For nearly twenty years now, Devin Townsend has been one of the most confounding artists that metal, or any genre, has had to offer. The man’s newest solo album, Deconstruction, does not sully his reputation in this regard. Many of the album’s tracks feature an unctuous blend of humor and instrumental proficiency. Townsend’s theatrical singing over the double bass drum triplets of “Juular” gives the track a circus-like feel, the man relishing his creepy timbre with every word he speaks. The beginning of “Praise Be Lowered” sounds almost Radiohead-like before it descends into the distorted screams of chaotic black metal. “Stand” and “Planet of the Apes” are crunch-metal odysseys, Townsend recruiting screamers from Emperor’s Ihasahn to Between the Buried and Me’s Thomas Giles to give each track a grainy edge. It’s no surprise that Deconstruction feels like a massive stage production, a fitting end to Townsend’s madcap Devin Townsend Project series.
But I’m telling you right now that you’re not going to remember Deconstruction for those tracks I just mentioned. The seven songs on this nine-track album? Nonsense. In fact, in retrospect, the hushed acoustics that conclude “Sumeria” sound like a primer for where the real album begins.
The true Deconstruction begins with the slow guitar picking of “The Might Masturbator”. The track builds to standard but complicated prog metal, but completely dismantles itself five minutes in to reveal a country tootin’ Townsend, tongue firmly in cheek, as he brags, “Oh yeah, you don’t even know / I’m real good at that savin’ the world thing / I’m ready, I got my savin’ the world boots on.” And then the track just goes bonkers. First it’s Dream Theater-like time signature perversion, then Broadway “sha la la’s”, then an electronic siege of insanity as Townsend blusters on about addressing “the intergalactic community” which all leads to a chant of “Give it up / The world”… THEN the track goes back to prog metal before Townsend literally fancies himself a ringmaster, talking about men with sixteen testicles and vagina-faced women before the fucker just crowns himself The Mighty Masturbator to a rapturous AMEN. Next track “Pandemic” never stands a chance.
Now would be a good time to note that there is also a concept behind Deconstruction. As if the album couldn’t sound more convoluted, its accompanying storyline may be even more ridiculous than all the sounds Townsend throws at you combined. Deconstruction is about a boy who goes to the Underworld in search of the answers to the mysteries of the Universe and is offered them in the form of a cheeseburger, only for the protagonist to reveal that he is a vegetarian (or as Townsend pronounces it, “vegemetarian”), rendering his entire journey utterly worthless. With that in mind, it sounds like Townsend is just fucking with us at this point, dickslapping our conventions of how seriously we take any kind of art.
And if you think that this concept is difficult to understand, don’t worry, because Townsend lays it out for you by literally interrupting a track to reveal the story’s punch line, and you will hear full choirs singing about cheeseburgers like it’s all a fucking coronation. The title track, where the crux of the story is told, bests the batshit crazy factor of “The Mighty Masturbator” not only because it’s more blatant in its display of lunacy, but because Townsend and his band perform the thing with surgically precision. As Townsend rants about what the main character could do with his knowledge, the drums punctuate his fantasies of SEX and MONEY with snare hits that seem to come out of nowhere. But if you’re getting the impression that, other than the storyline, “Deconstruction” is all poise and finesse, the song literally starts with Townsend laying a massive fart, and the last thing heard on the song is a man repeating, “Bullshit, it’s bullshit.” Again, a song succeeds this track, but would you really care if I told you about it?
So, clearly, Deconstruction is a lot to take in. It intends to probe listeners relentlessly on how far they will go to appreciate music that refuses to back down from even the basest forms of humor. I came very close to not rating Deconstruction, because its incessant need to make disjointed and patently ludicrous statements almost defies critical inspection.
Realistically, however, the actual hooks and songwriting chops of Deconstruction do not quite impress as much as they shock. “The Mighty Masturbator” and “Deconstruction” are both fantastic songs, and, while they do make up twenty-six minutes of the album, its other tracks look insignificant in comparison. However, I will say this: If you think Lady Gaga is challenging ideas of what is and is not music, a few listens to Deconstruction will inform you that’s all a hulking pile of horseshit. Townsend had some massive balls to make an album like Deconstruction, and, based on its meticulous production, its message-without-a-message actually sounds thought through and it sounds like Townsend had great fun making it. Despite the fact that there is a good chance you will despise Deconstruction, I would recommend it, because it is a legitimate challenge to our conventions on music. You may not enjoy it, but you cannot deny that you’ve never heard anything quite like it before.