Words by Jack Fermor-Worrell, photos by Katie Needham.
It’s a cold, rainy Tuesday evening, so what could be better than spending the evening with the happiest man in metal, Devin Townsend? The Canadian has been in the UK for the last few days promoting last year’s double-album ‘Z2’ and is finishing up with a night at Manchester Academy.
There’s really no way of describing tonight’s openers, Shining (7) other than ‘completely mental’. Initially formed in 1999 as a jazz band, the Norwegian quintet now performs a fusion of jazz and black metal dubbed ‘blackjazz’. It’s frankly bizarre, and yet it somehow works. Frontman Jørgen Munkeby struts around the stage like he owns it, pausing only to emit ear-piercingly guttural shrieks as his cohorts thrash out brutal slabs of black metal, the likes of which are rarely seen now. It’s all accompanied by the twisted soundscapes set out by keyboard player Bernt Moen and set to the relentless, machine-like drum patterns of Torstein Lofthus. Their set is capped off with a surprise stage invasion from their ‘backing band’ – the entire Devin Townsend Project wielding a variety of brass instruments. Though they only have six songs to prove themselves, the band make a considerable impact – leaving many bewildered but also pumped to hear more.
Next up are prog-metal titans Periphery (10) who take to the stage with rapturous applause. Naturally, the Maryland rockers’ set is mostly made up of cuts from recent albums ‘Juggernaut: Alpha’ and ‘Juggernaut: Omega’, but opening with the monstrous ‘Icarus Lives!’ from their self-titled debut is certainly a crowd-pleaser – the first of many to come. Their set isn’t free of pranks though, the LED screen that had been used for their logo is momentarily hijacked mid-set to show a variety of photoshopped pictures of the band that draw enormous laughs from both the band and the audience. In Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen and Mark Holcolmb, Periphery has perhaps the most proficient guitar trio in modern metal – and this certainly shows tonight as they trade increasingly complex riffs with apparent ease. Periphery also have another ace up their sleeve – frontman Spencer Sotelo simply oozes charisma and possesses a remarkable stage presence, as well as considerable vocal talents. It also helps considerably that the band’s repertoire has a lot of simply massive tracks now. Though a massively technical metal band at their core, Periphery definitely know their way around a good chorus. And with rumours abound of a late-2015 UK tour; it’d be foolish to miss this band before they move on to even greater things.
You’d think it’d be impossible to top that kind of performance, but somehow the Devin Townsend Project (10) manage it. Ever since his 1993 debut as vocalist on Steve Vai’s ‘Sex & Religion’, Devin Townsend has constantly explored almost every genre of music – from the violent metal of his former band Strapping Young Lad, to the brooding, ambient soundscapes of his 2004 solo album ‘Devlab’. Tonight’s show covers pretty much all of his solo career, from the thrashy ‘Namaste’ to the slick pop-rock of ‘Hyperdrive!’ Kicking off with older track ‘Truth’ has the whole venue bouncing from the off, before new album track ‘Deathray’ has the crowd shouting its chorus along with Devin. It’s surprisingly one of only four ‘Z2’ tracks aired tonight – the rest of the set is devoted to exploring every nook of Devin’s almost-20 year long solo career. Musically, it’s all over the place, as you’d expect – from the balladry of ‘Storm’, to the heavy stomp of ‘March of the Poozers’; the latter giving powerhouse drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen a chance to lead proceedings. It all fits together incredibly well though, in no small way thanks to the constant stage banter from Devin himself. Random anecdotes with topics ranging from DIY to starting a band ensure that everyone here is kept amused and that the atmosphere is kept at its absolute peak throughout. One of the highlights of the entire night comes towards the end of the set though. During ‘Lucky Animals’, from 2013’s pop-metal masterpiece ‘Epicloud’, Townsend has the whole crowd doing ‘heavy metal jazz hands’ – a bizarre, yet utterly entertaining sight. At this point, he’s also joined onstage by the members of Shining and Periphery – all sporting animal masks and dancing along. Things only get more entertaining as the night goes on though, as the final notes of ‘Christeen’ ring out, Devin remarks that this is “normally where a band would do the whole leave & return for encore thing” before treating the Academy to an acoustic sing-along of the melodic ‘Ih-Ah!’ “How about one more slow song?” he then remarks, launching into the crushing riff that opens ‘Kingdom’. Yet again, the audience respond with enormous applause – bellowing the chorus, and indeed most of the lyrics, along with Devin. By the end of it all, the man himself seems completely overcome with gratitude – walking along the stage for a good few minutes thanking as many people as possible one-by-one. It’s this sort of thing that’s really commendable, proving just how much Devin Townsend cares about his fanbase.
Devin and co. now have just under two weeks until one of the biggest shows of their career, a sold-out night at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Judging by tonight’s performance, it’s something definitely not to be missed.
Please check out our exclusive photo gallery from the night’s action in Manchester below: