Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Ocean Machine - Biomech. 100/100.

Considering the amount of Devin Townsend projects, it comes as no surprise that some people mistake which band is which and what full-lengths come under which particular project name. What makes it worse is the fact that Devin, the maniacal originator of half of these bands, likes to insert his name into the titles of two of these bands, making it difficult to know which project we‘re assessing unless one pays particular attention. I myself have had some trouble distinguishing between the bands as their sounds tend to change drastically from record to record. Take the project known as The Devin Townsend Band, for example. ‘Accelerated Evolution’ is a juxtaposed idea in relation to ‘Synchestra’, so confusion is a part of daily life when dealing with this band and this man who, adhering to my initial beliefs about progressive music in general, likes to spread his name and his influence across the music he contributes to in a way that could possibly be deemed as rather arrogant, egotistical or even pretentious. However, these beliefs could all come undone if he were to give a sterling performance that shook the listener to the core on a personal level, moving us emotionally to the utmost, causing a U-turn in our opinions of what it means to be pretentious within a world that requires experimentation to live like we need air to live (hopefully highlighting the essential nature of experimentation within this eclectic and surreal world of music).

Musicians who can showcase their abilities to the extreme with technical prowess that tears them apart from the inner circles of mediocrity are necessities and therefore, it isn’t so strange that Devin proceeds to make himself the center of the universe when it comes to his multiple projects, despite the fact that other musicians contribute to the overall product and deserve credit themselves. After all, his position within the band is as sole creator. So, in essence, he is playing God. He controls the outlets, he makes the music. Given these facts, which are obviously portrayed by Devin himself by plastering his name everywhere like some form of political propaganda, it strikes me as normal that he should wish to receive the chunk of the plaudits that come with being assessed and analysed in depth. He even went as far as renaming the record on re-release just so his name could visibly be seen on the cover. Progressive metal has always been a genre, in my mind, that exhibited the most amount of arrogance between musicians. Perhaps alongside the twinkling presence of power metal, these two genres have stood side-by-side in forming this opinion that made the genres instantly disagreeable from afar. In my youth I experienced some trouble with accepting experimentation as an integral part of the music world. I loved the subtleties of black metal and in my elitist utopia and felt threatened by the presence of experimentation within the music I listened to.

It was almost as if I had the presence of death stalking me from the shadows of the dark city I used to inhabit and in this formation of beliefs, I became accustomed to thinking experimentation was as useful as a penis is to a lesbian. Certainly not in all cases, but the majority seem to acquire the desireable personality traits of maturity and wisdom as they experience life through the years, well into their 20’s and beyond. Though I still consider myself to be relatively young, I can see myself growing into a person who’s level of acceptance and understanding is growing towards things he once saw as a threat to his individuality. Youth often obscures our vision with naivety that makes our feelings, opinions and thoughts inconsistent so, thankfully, this era of my life is passing by with a whimper and not the aggression it once had. I’m beginning to see things for how they truly are and this is where Devin’s project Ocean Machine come into it with their aquatic and oceanic themes that spread as far as the eye can see like an ocean of immense emotions. As we sink into mire that scarcely resembles the ocean at first, Devin and the other members of Ocean Machine, begin to narrate the aspects of life that make it worth living for, and worth dying for. This record progresses like the stages of life, through adolescence to adulthood and then, eventually, culminating in songs like ‘Funeral’ and ‘Thing Beyond Things’ which exemplify connotations of the afterlife that is marred with all the insecurities that make up the foundations of human life in the mortal world.

There are people who claim to dislike Devin and his music purely because of his reputation as a much loved music genius. With bands like Strapping Young Lad exalting his to greatness, I myself turned my back on him for a long, long time. I had ‘Accelerated Evolution’ for years and even liked it in my misguided youth, but neglected it after the age of 16 until this year, at the age of 22 when I stumbled across it again whilst moving houses. I dug it out, blew away the cobwebs and decided it was worth a shot since I was going through a funk at the time. Nostalgia and memories of the past flooded back to me in vivid detail. I understood why Devin was held in high esteem for the first time in a long time, too long. His reputation often proceeds him and is a turn-off to a number of people who follow metal, mainstream or otherwise. There is something intimidating about listening to a record you know is heralded as one of the greatest in its field and that is precisely how I felt when first listening to ‘Biomech’, which is, unfortunately, the only full-length record to ever be created by Ocean Machine before Devin started focusing solely on his solo projects. In life, there are only a select few who are worthy of the recognition they receive. With numerous bands receiving the unappealing “fan boy” treatment, it becomes difficult to distinguish what is, and what isn’t a classic. Believe me when I say this, THIS is a classic! No hyperbole intended.

This isn’t just music, this is life explained in detail to those who have only gotten so far. The record has a gravitational pull as strong as the Earth’s, keeping us firmly rooted to the inner workings of the instrumentation as the experimentation fluctuates between repetition and variety. The strongest elements are all expected, adding a hint of cliché to the appeal, but when the material is good, what does it matter? The guitars, the keyboards (which have becoming integral to progressive over recent years) and the vocals, which includes backing vocals, all surface as the leading traits for this records supreme style that oozes a sense of class that most other records envy with green eyes. Again, the idea of pretension begins to seep back into my thoughts as I expect a select few to hate this record given its God-like view. Devin seems to believe his tale of life is universal, and some of it is. Songs like ‘Funeral’ are perfectly acceptable when thinking about universal songs. It displays vivid illustrations of what it is like to be in the company of death, to deal with the extended grief that death brings to a family and its friends. Not only are songs like this a reflection of the typically brilliant lyrical content, but they also acts as fine examples of how terrific the instrumentation can be.

A big part of the conception of this record, of course, comes from Devin’s intellectual mind and whilst some may refer to him as a pseudo-intellectual, his concepts do precisely what they intend to do -- cause mass debate. His music not only serves an enjoyable factor, but it has conceptual themes that make us truly think, a part of music which is sorely missed in my world of repetitive and simplistic black metal. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these styles of music, but there comes a time when one must challenge themselves with something life affirming and this is it, ‘Biomech’. As well as this, the content makes it easy for the listener to relate to the material on a purely personal level, highlighting areas of their own life that they’ve gone through, are going through and that they will be going through in due course. The accessibility of this record is probably the highest I’ve seen on any record. Make no mistake, this is about your life and the inner works of your mind. With smart lexical fields and the use of words like “you” and “we” repeatedly, its almost as if Devin is singing directly to us with his strongest vocal performance to date (based on what I’ve heard from him).

Above all this, there is a really soulful vibe presented even in the short songs like ‘3 AM’ with its weary tale that exudes emotion in Devin’s voice that brings a tear to the eye as he lays his heart on the line like a lovelorn teenager professing his undying feelings towards a girl who does not even know he exists. The contrast of happy and sad emotions isn’t the first time we experience juxtaposition during the record. From ‘3 AM’ and the nostalgic ‘Voices in the Fen’ to the jovial ‘Life’ and ‘Night’. The record, once again, suggests a theme of a universal nature, expressing the optimism of youth in the quirky soundscapes at the beginning of the record and then slowly descending into pessimism with the residual tides of the oceanic soundscapes that slowly, but forcefully portray themselves in songs like ‘Bastard’ with its mesmerising use of keyboards and complimenting guitars. As an end note, I cannot say strongly enough how epic this record is. It is the epitome of progressive and despite some issues with egocentrism, it exudes everything you’d ever want to hear in a progressive piece. Not only this, but it stretches beyond its boundaries with music that cannot be contained in its small field. Whatever you do or don’t do with your life, make sure you hear this record before you die.

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