Album Review: Devin Townsend - Infinity [25th Anniversary]
Reviewed by Dan Barnes
Devin Townsend is the very definition of a Man for All Seasons and his musical output, even only as a performer, stretches back to the start of the Nineties when he was vocalist on Steve Vai’s Sex & Religion album in 1993. Little did I know, and little did I realise, but Devin fronted Vai’s band when they toured as support to Aerosmith on the Bostonian’s Get a Grip tour (which I caught in Sheffield). It was only later that I put two and two together.
Devin’s first solo effort, Cooked on Phonics came out a year after Strapping Young Lad’s debut, and the marvellous Ocean Machine: Biotech followed a year later. Between SYL’s City and the self-titled in 2003, Devin would release four records under his own name, the first of which was 1998’s Infinity album which has been given a twenty-fifth anniversary spruce-up as well as an additional seven tracks, including five demos and a couple of acoustic numbers.
The album kicks off with the familiar guitar tones of Truth, leading to the punchy riff and mostly lyric-free tune that still finds itself in the Devin Townsend live shows to this day. It’s an overture of sorts, in which the main man sets Infinity’s stall out. Bad Devil and War, the other two from this record still regularly in the roster, finds Dev experimenting with all manner of sounds and motifs; while the latter grinds away like a machine pressing metal panels, the former embraces the mischievous and playful title character, adopting a big band swing and a trombone courtesy of Andy Codrington.
Colonial Boy continues the carnival atmosphere, as does the short Ants, which comes across like Mr Bungle or at least some from the pen of Mike Patton. There is a wistfulness about both Soul Driven and Unity that takes a more laid back and chilled view. The bombastic Dynamics seems to take its cue from Truth, delivering one of Infinity’s heaviest moments without taking this solo project into the Strapping realms. Christeen pops along brightly like some summertime hit, while finale, Noisy Pink Bubbles seems, at first glance at least, to be throwaway filler but is a massive earworm and will lodge itself deep into your brain pretty quickly.
Auteur that he is, Devin plays most of the instrumentation on this album, bringing in SYL’s drummer, the legend that is Gene Hoglan to add the percussion, and one-time Fear Factory Total Harmonic Distorter Christian Olde Wolbers on upright bass.
The intended track listing of Infinity was to be but eight songs, two of which would not make the final ten; those being Om and the eleven-minute multiple parts of Procession, which are included in their demo forms as bonus content. Where Om is an easy bedfellow of Truth or Unity, Procession is big and bold and shows the signs of Devin’s later dalliance with the overblown and overwrought.
The other demos on display here are Sit in the Mountain, which has an unusual sound, boarding on the eastern; Love/ Load has those circus vibes of Colonial Boy, while Man is very much closer to the Strapping Young Lad aesthetic than that heard on Infinity. The final couple of songs are live acoustic renditions of Ocean Machine: Biotech’s Sister and Hide Nowhere, making this anniversary edition an interesting insight into Devin’s creative processes at the time.
I think we can all agree that the original cover of Infinity was memorable for all the wrong reasons yet, to his credit, Devin has recreated the image, in the here and now. Whether the world needed another tasteful nude of Devin is for others to decide, I’m just glad my preview copy came under blank packaging.
Devin Townsend is a man who does not take himself too seriously but seems effortlessly able to continually create distinctive collections of music, rarely repeating himself, yet always meeting or exceeding expectations. Long may this continue.