Devin Townsend Explains Why He’s Not Into Modern Metal Guitar Tones

According to Devin Townsend, modern metal guitar players have a tone that’s a bit too “clangy” for his taste. While he isn’t necessarily against it, Townsend is more into the classic 1980s and the 1990s kinds of tones that had a different approach to the mid frequencies.

“Well, it’s not that I dislike any of the modern guitar tropes,” explained Devin in a recent interview with Sense Music Media (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). The topic came up when he was asked whether there are any particular modern guitar tropes that he likes or dislikes.

“It just may not be right for me,” he added. “Usually, it’s the mid-range that’s the difference for me.”

DEVIN TOWNSEND - "[A.I.] Is Inevitable ... This Works Great For Me."

“I came up [in the] ’80s, ’90s, what have you, and a lot of what constituted a good guitar sound, in the beginning, was the [Marshall] JCM 800 with the Tube Screamer set as a clean boost.”

“Then that moved to a [Mesa Boogie] Dual Rectifier with a Tube Screamer as a clean boost to tighten up the low end, and then the [Peavey] 5150 — but it had a different mid-range thing that was cool for me for a while, but ultimately mixed in oddly with the orchestration, so I stuck with the Mesa [Boogie] thing.”

But these days, metal musicians gravitate more towards a different type of tone. It’s not necessarily bad, but Devin admits that he just can’t get into it. He continued:

“And now, it seems like a lot of the younger players have a real sort of clangy sound. Even though it’s metallic, there’s this kind of like ‘gang, gang, gang, gang, gang’ thing going on, and not a real smoothened upper mid-range.”

DREAMPEACE - Dawn Shifter

“Again, it’s not that it’s bad — it works great if you’re writing riffs that depend on that kind of clangy sound and that’s what you need, but that’s not what I write. So whenever someone says, ‘Dude, I got this new amp. It’s what all the cool kids are using,’ and I play it, and it’s like, ‘gaaaang.’ [Laughs] I want to scrunch, I want it to be crunchy, but with a soft attack. You know what I mean?”

During the same interview, Devin was also reminded of his Strapping Young Lad days back in the 1990s and the 2000s, as well as his solo album “Ocean Machine: Biomech” from 1997. Particularly, the musician was asked to explain whether the “negative emotions” from that period — which is why he doesn’t want to revive Strapping Young Lad — also affected his work on the “Ocean Machine” record. Replying by saying “no,” Devin clarified:

“Just to be clear, I’m so proud of Strapping [Young Lad] like everything, all of it, I love it. It’s not an issue of that. And I love the guys too, I think they’re all amazing. We had such great times, and it was a pivotal point in my life.”


“But I guess it goes to two things. One is the process that I employ to create things now — as it was then — was just following what seemed to be creatively compelling to the most articulate end that I could and the frame of mind that I was in when I was 23, or 24 — as opposed to in my 50s — resonated with that perfectly. That’s exactly where I was.”

“What sometimes I find curious is when bands that have gone a certain way, they’re like, ‘Oh, we don’t do that anymore. We don’t play that anymore.’ But then when they talk about the old material, it’s like they’re embarrassed of it.”

“But I put my entire life into that when it was my life — and then when it wasn’t, I went to something else. The difference between the early solo material and Strapping [is that] Strapping was something that sideswiped me, I didn’t expect to do it.”


To further explain this, Devin also added:

“So I was always writing music, like ‘Ocean Machine’ or ‘Infinity’. That was what I was doing prior to moving on and working with Steve [Vai], but when I went through the experience with Steve, I was so young, and the industry was just so fucked up that I just got angry. And then I just remember thinking, ‘I got signed to Relativity [Records], and they dropped me; I got signed to Roadrunner, and they dropped me.'”

“And then I went and joined an English band [The Wildhearts], and drugs and violence was their trip. And then I was just like, ‘What the fuck, man?'”


“Then I came back and I just wrote —  not because I was into death metal, I was just listening to a lot of Morbid Angel or Carcass or whatever, and I thought, ‘Oh, I can do this. Fuck yeah, I can do this. I get it. It makes sense to me.”

And this is the moment when he actually scored a nice deal:

“And THAT’s what got signed. So I had all this other stuff that I was trying to get signed for years, and they just kept dropping me, kept dropping me, kept dropping me. So when finally I just got all pissy pants and made a couple of heavy songs — I think ‘Home Nucleonics’ and ‘Skin Me’ were the first two — then Century Media was like, ‘Oh, we’ll sign you.’

Strapping Young Lad - Love? (Download Festival Live) (60fps)

“And I was like, ‘Okay, well, better than nothing.’ And so I put out the first album, which was just a collection of demos. And then things kept getting more and more… That’s when I decided that drugs were the way to go. And you found all sorts of things in your life that started doubling down on that, like darkness at the time.

However, when the first Strapping Young Lad album came out, it didn’t do all so well. Devin had to change his approach, eventually even moving to LA, the epicenter of things, just to “get my foot in the door a little bit more”:

“And so when it came time to put out the second record, because ‘Heavy is a Really Heavy Thing’ didn’t sell anything — really, no one gave a shit about that record, and maybe rightfully so, in some way.”


“But when it came to the second one, I still couldn’t get it signed. Sony in Japan said, ‘If you start your own label, we will license ‘Ocean Machine.” So while I was working on ‘Ocean Machine’, I moved to LA just to try and get my foot in the door a little bit more. And I was sleeping on my buddy’s couch and just listening to Old Lady Drivers, Morbid Angel, and a bunch of bands.”

After listening to a lot of outlandishly brutal metal bands, he finally got inspired:

“And then I made ‘City’ and wrote it entirely in my bedroom and then met Gene [Hoglan, drummer] at a bar. We were both sh*tfaced, and I asked him to play on it. He forgot that he said yes, then I held him to it, we recorded it, and then before I knew it, all of a sudden, I was like, ‘I guess I’m in a metal band.'”

Strapping Young Lad - City (Full, Remastered)

However, he finally realized that this is not something that he’d like to do long-term:

“When I started getting really good at it, all of a sudden, I realized it’s like, ‘Fuck, I don’t want to do this, man.’ Just because I’m good at it doesn’t necessarily mean this is the right thing for my future.”

“At the time, the amount of people that were going ‘Well, that’s crazy, because it’s becoming successful’… And my whole thing with that is if you become really successful at something that you’re not 100% behind — which I wasn’t — then God help you.”

“That’s how you end up making a mess of your life — because you try to rationalize these things that you’re doing, you get paid for it, and then your family is being supported by it before you know what you’re like.”

Photo: Florian Stangl (Devin Townsend – Santa Rock 2012 – 8.12.2012 Bamberg (8268849413))


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.