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Album Reviews : Devin Townsend Project – Ocean Machine: Live in Plovdiv

By on July 15, 2018

I love Devin Townsend. I love orchestral music. I love it when orchestral music is juxtaposed with powerful rock and metal music. When you put all of these things together, it’s going to be a (wet) dream for a humble music writer such as myself and result in much waxing of the lyrical in the review.

2017 marked the twentieth anniversary of the true genesis of Townsend’s solo career and the release of the magnificent, unique work of ambient art that is Ocean Machine. This period also marks the passing of the Devin Townsend Project era as Townsend moves on to other creative pastures, so it is only fitting that he and his band release a live album and DVD of them playing the iconic debut in full, end to end, in all its power and glory.

The first set is a diverse, eclectic selection of tunes culled from the rest of the great man’s illustrious and storied back-catalogue. This alone would be amazing, but the fact that they are doing it at an ancient Roman theatre in eastern Europe with a full-blown orchestra and choir makes it very special indeed. The Orchestra and Choir of the Plovdiv State Opera only add beautiful lushness, grandeur and power to Townsend tracks such as Deep Peace, Canada, Stormbending and the somewhat more obscure selection Om, from 1998’s Christeen EP. Being there on the night would have been a head spinning and cathartic experience, but the DVD captures it as best such a rendering could.

Set two is the monumental 73 minute musical journey that is Ocean Machine, in original track order, from the enigmatic spoken-word opening of Seventh Wave through to the strange ambience and final throat-rending, gut-wrenching scream of Things Beyond Things, via the accessible and uplifting Life, the pounding, grinding Regulator, the collective 22 minutes of atmospheric darkness that is Bastard and The Death of Music and so much more. The latter’s emotional histrionics cannot fail to make you misty-eyed and leave you deeply affected.

Townsend is one of the few heavy music vocalists on the planet who can still comfortably hit the high-range notes he wrote for himself as a much younger man, and he appears to be genuinely happy, excited and grateful to be there. As do the band and most of the members of the orchestra.

There were just a couple of things that would have made this live DVD even better. I would have loved to have seen (and heard) Anneke Van Giersbergen up there with him doing tracks like Supercrush, Awake, Kingdom et al. Grace would have been absolutely majestic with the orchestra and choir, but alas it wasn’t to be. I also would have loved to have had the orchestra remain for the Ocean Machine set. But you can’t have everything….

A third part of the DVD package is a 28 minute doco chronicling some of the background to the show, interviews with Devin regarding his motivations to put on a show like this and his need to express himself through his songwriting, his reuniting with the original Ocean Machine bassist John ‘Squid’ Harder, who has advanced MS but still managed to play the entire demanding set with aplomb, and a few takes of Devin’s hilarious appearance on a Bulgarian TV variety show. The Reflecting the Chaos documentary is really quite candid and well worth a look.

Overall, aside from those couple of picky little things mentioned, I’m not sure how this package could be any better. Almost three hours of monumental music plus a neat little doco and you have yourself a DVD that will give you hours of repeated enjoyment and should tide you over as we wait with intense anticipation for the next phase of the great one’s career.

Band: Devin Townsend Project
Album:  Ocean Machine Live at the Ancient Roman Theatre, Plovdiv
Year: 2018
Genre: Progressive rock/Metal
Label: Inside Out Music
Origin: Canada

About

Rod Whitfield is a Melbourne-based writer and retired musician who has been writing about music since 1995. He has worked for Team Rock, Beat Magazine, themusic.com.au, Heavy Mag, Mixdown, The Metal Forge, Metal Obsession and many others. He has written and published his memoirs of his life and times in the music biz, and also writes books, screenplays, short stories, blogs and more.