Yep, it’s Play With Yourself Week, a week devoted to songs from musicians’ solo projects. What else did you think I meant? To kick the week off I picked one of heavy rock’s under-appreciated geniuses. Devin Townsend came to prominence as the creative force behind industrial metal band Strapping Young Lad (itunes link here for anyone who wants to get their Strap on). For all the angst and torment of their breakout album, City, there was always a musicality to Townsend’s howls, cackles and accompanying wall of noise that made the music stand out. The guitar tone may have felt primed to push potential listeners away, but the brilliance of the riffs and choruses worked with it to make something very special, maybe even the apex of listenability for industrial metal. As the years passed, Townsend increasingly dropped the industrial feel for a more general but still unique approach to metal, incorporating melody and cleaner instrumentals more prominently and dropping much of the rage for large doses of humor and musings on his own existence. Eventually, Townsend hung up his skullet completely, putting Strapping Young Lad on hiatus to focus on his solo work, giving him full reign to explore his musicality in other genres. These musical wanderings have passed through metal, ambient work and even folk music, but they bear Townsend’s musical hallmark: weird enough to be interesting and catchy enough to be listenable. For me, the peak has to be Ziltoid the Omniscient, Townsend’s batshit insane space metal opera about an alien invasion of Earth to find the ultimate cup of coffee. The track that exemplifies the album for me is “The Greys”, a rifftastic album closer using droning keyboards and warm reverb in the mix to make the song as a whole feel peaceful and happy without compromising on the bite of the guitar tone.
And for another balancing act you can check out Disruptr from Ki, which uses cleaner guitars to create an atmosphere of grinding menace. Townsend’s material can be found on itunes here.