Released as the fourth and final chapter in the Devin Townsend Project, Ghost displays Townsend’s courage in unveiling an album of truly uplifting and joyous music. The project itself was conceived after his son was born in 2006, and Townsend made the decision to abstain from a familiar lifestyle of alcohol and drugs, a point at which he was able to overcome the nihilistic and self destructive aspects of his work, take control, and work on an album so full of honesty.
The challenge for the listener is the context into which the album is placed. Do we listen to this music with the knowledge of his previous work, the sometimes deranged Strapping Young Lad, or the sporadic outbursts of “Ziltoid”? Or, do we come to it without any preconceived ideas as to what a “Devin Townsend” album should sound like? Being familiar with his work, and sense of humour, this listener was fully expecting the songs of joy and hope to morph into sonic barrages of angst. And that cover? This will surely turn into an album of blast beats? Those looking for chaos will not find it here.
Tracks such as “Fly”, “Kawaii”, “Ghost” and “Blackberry” are infused with optimism and (are we still talking about Devin Townsend?) pleasure. The listener finds that after a few hearings you can actually find yourself smiling and humming along. In between these songs of peace, tranquillity and love, almost stitching the album into a whole, soundscapes are created with the help of Kat Epple (Emerald Webb) on flute, in harmony with the occasional sample of running water, seagulls, whispered phrases and frogs croaking. As I read these words back, the whole project could be accused of being a little saccharine or entropic. But to Townsend’s credit, it all actually works very well. Occasionally a passage feels as if it will disappoint, threatens to meander into new age self indulgence, but is soon steered admirably back on course.
So, to return to the challenge, if you had never seen or heard Devin Townsend, if you played this album not knowing the context, or the artists involved, does it stand alone as a worthy piece of work? As far as this listener is concerned, the world is a better place for it. And hopefully it will allow Townsend to be recognised as an intelligent and versatile force.