Imagine the audience has taken their seats, the lights have dimmed and a thick red velvet curtain hangs down lightly brushing the stage. A gospel choir acts as the narrator, introducing you to the spectacle you have come to enjoy. “Effervescent quality” they sing and shortly the curtain rises to reveal a lone female singer in the spotlight front of stage against a black background, who has her own refrain; “I love you, I need you, I’ve always been around you”. After a repeat the lights come up to reveal Devin Townsend sitting on a big chopper, band behind as he takes over the singing and a wall of sound envelops the theatre complete with guitarists swirling their long black hair and death metal drums ringing out.
As the song winds down the choir joins in again for a few bars before madness breaks out on stage with a rollicking tale; “Animal animal and we’re lucky. Animal animal and we’re lucky. How do you know if you’re out of control? How do you know? You never will know!” The crowd stands, dancing wildly on the spot, swinging their hips waving their arms around and singing along as Townsend cranks up the bike and takes a tour of the centre aisle singing as he goes. Returning down another aisle back onto the stage some serious Hammond organ action joins in along with the choir and the fun continues…
This theatrical, majestic album has “rock opera” written all over it, resplendent with powerful, soaring, uplifting passages. Male and female vocals sing call and respond, solo or harmonies joining the gospel choir to provide depth and texture. Each track provides a vocal phrase that you can hum and sing along to at first listen and keep it in a corner of your brain for later when you’re feeling chipper. Tracks run together like maple syrup over a stack of steaming hot pancakes yet differ widely and have the ability to stand up on their own.
“Epicloud” is one of those records that takes extreme metal elements but blends them with lighter moods in a magical way that tames them without removing their venom, much as Alcest do although with an entirely different sound. It somehow remains heavy without being intense- adventurous and progressive without treading a safe path. There’s a strong 70’s feel through much of it with a solid nod to Queen, and although there are others like Toehider who embody the spirit of Freddie and the boys much better, Devin Townsend’s brush is much broader.
There’s so much to find on “Epicloud”. It hides its complexity with simple and accessible melodies and that wall of sound, successfully pulling together a range of sounds that lesser composers would present as an orderless mash. The clear and powerful vocals of Devin Townsend and Anneke Van Giersbergen deliver a series of simple songs that allow the listener to decide much of their own story. They simply give you the seeds of imagination while the music provides a mood.
I think the final track is less than it should and clearly could be although the reprise of the opener in the closing stages works well. Some of the vocal production is a little too metallic at one point and I prefer songs with more dynamics and tempo changes. The instruments are all played well but are simply props for the vocals and I’m more an instrumental fan, but that’s pretty much my only (minor) complaints and it does the job it’s designed to do with a huge fucking grin on its face. This is a joyous and engaging journey that deserves to be seen live as a whole with a fair helping of theatrics thrown in.
Don’t miss it if it happens.