Synchestra is by far Devin Townsend’s most varied work to date. It is underscored with every single trait that makes his music so unique and his artistic expressions so powerful. The album is characterized by complex guitar work, creative mixing, densely nuanced rhythmic anchor, and Devin’s unmatched vocals. Stylistically, Synchestra seems like a combination of the production of Terria and the quirkiness of Infinity. Musically, however, it’s a completely different piece of work, emphasized by Devin’s two diametrically opposite approaches to songwriting.
As you might know, Synchestra is supposed to be the antithesis to Strapping Young Lad’s last album Alien. That said, the album is neither as SYL-influenced as Physicist nor as atmospheric as, say, Ocean Machine. It does present an alternative to the Alien track “Possessions” in the form of “The Baby Song”, which basically addresses the responsibility required if you want to have children. Its poppy, big chorus that repeats, “Why don’t you have a baby? / Why don’t you have a child?” becomes utterly engaging and sticks to your mind for days on end. With great dynamics and a big symphonic backdrop underlying it, the song then morphs into a textured number with awesome piano and concludes with a mercilessly heavy and fast outro section. Contrary to this catchy piece, the album has a slower, almost dramatic start. Beautiful acoustic segments on “Let It Roll” segue into the earthy tones of “Hypergeek”, a track reminiscent of Terria, with lots of roosters, frogs and birds humming in the background, amidst insanely heavy, rapid-fire machine-gun riffery and plodding kick drums. The band wastes no time achieving that huge wall-of-sound vibe synonymous with any Devin Townsend work, be it solo stuff or Strapping Young Lad. Now with two brief tracks, the atmosphere is set and the colour of Synchestra defined. The first real track, “Triumph”, kicks off with soaring melodies, great drumming, both clean and harsh vocals, awesome keyboards, until its first breaking point in the middle – a country type of acoustic jam will surprise many, including the biggest Devin Townsend fans, but the song then goes back to where it started, only to be interrupted by a dreamy guitar solo by Steve Vai.
The brief hook-laden “Vampolka” is busy with phenomenal bass (fretless?), some classical influences, raging organ, and awesome percussion. The piece immediately leads into its counterpart “Vampira”, where Devin’s vocals are so unusual and off-the-wall that I had to think of Infinity. His singing is catchy, yet at the same time very aggressive. This track would be a killer choice for a live performance, considering those “hey, hey” chants at the end. “Mental Tan” is a nice keyboard instrumental that once again brings to mind the more peaceful moments on Terria. It is followed by two of the album’s most progressive offerings. “Gaia” (which was originally titled “Nail Broth”) has a steady rhythm guitar throughout its six minute duration and features Devin singing in both gentle and growled styles. The piece then makes a foray into a challenging unison lead where each member finds the opportunity to display their chops. “Pixillate” may be a personal favourite for me. Going from the intense, stormy depths of Arabic vocals’ dirge-like effect to the heavily pronounced bass and crashing cymbals, the track also a female singer who contrasts Devin’s beast-like screaming with her beautiful vocal harmonies.
The vulnerable throbs on the densely layered “Judgement” lead into “A Simple Lullaby”, which climaxes the album, thanks to its live vibe overall. Mixed with a wild concert crowd in the background, the song is mostly instrumental punctuated by “Earth Day”-like dynamics, but it does contain a lullaby sung in classic Devin Townsend fashion. Similarly, “Sunset” is also instrumental save for the melodies in the end, and it’s highlighted by lush acoustic guitars, hand drums, organ sounds, and piano. If memory serves, “Notes From Africa” is a song that didn’t make it onto Terria and has perhaps the strongest rhythms on the album. Drummer Ryan Van Poedervooen plays stunning polyrhythms whilst Mike Young on bass has a great bass bottom. It has a tightly-knit pattern that Devin follows with a complex counterpoint vocal line at the end.
Synchestra is another powerful musical statement by Devin Townsend. The deluxe edition is even better, as it comes with a DVD where the band performs live. This is bound to become another top release of 2006.