Devin Townsend – ‘Empath’ album review

Artist: Devin Townsend
Album: Empath
Release Date: 29th March, 2019 
Label: Inside Out Music

 

 

Review by John

At the end of 2017, the music world mourned as Canadian maestro Devin Townsend brought an end to The Devin Townsend project. But, much in the same way as when Strapping Young Lad disbanded, it was merely bringing the curtain down on one phase of his career, while preparing to raise it on the next.
And so began the ‘Empath’ project, as he set out to provide a bold representation of all the styles of music that truly define him.

As you would expect from Townsend, the album starts in unconventional fashion, as ‘Castway’ conjures images of tranquil tropical islands, with the sound of waves gently lapping, gulls calling and a gentle guitar which gradually turns to an almost Hawaiian melody. A choir joins in, softly ushering you onwards. And then ‘Genesis’ bursts asunder.

A perfect choice as the album’s first single, ‘Genesis’ perfectly encapsulates not just ‘Empath’ as an album, but also Townsend as a musician. He somehow manages to blend every disparate element from his entire career into six minutes. We have the harmonies, the bombastic choirs, the catchy power-pop, the full on metal. It’s both crushingly heavy and beautifully soothing in equal measure. But more than that. It’s a statement of intent.

This is a release that has more surprises than a warehouse full of Kinder Eggs. ‘Spirits Will Collide’ is almost operatic in its construction, taking the listener on an uplifting, spiritually moving journey. It’s a track that you just can’t help but sing along to at the top of your voice. Lyrically beautiful, on any other album it would likely be the standout. But this is an album where every track shines through, for reasons all of their own.

‘Evermore’ starts heavy, before dropping down a few gears. Then, just as you think you’re about to be treated to a stripped down acoustic number, all hell breaks loose. Operatic metal blending into synth-pop before hitting the heavy button again? It shouldn’t work. But it does. And it does so with aplomb.

Perhaps the best example of the sheer genius of ‘Empath’ comes in the form of ‘Why’. I’m trying to think of how best to describe this. But falling way short. Let’s just say it is basically a Disney show tune with added death metal growls. There is no way on Earth that anyone other than Devin Townsend could have got away with this. But not only does he get away with it, you can’t help but lose yourself in the sheer demented genius of it all.

As the album fades out following the beautiful, roar it out with all your heart and soul climax to ‘Here Comes The Sun’ , itself the final chapter of the six part epic that is ‘Singularity’, you realise that what you have just heard is the culmination of one visionary artist’s lifes work.

Not a single second is wasted here, and it is obvious that, right from the outset, Townsend had a perfectly clear vision of what he wanted ‘Empath’ to be. And he more than lives up to that vision.

Impossible to categorise, it blends so many different styles into one perfect whole. This is not an album to dip in and out of. This is an album to sit and absorb, as it flows effortlessly from one track to the next to create an unmatchable soundscape. This is, put simply, the most Devin Townsend record that Devin Townsend has ever released.

A clear labour of love, it is easy to see why this could never have happened under the DTP banner.
Unconstrained by expectation, and bringing in a vast array of talented musicians from all ends of the spectrum (the album even features three different drummers at various points, to fully encapsulate the differing styles on offer), you feel that this is what Townsend’s career has been building to.

The word masterpiece is bandied about all too frequently. But if anything is deserving of that title, it is ‘Empath’. We may only be a quarter of the way through, but this could well be album of the year. Hell, it’s probably album of the decade.
His only problem now is – how the hell does he top this? Knowing Devin, plans are already afoot….

10 out of 10

 

Track Listing:
01. Castaway
02. Genesis
03. Spirits will Collide
04. Evermore
05. Sprite
06. Hear Me
07. Why?
08. Borderlands
09. Requiem
10. Singularity
Part 1 – Adrift
Part 2 – I Am I
Part 3 – There Be Monsters
Part 4 – Curious Gods
Part 5 – Silicon Scientists
Part 6 – Here Comes the Sun