Devin Townsend Rocks Norwich in a Career-spanning Set of Epics

“After all this time, you can use muscle memory, moving your arm in a certain way to emphasise something. But now I’ve told you that you will look out for it. This may be the last night of a seven-week European tour, and it’s tempting to be thinking of packing my stuff after the show and heading home, but I want to be here, now and in the moment with you all.” One of the nicest guys in rock, Devin Townsend, is apt to be swept up by the moment, saying whatever comes into his head, even if it’s painfully honest sometimes.

Devin Townsend – Klone – Fixation

The Nick Rayns LCR, UEA, Norwich – 5 April 2023

Words: Paul Monkhouse

Truth be told, it’s impossible to imagine the Canadian giving anything less than one hundred per cent at his shows, and tonight’s wall-to-wall audience lapped up every single note during this most holy of communions.

Shorn of the big video screens and special effects of his Ziltoid shows this was Townsend up close and personal, letting the music do the talking. Joined by long-time collaborator Mike Keneally on guitar and keyboards, drummer Darby Todd and James Leach on bass, the polymathic guitarist led a career-spanning journey into his solo output that ranged from the bombastic opener of Lightworker through to a shimmering Deep Peace and beyond.

Without the need for displays of extended fretboard doodling, this was a set that impressed with its focus on the songs, each one a miniature epic in itself that painted an absorbing and lyrical sound tapestry. Scratch a little below the surface of his entertaining and avuncular persona, and the focus and fire of the former Strapping Young Lad is there to be seen, moments of glistening beauty twisting into eviscerating, heavy riffs in a heartbeat.

Devin Townsend. The Nick Rayns LCR, Norwich.
Devin Townsend. The Nick Rayns LCR, Norwich.

It’s quite a feat to be able to pull off switches like this with such aplomb, but there’s never been anything but a solid mix of ambition and talent that have characterised Townsend’s career, his muse a wildly unpredictable one. When he goes into the unhinged and screaming vocals of Kingdom or the manic Metal of Dimensions, there’s a sense of a Jekyll and Hyde character here on stage, the catharsis of this shredded soul purging all his demons at night in front of an audience willing to absorb every last emotion. The New Wave stylings of The Fluke, a menacing Deadhead that sees heads everywhere nod in time to its titanic riff, and the smash-you-in-the-face heaviness of Truth brings light and shade that opens a world of dynamics beyond the norm for most metal gigs these days, much more so when a bit of theremin is thrown into the mix.

Highlighting the balance of personalities onstage, the mid-set gem from the new album Lightwork, Heartbreaker is a love song for the twenty-fifth century and sees a grinning Keneally caught up in the euphoria as his fretwork intertwines perfectly with Townsend’s, the reserved Leach and constantly moving Todd adding their own subtle patinas. It’s certainly a heady brew and one that’s been drilled into a slickly operating machine here, the humanity shown by the main man giving this overwhelming display a centred heart, connecting the thousand or so souls present.

Closing with the Metal dance party of Bad Devil and an encore of the joyous Call Of The Void and Strapping Young Lad’s Love?, it was a celebratory end to both the night and the tour.

Muscle memory or not, you never get the ordinary with Townsend and no matter which planet he originally comes from, the Earth needs his wildly inventive genius.

Prior to the headliner, support slots from Fixation and Klone showed that the European rock scene remains a vibrant and vital proposition. Two wildly differing acts, they nonetheless impressed with their individual take on sonic architecture. The night opened with the bounce of technical metalcore outfit Fixation, the Norwegians stirring the slowly filling hall into life as energetic frontman Jonas W Hansen made the most of the opportunity of playing in front of a partisan audience.

With a flurry of riffs, it was a case of lighting the fuse and seeing the songs explode into life, the attack skilfully blended with some huge hooks that alone assured the band their place on the tour. At times sprawling and unpredictable, others glacial, sweeping and cinematic, the material had a class that made it stand out and makes the young outfit one to look out for in the future, their forthcoming appearance at Download having the potential to break them into the mainstream.

Following them, French quintet Klone brought more of an otherworldly vibe, part Opeth, part Rush, part Hawkwind and all done with a flair of their own. Twenty-four-year veterans of the scene, the band have refined their spacey Metal into something with the power to overwhelm the senses, the guitars of Guillaume Bernard and Aldrick Guadagnino mesh and sparking in a dance that’s at once abrasive yet elegant.

In stark contrast to the effervescent Hansen, frontman Yann Ligner prowls around the stage with studied movements, his focus on his powerful vocals combining melodious turns with an unashamedly gritty edge to them. Teeth-rattling numbers like Rocket Smoke and their blistering take on Bjork’s Army Of Me demand that you listen, the doom-laden Immersion and groove-powered prog Metal of Keystone illustrating the band’s range and ambition.

The soaring closer Yonder wraps everything up neatly. It’s heft and cinematic feel is built to provide the perfect soundtrack for a titanic clash in any number of superhero action films. Whilst they await Marvel to come knocking, Klone continues to impress as the word spreads about them, the crew of this particular spaceship finding new converts to their growing legions of fans. Viva la rock.

Sleeve Notes

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