Originally written by Chris Chellis.
As the name would have any wise listener assume, this group produces what is essentially the vision of one Devin Townsend. As the music recorded on Synchestra proves, Devin Townsend is one hell of a talent.
The term “wall of sound” has often been used in association with Townsend productions, and Synchestra is no exception to the rule. What does this mean in terms of this specific project? It means that a primarily acoustic opener like “Let it Roll” has both room to breathe and significant space to occupy, and effectively introduces the listener to a crystal clear audio experience one would expect from a high budget mainstream release. Seeing as how this is not Strapping Young Lad, and therefore not meant to be a balls-smoldering metal campaign, this pristine approach to production appropriately highlights every instrument and electronic manipulation recorded in the mix. This comes most handy in songs like “Triumph” that attempt to balance guitar, drum, soft singing, screaming, bass, unidentifiable digital samples, piano, banjo, and world instruments, but also works in more simplistic tracks like the previously mentioned “Let it Roll.”
Synchestra is about as diverse a listening experience one is going to get in 2006, and that alone should make this a contender for most critics’ best of year lists. Uber-melodic and lyrically insane (not topically dissimilar from SYL’s recent “Possessions”), “The Baby Song” lulls the listener into a strange trance only to interrupt itself halfway through with an addictive groove that almost sounds ripped from Pantera before returning to that same piano-induced trance. Followup “Vampira” is another example of Townsend’s celebrated eccentricity, although unlike “The Baby Song,” this experiment could have been omitted, as the sixth track, “Nail Broth,” takes on the same character and tone of “Vampira” while translating it into a more palpable solid form. While I can see that Townsend probably intended “Vampira” to act as an introduction to “Nail Broth,” I don’t see why “Vampira” could not have been shortened and combined with “Nail Broth” to form one strong track. Nevertheless, the latter is the album’s best track and I am sure it will contend for my own best of ’06 individual song list. It gives off this quirky vibe that at times makes me think that it could easily fit into some schmaltzy monster movie flick, and I like that kind of playfulness. I also think that Townsend’s voice sounds most exceptional on “Nail Broth.”
Another playful song that succeeds in combining elements from many forms of music is “Judgement.” With crunching guitars, melodic singing, and weird background noises that would sound comfortable on an 80s new wave dance album, “Judgement” is perhaps Synchestra’s most successfully experimental song. At just over six minutes, it is also one of the album’s longer tracks. Unfortunately, it becomes easier to predict the hits and misses of Synchestra around this point, because the shorter tracks, like the pointless “Pixelate” and the needlessly meandering “Hyper Geek,” have often been the most lacking while the longer tracks, like “Nail Broth” and “Judgement,” seem more complete. This formula keeps Synchestra from being the alternative metal classic it could be if it had only elaborated more on the sound established with songs like “Triumph,” “Nail Broth,” “Judgement,” “Chix,” and “Sunshine & Happiness.”
Townsend fans should buy this without thinking. More open metalheads who are more likely to translate the term “alternative metal” to mean metal that defies traditional categorization should seriously consider buying this album. The rest of you should give it a quick skim and decide if you fancy its liberal dose of experimentation.