REVIEW: Devin Townsend – Lightwork

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Being such a late convert in the parish of Devin Townsend fanboys, I’ve had the chance to see his extraordinary conduct on stage only twice: first, in a small-venue setting in 2017 and, this summer, on the main stage at Tuska festival, where I made the peculiar observation that, my gosh, if there is one artist that the big stage really does justice, it is Devin! There’s no way a small club stage could ever convey that expansive feeling of getting bulldozed over by the music. You see, “intimate” is not exactly the term I would have attached to his albums – until now. The new Devin Townsend studio album, “Lightwork,” released on November 4th, 2022, via InsideOut Music is, among all other fascinating things, remarkably intimate on occasion. Some say it is only a logical extension to his previous three solo efforts – “Empath” (2019), “The Puzzle” (2021), and “Snuggles” (2021). Because I found his musical treasure trove so late, I have been too busy digging through his older material to pay proper attention to his latest few outings. Let’s face it: I’m still hooked on “Ziltoid the Omniscient,” which was released in 2007, while barely being aware that this Canadian mad scientist has already moved on to something completely different in the past 15 years. As luck would have it, I have a soft spot for the poppier side of things, so the prognosis for me succumbing to being a lost cause should be very slim. Despite sounding more like a vintage new-wave album rather than a metal endeavor, “Lightwork” flaunts those familiar, nothing-short-of-overwhelming hallmarks of Townsend‘s signature sound. That distinguished “bulldozer” aspect is ever present in this new selection too.

Moonpeople” sets things in motion with a deep nod toward the 1980s, sounding like some forgotten TEARS FOR FEARS track with a little added crunch. In terms of production, the song steamrolls forward with that familiar full-sonic-spectrum approach that we have become accustomed to with Townsend‘s work over the years. In contrast to, say, Yngwie Malmsteen, this crazy Canadian has demonstrated time and time again that more is more, yes, but not necessarily in terms of a dubious number of fast, little notes rushing by at the speed of light. In this case, “more” should perhaps be used as a synonym for “larger than life,” because that’s what this Devin-pop sounds like. If my memory serves me right, Townsend‘s 2001 album “Terria” traversed somewhat similar terrain (sic), at times, which obviously helps an old-school simp such as me to find some nice, familiar ground quickly.

On the titular track, “Lightworker,”  the vibe gets even more anthemic, in that distinct old-school fashion reminiscent of bands such as JOURNEY, QUEEN, or other stadium-sized vintage acts. Befittingly, after 4 minutes of Devin‘s signature operatic singing and celestial soundscapes, the song ends with a fade-out circus-music coda layered with a choir of fairies and all. At face value, this exquisite combination of such highly versatile elements might sound like a piss-take on arena-pop, especially given that Townsend is quite a comedian on stage, but we’re in luck and the song, let alone the album as a whole, does not plunge into the Frank Zappa realms, not even once.

One track that stands out right off the bat, probably because it immediately comes off as a hybrid between the full-tilt sci-fi prog of “Ziltoid” and industrial boogie-woogie, is “Dimensions.” If I had not yet made up my mind whether this album was superb, this track proved to be the deal breaker. Yes, despite the somewhat lighter approach, the music is still as richly hued as ever.

The kind of intimacy that I had not previously associated with Townsend‘s progressive onslaughts shines through on a couple of tracks, especially. First, “Heartbreaker” soars sky-high in some sort of transcendent pop realm, one that is perhaps a not-that-far cry from the recent endeavors of the Norwegian proggers, LEPROUS. Last, the album closer, “Children of God,” throws in a curve ball of widescreen pop, blending THE BEATLES melodies with the leftfield electronica of PUSCIFER.

I must admit, once through the album, that maybe I should give Empath another chance; if it truly is a precursor to this monumental effort, I’m sure I’m going to like it, after all. Maybe we just got off on the wrong foot back in the day. “Lightwork” has indeed worked its magic on me.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Moonpeople
  2. Lightworker
  3. Equinox
  4. Call of the Void
  5. Heartbreaker
  6. Dimensions
  7. Celestial Signals
  8. Heavy Burden
  9. Vacation
  10. Children of God

Lineup

Devin Townsend and his trusted entourage

Label

Heavy Devy Records / InsideOut Music

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