Devin Townsend is a Canadian musician, songwriter and producer. For those in the know, Empath is an eagerly awaited addition to his current 17 album catalog. For those new to Devin Townsend, Empath maybe somewhat of a mystery, a glorious mystery to be unraveled over the course of many, many, many listens. There is no genre or category in which to put this album. Best not to try. Ten tracks comprise this record, each and every one unique. For more insight into Empath and It’s creator, visit Devin Townsend on YouTube here. There you will find a companion video series by the artist which chronicles the making of this album. Townsend has progressed to the point in his creative expression where his vision in being realized with no regard for convention. Here are my thoughts.
“Castaway” opens the record with seagulls and waves gently breaking up on the beach, glasses clinking, steel drums, soothing guitar tones, beautiful voices perhaps belonging to mermaids or mythical sirens. These lovely voices belong to the Elektra Women’s Choir, it all swirls together conjuring images of Caribbean shores before giving way to track 2, “Genesis.” The opening vocal grabs you and smacks your face as if to wake you from your previously induced state of relaxation. Guitar, bass and, drums thump, elevating your heart rate. The result is a heavy, intricate track with many sounds and colors, soaring vocals, seagulls, blast beats, and a taste of 8 bit goodness. Similar to lying in a hammock during a hurricane, “Genesis” sets a furious pace out of the gate.
Track 3, “Spirits Will Collide,” picks up as a mid tempo rock anthem oozing with singable choruses and a bouncing groove. Here Townsend and the choir perform a duet of sorts, each taking a turn up front before joining together for a powerful, soaring vocal effect. Track 4, “Evermore,” begins with a heavy, syncopated staccato riff, followed by acoustic guitars and light vocals, climbing once again in intensity before restarting and revisiting the original riff. It is metal and so much more. The track feels like floating on a raft with the occasional wave lifting you up then dropping you in a deep wake as it departs. Track 5, “Sprite,” opens with a storyteller telling tale of a little bird whose fear of an approaching bear inspired it to fly once again. This track has great flow and movement to it including electronic elements that are both mesmerizing and engaging.
“Hear Me” is the heaviest, fastest, and most focused song and harshest, vocally, Townsend gets vocal help in the form of Chad Kroeger of Nickelback fame and Dutch vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen of The Gathering. Gripping vocals from both Townsend and the Elektra Women’s Choir make this tune one that fans of death metal will enjoy. This in no way means that there aren’t beautiful, lush, melodic vocal passages because there are, they are just surrounded by a wonderful brutality. “Why” begins evoking images of birds and bunnies perhaps dressing some sort of princess, maybe in a lovely forest surrounded by flowers and trees. Here Townsend shows his love for musical theater as well as his beautiful, full voice. A super fun and touching number with all of the orchestration of a huge broadway number possibly from Man of La Mancha.
Perhaps my favorite track on the record, in the running with nearly every other track, “Borderlands” is an impossibly catchy tune, with a great feel that you cannot escape and can’t help but move to it. A rooster crow gets this song started with a bit of a reggae feel before the tremendous hook takes over. This is one of the many standout tracks. “Requiem” is strings and flutes and the Elektra Women’s Choir and it gives you the E.T. feels, it’s magical, maybe Close Encounters magical. It touches a place way back.
“Singularity” is this record’s 24 minute epic conclusion. An opus that when it’s over, you’ll know you’ve had an experience. Opening as “Castaway” does in the beginning of the record, “Singularity” slowly builds, winding through a series of styles, atmospheric, acoustic, heavy rock, musical theater, heavy metal, tribal, death metal, all meticulously refined to a cohesive vision. A culmination of unconventional musical whimsey masterfully crafted by an artist who is no longer restricted by any one classification.
Empath is Devin Townsend’s clear, chaotic vision realized. It is intriguing, evocative, intense, and groundbreaking. It is worth a listen or two thousand.
Devin Townsend’s Empath is available now via Inside Out Music. Order here.