Hey Everybody! welcome to the inaugural edition of Backwards Marathon; my weekly retrospective taking a look at music discographies and ranking them least favorite to favorite. I've wanted to do this for quite a while. some of my good friends have done similar in the past, most notably CoverKiller Nation with his Rank 'Em All series and my friend Will at 14:59 studios previously doing a similar thing in written form. Mine will also be written. For the first run of this; I had to choose one of my favorite artists of all time, Devin Townsend. His solo work is some of my favorite music that has been laid down in the last 20+ years. I wanted to focus on everything that his official name in the title of the albums; so no Strapping Young Lad in this trek, though they will come in the future, I promise you that. There is one example in this list that doesn't "officially" have his named attached to the artist name, but it is still listed as a solo album. rather than fight semantics, I'll just go with it. 19 LPs to go through from Punky Bruster: Cooked on Phonics to Empath. Let's get into it....right after the ground rules.
1.) No EPs, cover albums, live albums, b-side albums, or best of/greatest hits collections. Just original studio LPs. Albums that have a cover or two on it are just fine.
2.) This is just my opinions on the albums in question. No outside influences other than my own and is far from a definitive world ranking. If you have a different ranking, AWESOME! Keep that up!
3.) The reason for doing this to help people get into a band/artist/etc and give ideas of what to expect if they decide to dive into the work.
4.) This is ranked from least favorite to favorite (countdown/TRL style). I will give a few words about every album as we go down the list.
5.) There will be a spotify playlist (where applicable) to go along with the list with a song off each album so you can get another idea of what to expect. The songs will either be my favorite song off the album or one that represents the album the best in my eyes. (if you are reading this on social media, click the official link to get the playlist)
6.) Have fun and spread the word....SPREAD IT!
19.) Devlab (2004)
This is not an album for the faint of heart, or even a love of song structure. A completely ambient, noise, drone album. If you love your music experimental or you were a big fan of Merzbow or Mike Patton's Adult Theme for Voices, this will be up your alley.
18.) The Hummer (2006)
The other full on ambient album from Townsend, but done in the exact opposite way. Rather than being influenced by drugs and alcohol and seeing what could be made in an album; The Hummer is actually designed to help the listener sleep...no that is the intent of the album. It still is ambient album that will feature a lot of the noise ideas from Devlab, but it's designed for relaxation, meditation and sleep. A noble idea for an album but if you are looking for something that is going to get you hooked into Townsend with his musical capabilities; both these albums in question are not the right starter albums, but are both worthy of a listen. It might even be your bag.
17.) Ghost (Devin Townsend Project) (2011)
This is the closest album to date that has the Ghost vibe mentioned above, but done in a musical way. The album is just layered in relaxation with beautiful instrumentation, soundscape songwriting and majestic vocals. It goes all over the board musically as well, from more folky/country to post rocky stuff and yet it is very much a Devin Townsend album. Quite easily the most beautiful Hevy Devy album to date.
16.) Synchestra (Devin Townsend Band) (2006)
The second and final album under the DTB moniker showed how much stronger the band had become. Where Accelerated Evolution truly felt like a Townsend solo album; Synchestra felt more like a band album. The songs are varied from gorgeous songs, to heavy songs to absolutely silly songs (Vampolka as the prime example). This was the last album before Devin's break from making music (thankfully not for long) but it officially put to rest both the Devin Townsend Band and Strapping Young Lad. It really feels like an end of an era album in hindsight.
15.) Physicist (2000)
Way back when I first discovered SYL and Hevy Devy in general, I heard this album described as a Strapping Young Lad album with Spice Girls lyrics. As silly as it sounds, that is the perfect way to describe this album. For one, it features the lineup of SYL at the time and the lyrics are generally more upbeat than you heard from any of his other albums to that point. The songs are so much fun to listen to, but one downside for many listeners is the production as it is mixed very raw and muddy. I look at it as a sign of that time and give the album it's own flavoring, but it will not be for everyone. If you are SYL fan but never ventured into the solo work of Devin, this is a good spot to start.
14.) Infinity (1998)
The first album to be officially declared a Devin Townsend album (the previous two albums will be coming up in the list later) This album takes more of the pop metal elements (Truth, Christeen) that was featured on Ocean Machine but more of the left of center turns that you would hear in SYL or in his later works (Ants. Noisy Pink Bubbles). This is a great example of what Devin was capable of outside of SYL and really is an album that shows a lot of what was to come down the road.
13.) Ziltoid The Omniscient (2009)
The first Devin Townsend album that was entirely by the man himself; the only exception is some help from Frederik Thordendal of Meshuggah who helped with some drum programming using the now infamous Drumkit From Hell drum software. This concept album about a coffee drinking, guitar playing alien nerd trying to take over the omniverse was a rousing sensation when released as it was what a long time fans wanted to hear from Townsend for such a long time. While the production is a buit more raw than what you normally hear in a Hevy Devy album; it really adds to the atmosphere of the story being told and you are off for an amazing adventure that will leave you banging your head, trying to comprehend the riffs you just heard, and make you have a ton of giggles. It's really the album that showcased who Devin was 11 years ago (Seriously? 11 years ago???!)
12.) Transcendence (Devin Townsend Project) (2016)
Easily the best produced album of Devin's career. Everything is crisp and clear and it just feels like you are in a sonic adventure of sound. This was sadly the final album for the Devin Townsend Project and it's a shame as it really felt like the band was truly starting to sound like a band on this album (sound familiar?). This also lead to Devin taking a quick break to recharge his batteries and get ready to take on his next musical endeavors (also sound familiar?). It's a shame that this album wasn't as well regarded in hindsight now as other albums as it deserves to be with some of the best work every musician in the band has done and killer songs to boot. And again, that production is primo! An excellent album.
11.) Punky Bruster: Cooked On Phonics (1996)
The concept album of a Polish Death Metal band becoming a Punk band in one night and becoming a universal sensation is one that leads to a lot of laughs and rather ironically, some of the best punk songs I've ever heard. This also has the honor of being Devin's first solo album (while his name was not attached to any of his solo work till Infinity). It's a short, sweet, fun, album that holds up to this day. Go check it out.
10.) Dark Matters (Devin Townsend Project) (2014)
While Z2 can be considered a double album along with Sky Blue as they were recorded and released together. I consider them two different albums as they are not connected in any other way. Dark Matters is a soft reboot of the Ziltoid The Omniscient story but done with vastly superior productions, awesome guest voices, and the whole Devin Townsend Project backing Devin rather than how it was originally done in 2009. In hindsight, many people prefer the original ZTO to this album, but I prefer Dark Matters. The songs are fantastic, the musicianship is stellar, and hearing the current AEW World Champion, Chris Jericho as Captain Spectacular just brings the wrestling mark in me so much joy. Give this underrated album the love it deserves.
9.) Sky Blue (Devin Townsend Project) (2014)
The album that went along side Dark Matters for Z2 was a full on DTP album with no connecting songs to Dark Matters story and just a collection of fantastic songs. Again, criminally, this album didn't get the love it deserved in hindsight and I can totally understand how a lot of people feel like Devin and co were burnt out musically at this point. I guess I can just look past that and love this album for the great mix of pop, metal, prog and electronica shown throughout. Seriously, the fact that the title track was not a top 40 hit on the Billboard 200 is an absolute crying shame as it rivals ANY pop song that came out in the 2010s. This along with Addicted were the closest things to Pop Metal albums that Devin has done to date and either of them could have been on the radio. If only life would have been different...
8.) Ki (Devin Townsend Project) (2009)
The first album of the original planned idea for the DTP before it turned into a full fledged band. This album is a somber, haunting and beautiful that has many hints of blues, country, atmospheric and rock elements. When it gets heavy, it feels ferocious (thank you, dynamics!). It's an absolutely dreamy album and just hits you in all the right spots. This is not a metal album, but it's one of the heaviest albums in Devin's career for so many reasons.
*Look, I didn't add Casualties of Cool on here as I consider that to be a completely different band than any of his other work and is a duo band with Che Aimee Dorval. And anywhere you look, this is considered a debut album, so I'm respecting that decision. If you wanna be a stickler and say 'NO, THIS IS A DEVIN TOWNSEND SOLO ALBUM!!!" fine, this is where I would place COC, if it counted.*
7.) Empath (2018)
The return fully solo album from Devin Townsend since 2009's Ziltoid The Omniscient. Empath is the most Devin Townsend album ever made. It goes from SYL riffs to Caribbean overtones and steel drums to absolutely gorgeous rock monuments and all the wackiness you expect from the mad metal scientist at this stage. I had the unfortunate timing to be in the hospital and being forced from being able to check out this album till a month after the album came out (2019 was a terrible year on my end and I do not want a repeat). But had I been able to give this album the proper love that I have for every single Devin release to date, this would be much higher on the list as it deserves. Basically, this is THE starter album for newcomers. Every single thing you want to find in his music is in here at some point. Hey, even NIckelback's Chad Kroger is apart of a choir that sings over blast beats on this album. What more could you possibly want?
6.) Deconstruction (Devin Townsend Project) (2011)
This is the arguably the heaviest album Devin has ever put out, INCLUDING SYL (YOU HEARD ME!!!). This album is absolutely ferocious, bombastic and destroys the listener in so many ways. The story of someone trying to find the meaning of life and then finds it (no spoilers here, listen to the album); Deconstruction takes everything you love about the heavy side of Hevy Devy and pushes it to it's absolute extremes. It also has the added benefit of having some of the greatest voices in metal on this album from Opeth, to BTBAM to Novembers Doom to NIghtwish. Considering how many layers are packed into this album, this is the magnum opus of Devin's career so far. So much substance on one album doesn't seem possible, but it's here. Every extreme is hear for your ears and you may even call it musical masturbation theatrics. In this case, it's an absolutely mighty thing!
5.) Addicted (Devin Townsend Project) (2009)
Of all 4 of the original DTP albums, this is the one that closest represents what the band would become when it became a full fledged band. Featuring many of the same lineup. This is essentially a Modern Progressive Pop Metal Album. In a sense, if Devin stuck to making Ocean Machine style music, this would be the modern equivilent. So catchy, so heavy, so cathartic, and such a fantastic album from start to finish. This truly is one of the best albums of the 21st century so far and for damn good reason. One listen and you'll get it.
4.) Epicloud (Devin Townsend) (2012)
What may be considered to be the finest non-SYL Devin Townsend album, and for good reason. This is the first album after the DTP became a full fledged band and what a magnificent album it truly is. Some of the catchiest, poppiest, heaviest, and most frigging beautiful moments of Devin's career are featured here. It's gorgeous on so many ways and is one of my favorite albums of the 2010s decade for good reason. If you want to know what the non-extreme Hevy Devy is all about and see that the maniacal frontman of Strapping Young Lad has a pop side you'd never guess could come to fruition could be; yeah, this is the album you need to hear.
3.) Terria (2001)
The last solo titled album til 2009's Ziltoid the Omniscient. This was for YEARS my favorite album of all time and I still consider it one of the best ways you could ever spend 72 minutes of your time. This album is a love letter to Canada along with being an introspection album of a man in his late 20s about to enter his 30s (yeah, this registered for my highly). It's a magnificent display of melodic atmospheric progressive metal with some of the best heavy songs and ballads Devin has layered to record. Even with ALL of that said, I don't consider this a starter album. Get familiar with Devin's solo work and down the line check out Terria, you'll be able to appreciate it so much more.
2.) Accelerated Evolution (Devin Townsend Band) (2003)
It wasn't till I hit 30 years old where I realized that when I picked up Terria and Accelerated Evolution (my first non-SYL albums) that Accelerated Evolution was the superior album in so many ways. While this album is one of the most atmospheric albums in the Hevy Devy discography, you won't find any extreme fretboard work or blast beats or insane musical time changes. This is an album that is 100% about the songs and making them as perfect as possible. Nothing really goes above mid-tempo on this album (well, in comparison to his other works), There are so many heartwrenching ballads on this album with some of the best emotional screams you will ever hear in songs like Deadhead and Storm. It is an album that is the perfect yin to Strapping Young Lad's Self Titled album (aka, Chickenfeather)'s yang (both released in the same year). An album that is essential to check out.
1.) Ocean Machine (Ocean Machine: Biomech) (1997)
If it wasn't for Green Incarnation's Light of Day, Day of Darkness (the greatest 60 minute song ever); this would be considered my favorite album of all time. It took me a long time to realize that. It was always an album that was at least in my top 3-5 in Dev's discography, but sometimes it didn't click with me the way I wanted. That wasn't until the last few years where I realized how much this (technically 2nd) solo album from Devin Townsend was one of the best albums of the 90s. Whether you want straight up pop rock like Life, a heavy rocker like Regulator, a monster epic like Bastard (my favorite Devin Townsend song), or what a lot of bands stole and made Post Rock/Post Metal out of with The Death of Music; This album truly has it all for the prog nerds (like myself) of the world. Basically, if you wanna hear the pinnacle work of Devin Townsend's early work (and arguably overall), check out Ocean Machine. You'll be glad you did.
And there you go folks. All 19 albums ranked from least favorite to favorite in my humblest of opinions. I thank you for checking this out and hope you stick around every Friday for a new feature of a band or artist';s catalog. Make sure to check out the curated Spotify playlist below (of if you're reading this on social media, click the link and scroll to the bottom) to check out a track from each album listed in the order above.
Till next time, this is That Drummer Guy saying, SEE YA!
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)