Devin Townsend Project W/ Leprous & Tesseract – Nottingham Rock City 18/03/17

Photo: Phil Stiles

Whilst some bands have off nights (or even off tours), there is no such thing as a bad Devin Townsend experience. Touring on the back of yet another wonderful album, 2016’s exceptional ‘transcendence’, in a seemingly unbreakable run of them, Devin deals in a form of metal so gloriously otherworldly and so resolutely positive that it is impossible to leave one of his shows without a huge soppy grin plastered across your face.

A common denominator of Devin’s shows is that the support slots are always well-chosen. This time out, Devin is travelling alongside Norway’s Leprous and the UK’s own Tesseract, the latter long-time touring partners with Devin, and Nottingham’s Rock City is pretty much packed from the outset despite an early start time.

Leprous kick off the night and draw extensively from their latest album, 2015’s ‘The Congregation’, with only one song, ‘foe’, representing the band’s earlier work. It is a short set, but delivered with plenty of energy and a powerful, if somewhat bass-heavy, sound. Einar Solberg is an unusual figure in that it’s not often you see a frontman / keyboardist, but he delivers his vocals with plenty of energy and, aplomb. Final track ‘Slave’ is particularly impressive, juxtaposing raging torrents of guitar and more nuanced passages and, as the band leave the stage in a swirl of ambient synth, the audience certainly seem impressed. 8

Photo: Phil Stiles

Tesseract have had more than their fair share of ups and downs, dispensing with no fewer than five lead vocalists over the course of their career. Certainly, every fan will have their favourite but for me the return of Daniel Tompkins to the fold was absolutely the right decision and he dominates the stage, both with his presence and with the intense blend of clean and brutally harsh vocal that characterised the ‘One’ album. Despite a relatively short set, the band choose the very best cuts from each of their three albums, kicking off with a mind-bending ‘Dystopia’ before thrilling long-time fans in the crowd with ‘Concealing Fate’ parts 2 & 3 from ‘One’. The band are on ferocious form, guitarists James Monteith and Acle Kahney delivering their riffs with the sort of deft precision that makes bedroom guitarists weep, whilst the whole band benefit from a sound mix that rattles the teeth. I have to come back to the sheer energy of the performance, however, because it truly made the set and, at the heart of the storm, Daniel draws all the attention. Whether roaming the stage with deadly intent or launching himself against the barrier, it’s impossible to drag your eyes from the stage for even a minute and the band’s set passes in the blink of an eye. It’s been a while since I last had the opportunity to see Tesseract on stage, but this performance utterly eclipses anything I’ve seen from the band before. 9

Photo: Phil Stiles

With the crowd steaming and the venue packed to the rafters, it’s time for Devin Townsend Project. Despite the exceptional quality of the support acts, anticipation remains high and the roar that greets Devin’s arrival says it all. Ever the genial host, Devin is all smiles as his band launch into ‘Rejoice’, the opening track from ‘Sky blue’ before unleashing ‘night’ from ‘Ocean Machine’ (an album they played in full on the previous evening in London). Still, while it’s tempting to lament the fact that we weren’t at that show, any lingering sadness is dispelled instantly by the wonderful ‘stormbending’, a track that marks a far more collaborative spirit between Devin and his band than we’ve seen on previous outings. The evening continues with another track from ‘Transcendence’, the glorious ‘failure’ – a highlight both on the album and on stage. With gargantuan riffs set against a typically gorgeous melody, ‘failure’ epitomises all that is wonderful about Devin’s work and offers up one of his most mesmerising vocal performances. Carefully orchestrated with strong elements of James Horner, ‘Failure’ is a moment of sheer musical perfection in an already fantastic night and the sound mix captures the densely-layered music with impressive clarity.

The show continues with another highlight of Devin’s back catalogue, the beatific ‘Hyperdrive!’ (a song so good Devin recorded it twice) before ‘Planet of the apes’ signals a move into Ziltoid territory with ‘Ziltoid goes home’ delivered in a storm of double kick beats and gleeful excess that threatens to dislodge fillings. A sonic firestorm, it comes as something of a relief when Devin calms things down with ‘Suicide’ before the band deliver one of the finest coup-de-main set-list endings of all time with ‘Supercrush!’, ‘March of the Poozers’ and ‘Kingdom’ setting the audience reeling. It says much of the richness of Devin’s back catalogue that he could finish the set with so stupefying a selection of songs and still have something left up his sleeve for the encore. Returning with an acoustic guitar (“you can still be metal on an acoustic!”), Devin plays a stunning ‘Ih-ah’ before drawing the night to a close with the sonic ecstasy of ‘Higher’, a multi-faceted mini-masterpiece that leaves the audience stunned and breathless. Another of the album’s many highlights, it is the perfect concluding track moving from gospel-infused star-gazing to cataclysmic metal with a mercurial ease that is dizzying to witness.

Photo: Phil Stiles

The word ‘epic’ gets thrown about a lot, but as we exited the venue it was a word that was justifiably on everybody’s lips. Devin understands the importance of whisking his audience away to another place and his music is like a sonic RPG, filled with fantastic characters, stupendous hooks and instrumentation seemingly beamed in from another universe. No-one sounds like Devin but Devin – he remains a uniquely joyful, endlessly original musician and I can think of few artists who can pound a venue with such ferocious riffs and still leave the audience beaming from ear-to-ear at the conclusion. Sheer metal heaven, the ‘Transcendence’ tour was aptly named. 10

and here’s some more tesseract for you:

 

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