Sat. Dec 5th, 2020

REVIEW: Devin Townsend – Empath (Musicalypse Archive)

It’s no secret that Musicalypse follows Devin Townsend pretty closely. In the past year or two, Devy has mentioned having around five projects in the works. We were speculating on what they might be, thinking of The Moth (the penis symphony?), a collaboration with Steve Vai, and maybe another Ziltoid album, but the most obvious idea was, of course, another solo album.

After interviewing Townsend twice and listening to his music, I’ve taken up the mindset that Hevy Devy is less of a musician and more of a person who uses music as an outlet to express the things that he needs to in order to feel comfortable in this weird ol’ world. With that in mind, his music lands all over the spectrum for me. Each album is an experience of its own, so I try to be open-minded and ready for anything, from love to hate.

The album opens with relaxing beach sounds via the intro track, “Castaway,” and it pretty quickly becomes evident (if you didn’t already noticed in the single “Genesis” or the album trailers) that this is going to be a pretty different album.

The music pretty much ranges the full spectrum from anything Townsend has ever listened to, from the heavier yet jungle-y “Evermore” all the way to the Disney song fused with growls that is “Why?”, or the near-reggae atmospheric chillout of “Borderlands.” “Spirits Will Collide” almost feels like it’s tapping into Enya‘s mood, and “Requiem” is like listening through an extremely short movie score. Lastly, the album ends with “Singularity,” clocking in at 23 minutes and oddly enough, making the most cohesive sense of all the sounds on the album. I would go so far as to say that “Singularity” is the (objective) best song on the album; in spite of its length, all the transitions make the most sense… and it has a lot of transitions. The final track almost feels like a résumé of Townsend‘s musical career, showing any style he’s ever worked with, as well as the new ones he’s trying now throughout the song, and ends on a note that feels beautiful and hopeful.

“Empath” is equal parts heavy metal, demon circus, musical, and complete and utter madness. I have suspicions that this album is representative of one of the following:
1. Devin Townsend has finally lost his mind
2. Devin Townsend is just fucking around with everyone and seeing what he can get away with
3. Devin Townsend is creating some form of artistic expression of things he’s experienced and this is simply a representation of who he is at this point in time

I’d put my money on the last, if I were to place a bet. While I use the word “madness,” I mean it, yet there is still sense in the music. It jumps and juxtaposes like you wouldn’t believe, but feels like it’s telling some sort of story. The album has so much random craziness, from steel drums to high falsetto, church choirs and blast-beats, but still, it also has a dramatic arc. Half of it is stuff that Townsend‘s been fluent in since STRAPPING YOUNG LAD and Ziltoid, while a lot of the orchestrations and unusual instruments sound like they’ve spawned from his recent desire to write a symphony.

After the first listen, we left the album feeling overwhelmed and confused, slightly violated, yet somehow wanting more. Once I had listened again some days later (after the shock had worn off), it began to make a lot more sense. The whole thing is really a mind-boggling experience one way or another, and I for one had a good time with it. I’m sure – much like Sky Blue and Transcendence by the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT “Empath” will polarize Devin‘s fans to the far ends of “brilliance” vs “complete garbage,” but the best part is that somehow, I got the feeling that Dev doesn’t care if we like the album or not. He did it because he can and felt like it, and it’s up to us to decide if we get it or not. That, perhaps, is one of his greatest qualities, and the thing that sets him above so many others.

Written by Bear Wiseman
Musicalypse, 2019
OV: 1747

Tracklist

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

Lineup

Devin Townsend – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, programming, production

Nathan Navarro – bass

Morgan Ågren – drums

Samus Paulicelli – drums

Anup Sastry – drums

Elliot Desgagnés – additional vocals

Ché Aimee Dorval – additional vocals

Anneke van Giersbergen – additional vocals

Label

HevyDevy

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