Over the years, Devin Townsend, Canada’s mad scientist of metal and mastermind of the once-great Strapping Young Lad, has combined his absurd sense of humor with his complex metal compositions. You might not have caught the humor, as his production values—city-sized guitar riffs and unclockable blast beasts—were always the main attraction.
Townsend is also renowned for his mood shifts, falling in and out of hate with the single-mindedness of the metal genre—releasing placid, Brian Eno-inspired solo projects, singer-songwriter Zen chill-outs and the like—so sometimes it’s sort of hard to get when he is kidding.
And the thing is, what seems intentionally comedic can actually be completely serious to Townsend. Take “The Mighty Masturbator” from the third in a series of four albums by the Devin Townsend Project, this one called Deconstruction. The 16-minute track begins with a crooning Townsend plucking away at his guitar, lamenting “25 years at the factory.” It ends with him declaring, like a carnival barker over blaring metal guitars, circus synths, a chanting choir and marching band beats, “I now see my life purpose! I am the mighty masturbator!”
“AAAAAMEEEEN,” the choir closes the song. In between, Townsend uses his new-found toy—a chorus, straight out of Sweden no less—to add to his flair for the theatrical. The album is the soundtrack to his life, his struggle with its conflicting aspects: being a stereotypical touring metal muscian, a musical genius, a husband, a father, all while trying to find meaning through reason, religion and societal norms. Featuring guest appearances by the singers of Between the Buried and Me, Gojira, Opeth and the Dillinger Escape Plan, as well as the guitarist from Meshuggah, the album is actually less representative of any of those modern-day metal outfits and more of Frank Zappa.
Tropes from Town-send’s past make appearances: Ziltoid, the coffee-hoarding alien invader found in his fantastic rock opera Ziltoid the Omniscient; the Devin Town-send of Strapping Young Lad; the angry, metal-infused anarchist, shouting familiar refrains like “Go!” over blast beats and hyper riffage—but a few steps behind this time. “Uh . . . go?” he says ironically, like a man so self-aware he can no longer be comfortable doing anything anymore.
The album is as self-indulgent and ugly as it is gorgeous, but it is absolutely genuine. This is Townsend’s life on display: the aging metal guy, trying to do right by his family and his fans. And boy, has he ever—well, at least for his fans.
There was a big reveal on the Ziltoid album, and there is on Deconstruction as well. I will say only this: It involves a cheeseburger and it is more profound than it has any right to be.