I struggle to believe that it’s been 25 years since Devin Townsend released this landmark album that greatly showcased his musical genius. I remember getting it as soon as it was released back in 1998, as I loved his previous album Ocean Machine, as well as the brutal intensity he had displayed with his Strapping Young Lad project and their City album. Back then he was just starting to get established as a creative artiste in his own right, after first coming to public attention as the lead vocalist on Steve Vai’s Sex & Religion, and promoting it too with extensive touring. But it soon became apparent to Devin that the record company machine, that exerts so much pressure on acts with that kind of high public profile, was not the path that he’d like to continue on. And I am so thankful for that decision, because it has allowed Devin to carve out his own career as a highly admired musician and producer who has truly followed the beat of his own drum for almost three decades now.
There is nothing conformist about Devin Townsend in any way at all. He plays such an eclectic variety of music that comes from deep down inside, which also reflects the many facets of this incredibly interesting & quirky individual. He has created ambient music that takes you on slow landscape style adventures, through to some of the most intense heavy rock you could ever imagine. And somewhere in between he has also managed to create his own style of majestic rock music that can reach your soul, yet still leave the listener wondering in what direction he is going to go in next. And I personally feel that Infinity was his first album to set some of those trademark styles that still exist in his most recent releases. Therefore, I’m very pleased that this album has been given a new push 25 years later, with a more modern re-mastering, and the addition of other material, some of which was created during the same recording sessions. It certainly feels more complete now, as some of those new additions are absolute bangers that should have appeared on the original release.
This is not a remix album, as it’s still essentially the same production from back in 1998, but the new re-mastering has added some extra warmth to the overall sound. It now has a much deeper and far more pronounced lower-end tone, as well as some of the upper mids being smoothed out for a less abrasive listening experience. I’m in two minds about this as I know the original album so well, and of course I’m always going to be biased because that is the version that I’ve listened to for so many years now. I suppose looking at it from an outside perspective, this new version has been sonically re-tuned for current listening preferences, and the different devices and ways that people actually now experience music. I do fully understand that, and for anyone that has never heard this album before then this new treatment could make it way more accessible to them. It was always a very dense recording with so much going on, and so many layers of keyboards, guitars and choral vocals, yet it does sound totally epic, even if it does pin you to the wall at times.
I’ll not go into an in-depth track-by-track review, as this album has been around for a while and most fans of Devin or more heavy rock-edged prog (I will not use the word ‘prog-metal’) will be familiar with the main material included, but for anyone that has never heard it before then the first four tracks comprise one of the best opening salvos I’ve ever heard. From the opening guitar notes of Truth, which turns into an enormous instrumental mini epic, through to the more commercial rock approach of Christeen, on to the uptempo craziness that is Bad Devil, finishing with a magnificent steam-roller of a tune with War, it really is an intense experience, and one that any listener will not forget in a hurry. I’m a big fan of Devin and I still think that even 25 years later this opening barrage of songs remains one of his finest musical moments.
My adoration for the first handful of songs does not in any way detract from my admiration for the remaining songs, yet this is the point where the music starts to diversify and incorporate different moods. The first big change in feel is Soul Driven Cadillac, which takes you on a slower journey, Devin pouring in all his musical majesty to produce a wondrous soundscape. Wild Colonial Boy contains a mid-section waltz theme. The totally bonkers Ants has a manic fast pace and off-the-wall Zappa-esque musical embellishments, and the immense Life is All Dynamics is completed by a studio-created orchestral vibe. The closing pair of songs include the particularly atmospheric and far softer Unity (which may clock in at six minutes yet bizarrely has a full minute of complete silence added to the end of it), and lastly the wonderfully weird Noisy Pink Bubbles that has a Euro-pop sounding opening section that soon evolves into something else entirely. A strange way to finish off an album, which is why I always felt there should have been more to follow.
Which brings us nicely to the bonus disc (or record, for those that opt for the double vinyl version), which contains seven more tracks. The first four are from the Christeen EP, which was released the same year and came from the exact same sessions as Infinity. A strange release as it was essentially the most commercial song on the album, then backed by four pieces of previously unreleased music of around 26 minutes in length… pretty much half an album’s worth. Out of these four tracks, the first three shine with sheer brilliance. Om is a masterpiece and a total no-brainer that should have been an essential part of the Infinity album when it was first put together, as well as the gorgeous Sit on A Mountain. Even the lengthy Processional with its four sub-sections is still a fabulous listening experience, and rightly should have been included too. Only the final song of the four demo quality bonus tracks, Loveload, sounds anything like a throw-away B-side. Mind you, when I say demo quality, that just means they weren’t given the full polish and time-intensive adjustments that they probably deserved, as they still sound way better than the word demo might indicate.
The next two songs are both live acoustic numbers that were released as part of an official bootleg back in 2000. Sister and Hide Nowhere were both featured on Devin’s Ocean Machine album, and these versions were recorded from a show in Vancouver. The final song is Man, which is a slightly rougher sounding demo from 1996, and first appeared on the Ass-Sorrid Demos collection. These three tracks have already been featured on a previous expanded release of Infinity, but it’s the addition of the four former EP songs that truly makes this album now feel more complete. Both Om and Processional were fully intended for inclusion when the album was first being formulated, yet somehow were omitted, and with other songs being added in their place. A huge part of me wanted to see that original concept put back in place, with the original intended running order now being fully realised, but that was just wishful thinking on my behalf. At least those omitted songs have finally been included, and now what you have is something that feels far more rounded-out and representational of those recording sessions.
Even though I really do love this album, I think its production does sound of its time, even with this newly re-mastered version. But what you have to take into account is that this was the very first album that Devin had engineered and also acted as the sole producer, and that he was still very much learning his craft at that time. Yet what he achieved here remains a magnificent accomplishment, even if he has since gone on to make and produce albums of a higher audio quality. I still revere Infinity because he was putting out some incredible material and creating his very own musical identity, no matter how multi-faceted and occasionally eccentric it has been over the last 25 years. Rock fans, go and check this one out, and for those that are unfamiliar with the work of Devin Townsend, then this could be the perfect gateway album for you.
This 25th Anniversary Edition of Infinity is released on the 24th November, available as a double CD package. It’s also being released on vinyl as a double album in both standard black and red versions. It features a brand new cover with Devin Townsend recreating his original image of posing fully naked on the black and white cover as he is now, a quarter of a century later. A brave man indeed. And if the original recording stems for this entire project still exist, I would love to think that one day they could be reviewed and perhaps given a proper full remix with the wonderful modern studio tools that are now at hand. To make my dream come true, perhaps even represented in the original intended running order, with the rest of the songs becoming the bonus album. 30th anniversary edition maybe? (wink, wink).
01. Truth (3:58)
02. Christeen (3:41)
03. Bad Devil (4:52)
04. War (6:29)
05. Soul Driven Cadillac (5:14)
06. Ants (2:01)
07. Wild Colonial Boy (3:04)
08. Life is All Dynamics (5:08)
09. Unity (6:07)
10. Noisy Pink Bubbles (5:22)
Time – 46:41
01. Om (Demo) (6:18)
02. Sit in the Mountain (Demo) (3:16)
03. Processional (Demo) (11:42)
04. Love-Load (Demo) (5:01)
05. Sister (Live Acoustic) (2:16)
06. Hide Nowhere (Live Acoustic) (5:03)
07. Man (1996 Demo) (5:12)
Time – 38:48
Total Time – 85:29
Devin Townsend – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Programming
Gene Hoglan – Drums
Christian Olde Wolbers – Upright Bass
Andy Codrington – Trombone
Erin Townsend, Lyn Townsend, Dave Townsend, Naomi, Tanya Evans, Lara Uthoff, Chris Valagao, Brad Jackson, Jennifer Lewis – Additional Vocals
Jamie Meyer – Piano Solo (track 3)
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Formats: 2CD | 2LP (Black) | 2LP (Light Blue)
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 24th November 2023