Industrial metal singer/guitarist Devin Townsend
was born May 5, 1972 in Vancouver, British Columbia; after picking up the banjo at age five, he moved to guitar at 12, and within a few years was leading the band Grey Skies, later known as Noisescapes. Sending the group's demo to the Relativity label, Townsend was not only offered a solo deal but was also tapped to sing on Steve Vai
's 1993 LP Sex & Religion, a collaboration that further extended to the guitar god's 1996 effort Fire Garden
. In between, Townsend worked on a series of projects with Front Line Assembly
, and in 1995 issued the solo Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing
under the alias Strapping Young Lad
. A stint with the satiric punk band Punky Bruster yielded the Cooked on Phonics LP before Townsend began work on the second Strapping Young Lad
album, 1997's City
. In a move away from the industrial and death metal of previous recordings, he next formed Ocean Machine
-- with J.R. Harder and Marty Chapman -- for the accessible Biomech
, which was issued later that year.
Townsend's first solo album to be released under his own name was 1998's Infinity, and it directly followed a difficult period for the artist, in which he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He would later identify his condition as an explanation for the difference in sound and approach between Strapping Young Lad
and Ocean Machine
. 2000 saw a mentally stronger Townsend release, the sharp, focused, and melodic speed metal album Physicist, while 2001's Terria channeled an ambient pop sound. February 2003 brought an eponymous Strapping Young Lad
record which returned to a traditional death metal template. Sessions for this release took place during the same period as those for the acclaimed first album under the Devin Townsend Band moniker, Accelerated Evolution. This record was issued just a month after the SYL release, and Townsend received praise for creating a modern metal album that wasn’t afraid to nod to '70s and '80s arena rock in a post-grunge world. While 2006’s Synchestra didn’t quite reach the same high standard, Townsend continued to keep things fresh by following a straight-up ambient record -- The Hummer -- with Ziltoid the Omniscient, a rock opera about an alien who travels to Earth in search of “the ultimate cup of coffee.”
In the immediate years that followed Ziltoid, Townsend took a break from the music industry to rest, recharge, and rediscover the cathartic aspect of composition. In March 2009, a shaven-headed, teetotaling Townsend announced an intended four-album sequence from the Devin Townsend Project, billed as an opportunity to show that he could create new music without the assistance of drugs. The strongest of these four releases was November 2009's Addicted, on which he collaborated with former Gathering vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen. Giersbergen returned for a central role on an unexpected fifth Devin Townsend Project album in 2012, the pop-infused Epicloud. In 2014, Townsend released the ambitious Z², a double album that featured a Devin Townsend Project album, Sky Blue, and a conceptual album, Dark Matters, the latter of which was a sequel to 2007's Ziltoid the Omniscient. 2015 saw the release of Ziltoid: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, a recording of Townsend's performance at the prestigious London venue in April of that year.