DEVIN TOWNSEND – Empath

Ah, Devin Townsend, the friendly and courteous Canadian evil genius, once very outspoken about the pros of using weed for creativity but now completely sober for years. I guess he found out that he was just as out there sober as stoned – and I mean that in the best possible way. My relationship with Townsend has been almost non-existent. Well, not entirely true – I did buy the underrated and at times brilliant Sex And Religion album by Steve Vai’s band Vai in 1993 where Townsend was the singer, but after that I have only read about the man and his escapades. Almost. I had heard songs here and there from his outfit Strapping Young Lad but nothing ever stuck with me so I never really bothered checking his stuff out. Now, Townsend has put out so many records with his different constellations that I really can’t be arsed to mention them all here. Besides it would take up too much space, so if you want to know, google the guy.

This mean I am a late Townsend bloomer. It was only a couple of years or so since I realized the man’s greatness. Me and my wife having a friend of her’s over for dinner and after a few beers we got on to some YouTubing and he played a song from the Devin Townsend Project’s album Transcendence. I was awestruck immediately. A couple of songs more and I knew I had to order the album. Said and done, the day after I did so and after I got the record, I was a fan. Today, there are a few Townsend records in my collection, like Epicloud (2012) and the double CD Z2 (2014), both amazing albums. That said, I have yet to check out more but he’s been releasing so many records it’s hard to keep up – and find the time to do so. The Casualties Of Cool was an ok project but not even close to the stuff mentioned here. So, with that little story it’s time to see what Devin has come up with now. Apparently, his new record would be a mixed of his solo stuff, SYL and the DTP. Exciting!

Sea breeze, waves crashing to the shoreline and seagulls singing starts off the album. The song is called “Castaway” and begins with a jazz-like guitar where a taciturn choir sings in a soothing way. This leads us into the album’s leading single “Genesis”, a more straight-forward rocker with a melody that brings DTP to mind. It’s a furious and aggressive Metal track but it also slows down, still tough and heavy, but it brings on a catchy melody and for the next turns we get a passage that’s both heavy and acoustic with a softer and almost folk-laden vibe, progressive moments, complex with screams mixed up with melodies that sticks right off the bat. This can only be described as sane insanity, if that makes any sense. If you’re into Devin Townsend, I’m sure it will. I love the track but as a single, I can guarantee radio won’t ever pick it up. As if that ever mattered to him.

Single number two, “Spirits Will Collide” follows and it is a more laid-back track, still with a stomping groove, in a mid-pace complete with a huge, melodic vocal melody, choir-like as well, with softer verses that goes right under your skin. The pre-chorus and chorus leans a bit more towards Pop, but not the kind you find on mainstream (crap) radio – this is Pop from Townsend’s mind. Brilliantly memorable, the song holds everything that I love from the DTP albums – awesome! “Evermore” comes across as more noisy and rattly but in there you’ll find some fine, catchy melodies. Rhythmically there’s a fusion-like groove, a funky bass-line and swinging drums. A passage of weird cacophony, progressively laden, comes along but never shies away from the big-hooked melodies or the heavy and rough progressions. It may take a few spins to get into but when finally there, the song will stick forever. Good one.

“Sprite” opens acoustically and laid-back on a softer note and lyrically, it holds a story about… a bird!! Along the way the tune gets more upbeat and a bit faster albeit in a mid-paced way, still with a softer outlook. Besides the beautiful vocal-melody and the fairy-tale story, the song also contain death growls and a spoken word – welcome to Devin’s world, peeps. Any good, then? Well, it’s not bad but I have definitely heard better tracks by the man. On the other hand, “Hear Me” is fast, thrashy and aggressive with screaming vocals, all blasting fast and loud. But this Metal frenzy also brings on a quite catchy Pop melody in the chorus, probably only to confuse us even more. But hey, what works works and this actually do work. Thumbs up!

Orchestrated with a big arrangement and a beautiful melody, “Why?” starts off on a softer note, sounding as if it had been taken right off a musical. But just when you think you know the tune, it drops and some guttural growls steps in before it goes back to being a musical again – very pompous and bombastic. Great stuff. “Borderlines” kind of continues the route of “Why?” but this one goes bouncy and prog-heavy with a main-melody reminiscent of the DTP stuff. At 11 minutes, there’s a lot to digest here – big vocal arrangements with memorable melodies, a transcendent and soft Ayreon-like mid-passage with a calming vibe and electronics. I really hadn’t expected anything else. Very good. “Requiem” is big, bombastic, powerful and tranquil with a huge arrangement. This is really a two-minute mini-opera, all in Townsend’s own world. A great track that takes us right into the the next, overblown piece.

Called “Singularity”, it’s a 22 minute piece of music in six parts all sewn together as an opera of some sort. “Adrift” starts out calming and meditative, a bit on the Pink Floyd side of things – soft and calm where acoustic guitars and strings plays a big part. The gorgeous melodies comes along when the song gets bigger and bombastic due to the orchestration. “I Am I” takes on a bigger sound-scape, quite punchy and hard but also very melodic with a melody-line that really sticks. the softer musical-like passage takes us into “There Be Monsters” a heavy and dark number with a creepy atmosphere that brings on a twist of Black Metal with blasting drums in a furious tempo – aggressive and punchy and quite evil. A more progressive Metal part in a faster pace comes in before it turns dark, heavy and evil again.

“Curious Gods” is a more calming and soft-laden piece that holds a very memorable main melody with a slight Pop twist. Well, that is before it takes a weird turn with a bunch of babbling voices and out-there humming over a prog-metal, somewhat Dream Theater-like ending. Half of the song is great, half is more or less only confusing. The Dream Theater influence, if that’s what it actually is, continues in “Silicon Scientists” but here it goes a bit bumpy and tough with some lower register singing. It’s a bit hard to get a grip of the song but the more melodic side of the song is damn good. The ending with “Here Comes The Sun” – not a Beatles cover –  is brilliant. Beautiful and mesmerizing vocals melodies with lots hooks lies over a bouncy and a progressive rhythm – very heavy and in-your-face. Both expected and unexpected at once.

To begin with a cliché – expect the unexpected. But that’s exactly how it is with Devin Townsend. You know from go that you won’t get a straight-forward Hard Rock album from him, but you haven’t got a clue what you’re gonna get. What stands clear, though, is that whenever he releases a new album, it’ll be a lot to digest and you’re most likely bound to give it a whole bunch of listens before it sticks – this is by no means music to listen to while doing the dishes or making dinner, so to call this progressive music is an understatement. So, not being that familiar with Townsend’s million projects, I sure find lots of connections to the DTP records I own and the stuff that don’t sound familiar to me are references to the rest, I guess. Quality-wise, there’s not much to complain about here even though I find DTP stronger over-all. For Townsend-fans, this album is probably a no-brainer but I’d strongly suggest Rock-lovers of all kinds giving this a shot. It’s too damn good not to.

8/10

Tracklist:

1. Castaway
2. Genesis
3. Spirits Will Collide
4. Evermore
5. Sprite
6. Hear Me
7. Why?
8. Borderlands
9. 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

 

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