In the current “follow the leader” landscape of the music industry, one is hard pressed to find artists with the sheer quality and variety of work that Devin Townsend has produced. Particularly when one considers that the Progressive and Metal genres, once intended to replace the rigid and clichéd forms of popular music, have fallen into their own form of stagnancy and rigidity. Defiance of this trend characterizes both his more conceptual solo work and furious output with Strapping Young Lad.
A key part of Devy’s style is intelligent use of a Spector-esque “wall of sound” alongside a near-insane attention to detail. Unlike many other modern artists, his use of the technique goes beyond simply brickwalling everything to the point of incomprehensibility. His knowledge of proper production technique almost outweighs his musicianship as a factor in his success. Almost.
The second key element is emotional honesty. Like most great music, each. Devy differentiates from most members of the modern metal scene by deviating from mother-punching fury and dragon-slaying glory. Not that he doesn’t experiment with rage; the five albums produced under Strapping Young Lad may be the angriest peak I’ve ever seen music reach. But he evolves from there. The albums produced after the group’s breakup deal with understanding, accepting, and moving beyond that anger with skill and a firm tongue in cheek attitude.
Which leads to his final strength an ever-present sense of humor. Strapping Young Lad was as much about mocking trends in modern metal as its core conceit of blazing a new trail. He created an entire concept album about a self-referential alien sock puppet (with a sequel in the works). Many artists may reach Devy’s creative plateau, but few can do it without taking themselves too seriously.