfall. It’s a very interesting album, and nothing less than what one would expect from Symphony X.
In Flames, Sounds of a Playground Fading (Century Media)
This is the tenth album of In Flames’ long and storied career, and it will be their first without guitarist and band creator Jesper Strömblad, the last original member left in the band. Strömblad, who departed the band last year to tackle his substance abuse problems, took with him half of the songwriting core of the band, leaving guitarist Björn Gelotte to write this album on his own. The reviews of this album have thus far held to a few similar themes, and the most common among these is that this album is a pleasant surprise, with Gelotte guiding the band capably on his own and helping to cleanse our palettes of 2008’s atrocious A Sense of Purpose. This album still won’t bring back fans of the band’s older sound, most likely, but those fans were lost long ago as it is.
The Black Dahlia Murder, Ritual (Metal Blade)
The Black Dahlia Murder is, to put it bluntly, unstoppable. There really is no other way to describe the death metal unit from Michigan, a group that defies pretty much every convention of musical popularity and fame. A band full of misfits and mischief-makers producing some of the most aggressive and frenetic music conceived in the past decade isn’t expected to appear anywhere near the Billboard 200. Thank the metal gods that expectations aren’t assurances, though, because each of TBDM’s last three albums have not only charted in the 200, but exceeded the position of the preceding album (2005’s Miasma charted at #118, 2007’s Nocturnal peaked at #72, and 2009’s Deflorate actually debuted at #43). Wouldn’t it be amazing if Ritual could crack the top 20? I hope that the fans can make it happen.
August Burns Red, Leveler (Solid State)
The Christian metalcore outfit from Lancaster, PA struggled for the first four years of their career to reach a wider audience than just the Christian metal faithful (no pun intended). 2007’s Messengers began the process of expanding the band’s fan base, but it was 2009’s Constellations with its #21 debut on the Billboard 200 that sent August Burns Red on a tear, as they toured all over the world and made believers (again, no pun intended) of many new fans. Leveler has the potential to be another breakout record for the group, with a maturing sound and greater experimentation. Hopefully, this new album will help turn even more skeptics into headbanging converts (okay, that pun was intended).
Origin, Entity (Nuclear Blast)
Entity is Origin’s fifth album of blindingly technical death metal, but a great deal of listeners had never heard of the band prior to the release of 2008’s Antithesis. The Topeka, Kansas-based quartet has actually been around for fourteen years, touring relentlessly and working their way up the ranks slowly – in short, doing it the hard way. That approach, which has failed so many of their contemporaries, seems to be working for Origin, if the rave reviews of Antithesis and its entry at #21 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart are any indication. Now that they’ve started to become a recognized name, hopefully Entity will allow the band a larger breakout.
Death, Human [2CD Reissue] (Relapse)
It was more than a year ago that Relapse announced their plans to reissue almost all of Chuck Schuldiner’s musical legacy (the one exception being the Death album Symbolic). Since that time, we’ve seen the reissue of Control Denied’s sole album and the reissue of the seminal The Sound of Perseverance album. Now Death’s fourth LP Human gets its reissue treatment with a second disc of studio tracks and demos for all the production junkies. As with The Sound of Perseverance, there is a 3CD deluxe reissue exclusively for sale at Relapse’s online store. The third disc has rehearsal tracks broken down into individual instrumental sections on certain songs, as well as isolated drum and bass tracks for those wanting to learn these amazing songs. All in all, the reissue of Human does great justice to this legendary album.
Also being released this week:
Voivod, Warriors of Ice (Sonic Unyon)
Pain, You Only Live Twice (Nuclear Blast)
Jungle Rot, Kill on Command (Victory)
Ed Gein, Bad Luck (Black Market Activities)
General Surgery, Necrology (Relapse)
The Crimson Armada, Conviction (Artery)
Heights, Dead Ends (Mediaskare)
Wolverine, Communication Lost (Candlelight)
S.O.S., I Owe You Nothing (Good Fight)
Turbid North, Orogeny (Ironclad)
Vanna, And They Came Baring Bones (Artery)
Fit for an Autopsy, The Process of Human Extermination (Black Market Activities)
Knuckle Up!, Motivation from Misery (Mediaskare)
Helms Alee, Weatherhead (Hydra Head)
Sourvein, Black Fang (Candlelight)
Dekapitator, We Will Destroy…You Will Obey! [Reissue] (Relapse)
The Acacia Strain, The Most Known Unknown [Live CD] (Prosthetic)
Next Week: We’re heading back in time or else heading underground for a week that will see some releases that you’ve either never heard of or that you’ll never see coming. It will be very interesting to see what comes up, so be sure to come back in seven days for more!