So it’s been quite a while since my last installment of the album rankings column, so here’s a massive one. I am a huge fan of Devin Townsend‘s work, and I’ve been keeping up with his output for almost as long as I’ve considered myself a metalhead. Devin’s work not only pushes the boundaries of metal and prog, but it also extends itself to ambient, pop, folk, and space country. Ranking such a diverse discography is no easy task, and I’m sure this list will become obsolete once The Puzzle, The Moth, Thank You, and whatever else he’s working on at the moment get released in the near future. So let’s lay down some context and then get this thing rollin’…
Before you go hitting Ctrl + F, let me lay out some of the background on this list. First, this list is purely based on my personal taste. I’ve been a big Devin Townsend fan for over 10 years now, so I’m very familiar with his back catalog. That said, this is just my opinion. If you disagree, I’d be happy to hear why and to see your list.
As of the time of writing, the latest Devin Townsend album is Empath. Below is a list of what I’m including in this ranking.
- Nine (9) Devin Townsend Albums
- Seven (7) Devin Townsend Project Albums
- Five (5) Strapping Young Lad Albums
- Two (2) Devin Townsend Band Albums
- One (1) Casualties of Cool Album
- One (1) Punky Brüster Album
- Total: 25
What’s NOT Included:
- Bonus disks – sorry, no Epiclouder or Tests of Manhood here.
- Assordid Demos – these compilations are interesting listens, but I don’t think it’s fair to compare them against full albums.
- Christeen + Four Demos EP – great EP, but doesn’t count as an album.
- Live albums – these are a separate beast from recorded albums, though I’d highly recommend checking out Devin’s live offerings.
- Production credit only albums – Devin’s been pretty prolific as a producer as well as a musician, but for this list I’m not including things like As The Palaces Burn or The Direction of Last Things.
It’s also worth noting that since I started putting these rankings together, Devin himself started a podcast where he’s discussing each of his albums in-depth. Definitely check those out to hear more about his creative process behind each of these works of art!
So with all that in mind, let’s get to the list…
25. Devlab (2004)
Yeah so most of this album just isn’t for me. It picks up a bit toward the latter half, but at the end of the day, I’m just not enough of an ambient noise fan to appreciate what the Dev is cookin’ up in the lab.
Best Tracks: Devlab XII, Devlab VI, Devlab X
24. Z2: Sky Blue (2014)
This is Devin’s weakest full-band album. I believe he’s been vocal about the lack of inspiration behind the post-Ghost DTP albums, and it’s most evident here. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few solid tracks on this album, but as a whole I don’t come back to this album much, if ever. Some of the ballads feel by-the-numbers, while the ultra-pop tracks like the title track are just total head-scratchers. I guess this album needed to happen so Devin could bounce back and provide reinvigorated material afterwards.
Best Tracks: Fallout, A New Reign, Rejoice
23. The Hummer (2006)
You could call this Devin’s more “accessible” ambient noise album. While it’s probably not what most people (myself included) come to Devin Townsend for, The Hummer is definitely a great album for a study session or relaxing nap. When compared to Devlab, this album has more of a sense of direction. I guess The Hummer is calm and Devlab is chaos.
Best Tracks: The Abacus, Consciousness Causes Collapse, Arc
22. Punky Brüster – Cooked On Phonics (1996)
This album is very dumb and I kinda love it for that. It’s the biggest time capsule on this list. Using pop punk giants of the time Green Day and Rancid as a punching bag, the album tells the story of a br00tal death metal band who sells out and becomes pop punk royalty. If only Dev and co. would know what pop punk would become! Anyways, it’s pretty well done for a throwaway.
Best Tracks: Fake Punk, Recipe for Bait, Wallet Chain
21. Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing (1995)
This album feels more like a prequel than a true debut for Strapping Young Lad. It was a proof-of-concept for what was to come later. While there seems to be a drop in quality between the first two tracks and the rest of the album, there are still a few gems in the chaos. “Critic” has some familiar motifs that appear in later work (something that Devin is known and loved for), while tracks like “Skin Me” prove that Code Orange isn’t that original after all (young Dev can ape industrial/nu metal too!). The bonus tracks are very fuckin’ cool, but those don’t count in this ranking unfortunately.
Best Tracks: In the Rainy Season, S.Y.L., Critic
20. Epicloud (2012)
Here’s where the takes get hotter. I find this album kinda boring. Maybe I just hate joy or something, but I thought Devin perfected the metal goes pop thing on Addicted, whereas this is just ok. Minus that rework of “Kingdom” – that’s one of the best things Devin has ever done. The quality of that redux, as well as a few other tracks on here, are enough to bring this album ahead of the others I’ve listed so far.
Best Tracks: Kingdom, True North, More!
19. Z2: Dark Matters (2014)
The most 2010’s thing possible for Devin to do was to make a sequel. And like many sequels, this does not live up to the original. That being said, there are enough great songs on here to make this a worthwhile endeavour. Oh, and the idea of the Universal Choir was very, very fuckin cool. Devin and his DAW of choice are absolute champs for compiling all those fan vocals.
Best Tracks: Ziltoid Goes Home, War Princess, Deathray, March of the Poozers
18. Physicist (2000)
Off-putting production and questionable vocal performances plague this record. Because of this, some Devin fans consider it their least favorite, while others cherish it as a diamond in the rough. Some tracks sound great despite the production (“Planet Rain”, “Jupiter”), while others are gems that would later be chiseled out in subsequent releases (“Kingdom” on Epicloud, “Namaste” on the Ziltoid live album). It’s a fascinating listen, and while you can’t help wondering what it would’ve sounded like under better circumstances, it has enough of its own charm to stand out among Devin’s large discography.
Best Tracks: Planet Rain, Namaste, Jupiter
17. Transcendence (2016)
The last DTP album (as far as we know). I think they went out on a high note with this one. Sure there are a few weird moments (the awkward key/time signature changes in “Secret Sciences”, the fact that both of the last two tracks have extended ambient outros), but overall this is a solid collection of songs. “Higher” is proto-Empath, and it could definitely hold its own against that album’s tracklist. Songs like “Stormbending” and “Stars” have a classic, yet fresh, happy-prog DTP sound, while “Offer Your Light” is just a party metal rager. Ending the album with a cover song was an interesting choice, but god damn is that a glorious cover!
Best Tracks: Higher, Transdermal Celebration, Stormbending, Offer Your Light
16. Strapping Young Lad (2003)
Thrashing Young Lad! This album is probably tied with Heavy As a Really Heavy Thing for the most overlooked Strapping album, but unlike HAARHT, this album still holds up. The songwriting quality is pretty consistent front-to-back, and there are a few deep cuts that I would have loved to have seen Strapping play live if I wasn’t a metal-oblivious middle schooler by the time they split up. Devin has stated in the past that this album was sort of “phoned in” so he could focus on Accelerated Evolution. While I think that definitely shows, it’s still a fun listen!
Best Tracks: Aftermath, Relentless, Bring On the Young, Force Fed
15. Ki (2009)
Ki is sort of a mixed bag for me. The theme of this album is tension, and when it works, it goes soooo hard. The title track is one of the best things I’ve ever heard, full stop. “Coast” plays with the theme of tension like a pro. When the album fully ditches the tension theme for soft sincerity (“Terminal”, “Lady Helen”, “Quiet Riot”) it’s also a winner. But I say it’s a bit of a mixed bag because of a few weird moments like “Disruptr” and “Gato”. The tension just feels awkward on these tracks. That, combined with the fact that the album is a lengthy 66 minutes makes me wonder how much higher this album would rank if I could trim the fat.
Best Tracks: Ki, Coast, the last minute of Trainfire, Lady Helen
14. Accelerated Evolution (2003)
If you aren’t a diehard Devin fan like me, you may be vaguely familiar with the Devin Townsend Band from every goddamn vocal coach YouTuber doing a reaction video to the song “Deadhead” (often after they’ve reacted to “Kingdom” live at EMGtv). Well I’m here to tell you there’s more where that came from! Kind of. “Deadhead” is definitely the strongest track here, but there’s more than enough worth sticking around for. The whole album rides this ambient yet crushing wave that crashes through the boundaries between hard rock and prog metal.
Best Tracks: Deadhead, Depth Charge, Sunday Afternoon, Storm
13. Casualties of Cool (2014)
While I didn’t think Ziltoid needed a sequel, if anything in Devin’s discography needs a part two, it’s absolutely Casualties of Cool. The album runs a bit too long, but when it hits it swings for the fences. Space country is a really cool subgenre and I would love to see more of it. I would also love to see more of Ché Aimee Dorval in Devin’s work. Before this album we got to hear her on some of Ki’s best moments (like that last minute of “Trainfire”), but on this album she’s much more of a co-lead vocalist than a guest feature. She’s also easily my favorite of Devin’s recurring guest vocalists.
Best Tracks: Flight, Bones, The Field
12. Terria (2001)
While I don’t have the reverence for this album that other Devin Townsend fans do, it’s hard for me to deny its greatness. The only thing that weighs it down for me is that string of cheesy ballads that closes the album. But everything else? Pure gold. Whatever contemplative journey through the Canadian mountains and plains Devin was trying to portray here, he really nailed it.
Best Tracks: Earth Day, Deep Peace, The Fluke
11. The New Black (2006)
The last ever SYL album! A bittersweet moment in the Townsend discography, I am grateful the band decided to go out with a bang. The New Black contains some of the band’s best songs. Also, that string of three songs at the end gives me goosebumps every time I listen. There are a few duds (“Monument”, “Hope”), but overall it’s a great album!
Best Tracks: Almost Again, Wrong Side, The New Black, Far Beyond Metal, Decimator
10. Empath (2019)
Hey, this is the first album we ever reviewed! So how does it hold up after my glowing review? Pretty well! Though I now find some tracks too janky (“Hear Me”) and some too “rAnDoM XD” (“Borderlands”), the highs still outweigh the lows. “Genesis” boasts what I would tie with another song (more on that later) as Devin’s best chorus. “Why?” sees Dev finally going that full musical route we all knew he was capable of. Devin was bold to put out a record that was seemingly “all over the place,” but it paid off very nicely.
Best Tracks: Genesis, Evermore, Sprite
9. Deconstruction (2011)
I know we’re probably never gonna get another Devin album with this many guest vocalist features, but wow, what a stacked lineup! Joe from Gojira, Greg from Dillinger, Tommy from BTBAM, Ihsahn, Paul from Cynic… and more! But the guest spots alone aren’t what make this album great, it’s the way Devin pulls everything off. The manic prog metal complexities that would be overbearing in nearly any other context are very charming here. Yes, these songs are ridiculous, but that’s what makes them so good! Deconstruction fully plays into its themes of excess, extremity, and pretension, and somehow crafts a coherent narrative in doing so.
Best Tracks: The Mighty Masturbator, Pandemic, Sumeria, Juular
8. Ghost (2011)
Folkgaze! I don’t think anyone calls this album that, but I’m about to start a trend. Anyways, I just really love the whole vibe of this album. It’s Devin’s most comforting and vulnerable work to date. This album is the auditory equivalent of a Studio Ghibli countryside.
Best Tracks: Feather, Blackberry, Ghost, Texada
7. Synchestra (2006)
Outside of “Deadhead”, the DTB era never gets the love it deserves. This album is sort of proto-Empath, but things flow smoother. It also helps that the tracks seep into one another, as if the album is one boundless stream of consciousness. There are so many amazing moments on Synchestra to choose from, but my favorite is the middle of “Triumph” – that whole minute starting from the line “Never gonna die…” gives me goosebumps every time. My only gripe is cheesy lyrics on “Babysong”, but even that song is very solid instrumentally. Devin has said that this album was a counterreaction to the negative nature of Strapping Young Lad‘s Alien, which is interesting because both albums landed, well, you’ll see….
Best Tracks: Triumph, Gaia, Pixelate, Vampira
6. Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007)
A really dumb concept album that can go toe-to-toe with whatever your favorite concept album is. Sort of a turning point between SYL and the DTP, Ziltoid boasts some of Devin’s strongest songwriting of the 2000’s. Here we see the Townsend arpeggios come out in full form, and they play nicely into the album’s intergalactic themes. Devin cleverly balances prog metal dorkery with compelling vocal hooks and cosmic atmospherics. This album is also the first point on this list where we get into what I’d put in the S-tier of Devy releases – the albums that are pure gold from front to back.
Best Tracks: The Greys, Solar Winds, Hyperdrive!, By Your Command
5. Alien (2005)
Remember when I said “Genesis” ties with another song for Devin’s best chorus? Well, you can find it here in “Love?”. Strapping went so fuckin hard on this album that it closely rivals their 1997 classic City. This album is the pinnacle of Devin’s and legendary drummer Gene Hoglan‘s musical relationship. You can hear them pushing each other to lay down their best on this album – I can just imagine the 80’s montage scene of Devin screaming his head off and Gene blast beating into infinity. The result is not only SYL’s most extreme songs (“Shitstorm”, “Skesis”), but also some of their most catchy (“Love?”, “Zen”). Oh and before I close out the write-up for this one, can we talk about those vocals on “Shine”?!? Holy shit!
Best Tracks: Love?, Skesis, Zen, Thalamus, Shine
4. Infinity (1998)
Something about not judging a book by its cover, right? Infinity is another entry on this list that works so well not only despite, but also because of its scatterbrained nature. Everything is brought together by the album’s hazy production. Sure, the production does feel dated, but it works in the context of this album. “Bad Devil” is perhaps a holdover from the terrible 90’s swing revival, but it’s a great song. Other tracks, however, feel ahead of their time. The opener “Truth”, “Soul Driven Cadillac”, and the closing three songs all have this wonderful transcendental aura to them. “War” has my favorite Devin Townsend lyric (“God is in the mountain as is in the rock / And god is not concerned about keeping stock”), while “Christeen” is my favorite of Devin’s pop rock selections. Top things off with a chaotic number like “Ants” and you’ve got a solid album!
Best Tracks: Christeen, Life is all Dynamics, War, Truth, Noisy Pink Bubbles
3. Addicted (2009)
Ok, ready? Last hot take of the list: “Ih Ah” is the weakest song on this album. With that out the way, I think this album is where Devin perfected the pop meets metal hybrid. He, with the help of Anneke van Giersbergen and the Devin Townsend Project lads, manages to make metal screams catchy and pop hooks heavy. The album’s just a non-stop party with some of Devin’s greatest vocal moments (the bridge of “Numbered!”, the highs and screams on “Awake!!”) and stunning introspective musings (“The Way Home!”, the end of “Awake!!”). This album’s just a really good time – let’s get the party started!
Best Tracks: Numbered!, Supercrush!, Awake!!, Addicted!, The Way Home!
2. City (1997)
City is one of those albums where every song could have been the single. Each track has its own unique feel and hook. Sure, it all falls under the umbrella of industrial/extreme metal, but each song has a life of its own. The only song that took some time to grow on me was the cover “Room 429”, but even that song has sunk its teeth into me with its alluring bridge. There are so many clever moments on here – the abrupt intro of “Home Nucleonics” and the reworking of the song “Critic” into “All Hail the New Flesh” being just two examples. By my count, roughly two-thirds of the album has these massive, skyscraper choruses that provide the perfect contrast to the songs’ frantic, mechanical, and all-around extreme verses and interludes. City is on a similar wavelength to Ocean Machine in many ways emotionally, but sonically they’re very far apart. “Spirituality” is the one track that can fit on either album. It has the bleakness of City, but with the grand existential reckoning of Ocean Machine. Speaking of…
Best Tracks: Detox, Underneath the Waves, All Hail the New Flesh, Home Nucleonics, Spirituality
1. Ocean Machine (1997)
Here it is. If you’re a Devin Townsend fan and you were counting along with the list, this pick was pretty obvious. I’ll double down on it – this is my favorite album of all time. If numbers 2-6 were all S-tier albums, this is whatever tier is above that. God-tier? Sure. Does it matter that Devin’s best album is his debut? Who cares! This album hits so hard on an emotional level for me that at this point it’s hard to say anything objective about it. The album is a whopping 73 minutes long, but that fact has never bothered me. If anything, it’s easy to lose yourself within the great expanse that is Ocean Machine. Devin covers a ton of ground on this album, both musically and emotionally. There’s the pop rock bangers (“Life”, “Night”), the heavy hitters (“Seventh Wave”, “Regulator”), the emotive trio of epics (“Funeral”, “Bastard”, “The Death of Music”), the dissociative, alien prog rockers (“Voices in the Fan”, “Hide Nowhere”, “Greetings”), the ambient fugue states (“Sister”, “3 A.M.”), and finally the melancholy cliffhanger (“Things Beyond Things”) – and I love it all!
Best Tracks: Funeral, Regulator, Bastard, Seventh Wave, The Death of Music, Voices in the Fan, Night
Well there’s the list! I hope you enjoyed reading my dumb opinions on Devin’s entire discography. Any big surprises? Big snubs? Given that there are 25 albums here, I’m sure there are bound to be disagreements, and maybe a handful of people cheering along as they see their favorites higher in the list. Whatever your thoughts, I think it’s amazing that an artist like Devin (not that there are any others like him…) could be this creative and prolific for as long as he has been. I think there’s something for everyone in this discography, and the fact that your list may differ wildly from mine speaks volumes to the man’s eclectic style.