Saturday, 11 February 2017

DEVIN TOWNSEND – OCEAN MACHINE AND TWENTY YEARS OF 'BIOMECH'


Like a great many other like-minded individuals, I have to say that Devin Townsend's seminal Ocean Machine album, 'Biomech', came as such an incredible paradigm-shift that it could be described as life-changing. Here and now I am 38, a father, a husband, a former-music-journalist-turned-comic-book-writer and a bunch of other things to different people, but I remember the first time I let this album wash over me with startling clarity. 

Twenty years ago I bought the CD on the strength of hearing a few moments of one song ('Regulator', to be precise), which was playing on the stereo in Noise Annoys, the little rock and metal record store where I spent a chunk of my teenage years and a lot of money. Like many other stories you may hear about experiences with Ocean Machine, 

I was familiar with Devin's time with Steve Vai (the 'Sex & Religion' album) and the furious insanity of his Strapping Young Lad band, but nothing could prepare me for the seismic and spiritual journey that I was in for. 

I remember laying down as the album began, the opening moments of 'Seventh Wave' washing over me with its wall of guitars and phenomenally dense mix. The song quite literally took my breath away. So many things about it about it, the tuning, the melodies, the mix of the vocals, everything felt right. Fresh. New yet welcomingly familiar, strange yet bizarrely warm. 



'Life' followed next, its swell of euphoria sweeping me away. It progressed through 'Night', 'Hide Nowhere', and the sublime 'Sister'. '3am' and 'Voices in the Fan' opened my mind to a world where heavy music could be heavy and ambient at the same time, while 'Greetings' and 'Regulator' burrowed deep into my psyche. 

I'd had a long day, so by the time 'Funeral' and 'Bastard' swept from the speakers, I'd slipped into a semi-dream state which had the music sweep deeper through me. This wasn't music. It was as though somehow Devin had tapped into some kind of ethereal hive mind and shared the recordings he had managed to capture. When the 12 minute ambient piece 'The Death of Music' played, I was on the edge of sleep, lost in the strange images the album had given me. 

As that finally drew to a close, the bonus track 'Thing Beyond Things' added further depth to the state of tired bliss, immediately cementing itself in my mind as one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. The raw, shocking scream that ends the album snapped me out of my odd dream-state, returning me to reality so I could try to process what I had just encountered. 

Here, twenty years on from its release, that magic, that sense of awe and wonder that flooded me during that first listen, it's all still there. A vein of Ocean Machine's wonder runs through all of Devin's work and has kept listeners like me captivated for a very long time. He continues to evolve and grow and move on, but for many of us it can all be traced back to this thing of pure and absolute joy. 

I met him on the SYL 'No Sleep 'Til Bedtime' tour (the Sheffield date at the 'Otherside' venue, a tiny sweat-hole of a place) and had a brief chat. I got to say thanks to him for Ocean Machine (and got my copy signed), and I'd like to say thanks for everything that followed it.


Thank you, Devin. I'll see you in March. 

I always love gigs where I'm not the only bald guy in the place.

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