Devin Townsend Project / Aeon Zen Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     May 30, 2011    
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Devin Townsend Project / Aeon Zen - Academy 2, Manchester (UK) - 6th of March 2011.

In these very pages I've been raving about Aeon Zen and their young multi-instrumentalist Rich Hinks since I first heard his/their second album 'The Face Of The Unknown', and being that they were basically a one man band with guest vocalists and rarely ever played a live gig, I wasn't really expecting to see them anytime soon, not least as support to the enigmatic Devin Townsend. In the live band Hinks is content to play bass and sing backing vocals along with singer Andi Kravljaca (Silent Call), guitarist Matt Shepherd, drummer Steve Burton, and last but not least, Dragonforce keyboard player Vadim Pruzhanov. With the full use of the headliner's lights and video screens the stage looks quite impressive for a support act, with two large Aeon Zen logos hiding the Devin Townsend Project drumkit and plenty of swirly images on the two video screens that Hinks has animated to go with the music. It's pretty much technical progressive metal all the way with a myriad of time and tempo changed through 'Time Divine' and 'Natural Selection', and I have to say that as an ageing reviewer it's great to have the screens tell you the titles of the songs just in case you can't remember. With Kravljaca's voice soaring above the music and Hinks proving to be a much more powerful backing vocalist than you can hear on the albums, the only downside for me is that because the instruments are entirely digital and bypass amps to go directly into the mixing desk, the sound is a bit too clean and lacking in bottom end. It does improve as the set goes on and 'Into The Infinite' and the moody 'Redemption's Shadow' are followed by the set closer, the lengthy 'Demise Of The Fifth Sun' with more chops and time changes than you can shake a stick at. and I'm pleased that this relatively unknown band got a great reception from at least two thirds of Devin Townsend's crowd.

Townsend himself is one of the music world's greatest enigmas, having first come into the public eye as the singer on Vai's 'Sex & Religion' album before going on to form the extreme metal band Strapping Young Lad and the still heavy but far more tuneful Devin Townsend Band. His output of late is nothing if not eclectic with solo albums along the same lines as the DTB, a brace of ambient records and he's currently halfway through a series of four albums that will be completely different from each other. In truth the Devin Townsend Project isn't much different to his DTB and solo work, and features songs that go all the way back to his 'Ocean Machine' album back in the nineties. Most of his music consists of a wall of sound that's as melodic as it aggressive with symphonic passages and dramatic chord changes, overlaid with layers of Townsend's vocals and a healthy dose of humour here and there, as evidenced by the lengthy intro video that features the coffee loving alien overlord of his 2007 album 'Ziltoid The Omniscient' dancing to the Vengaboys.

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Townsend and his three band members eventually take the stage for a brace of tracks from his 2009 release 'Addicted', with the aggressive ebb and flow of the title track and 'Supercrush' resulting in quite a phenomenal amount of audience participation, the likes of which I haven't seen for many a long year. The bald headed self-styled geek dramatically gurns and poses his way through the songs and his every move is cheered, his trademark pointy guitar madly careering in every direction as he works the crowd into a frenzy. I was pleased to hear 'Deadhead' from my favourite Townsend record 'Accelerated Evolution' and the likes of 'Truth' and 'Om' from even further back. 'Infinity' and the 'Christeen' EP respectively. Townsend seems only too well aware that a lot of music takes itself far too seriously, which in my mind was the main point of the 'Ziltoid..' album, and when the man announces "Are you ready for Ziltoid?" the ensuing ten minutes of 'By Your Command' and 'Ziltoidia Attaxx' manage to highlight how ridiculous heavy metal music can be at times whilst also being an impressive demonstration of it.

The swirling 'Life' highlights just how much of this 'live' music isn't being played by the onstage band, whilst the cerebral 'Earth Day' gives way to the incredibly straight-forward hard rock of 'Bad Devil' to bring the main set to a close. The band return for another Ziltoid pairing of 'Color Your World' and 'The Greys', whilst 'Deep Peace' from the 'Terria' album shows just what sublime music Townsend is capable of making. Going off and coming straight back on again (after complaining how cold the dressing room was!), Devin leads the band in the metal-pop hybrid 'Bend It Like Bender', complete with a score of crazy dancing audience members he brings up from the front row, all of which get a handshake from their nerdy hero, which predictably isn't enough for some of them who want to hug the man to death. One of the many different tour t-shirts simply proclaim "I (heart) Devin". Now I can see why.

Phil Ashcroft


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