Devin Townsend is a hero to so many in the metal community. His extensive career is very well documented elsewhere, but for the first time in a long time, Devin has been out on his own for new album Empath, having called time on The Devin Townsend Project full band after its last album Transcendence.
It is somewhat difficult to know where to start with Empath, and anyone who listens to the album will quickly understand that statement. Empath displays more variety in a single song, such as Genesis, than some bands do in their entire careers, nevermind over the course of an album. If it was literally any other artist, then the end result would probably be a gigantic mess. But when that artist is Devin Townsend, he has an unparalleled ability to make that which should seem nonsensical into something not only coherent, but wonderful as well.
Empath contains elements of various styles that have been noted throughout different stages of Devin’s career, and some completely new ones too. Certain sections of the album (Spirits Will Collide in particular) have a very upbeat, “Epicloud” feel to them. Some of the riffing in Hear Me is verging on Dream Theater style prog metal before veering off into metal madness. Grunts and blast beats one second, guitar solos where one can only guess how many notes are being played such is the speed and technical precision at work the next. Some of the vocal work in this track is arguably the angriest Devin has sounded since the Strapping Young Lad days (“All the world is bleeding and we know the reason why”). It’s one of the finest songs Devin has ever produced, and those who know his body of work will understand what a statement that is.
Why? is the yin to Hear Me’s yang. It begins with Devin in what can only be described as musical theatre mode, a quite incredible juxtaposition to what has just preceeded it on the album. It even borders on light hearted opera in places, Devin’s voice soaring as rarely it ever has, even with his renown vocal range. Borderlands is an eleven minute epic that begins much in the same vein as Why, before taking on a varied odyssey of styles of progressive music, samples and so much more that at it’s core just feels like it is “Devin Townsend”. Off the back of Empath, Devin truly could be described as a musical genre in his own right.
Odyssey is also a word that could be used to describe the album closing Singularity. Clocking in at twenty three and a half minutes, it goes to places very few bands ever go with its tremendous dexterity and variation of styles and sheer ambition. Some sections are light as a feather. Other sections recall the full force of Strapping Young Lad at their fiercest, and then double the aggression. It is frankly mind boggling listening experience, and has to be heard for a full appreciation. It is an incredibly fitting way, and perhaps the only way, an album like Empath could have been concluded.
Empath is not an album that will necessarily be appreciated on the first listen, or even the fifth. There is so much going on that with each listen, new discoveries will be made. It is a both a tribute and an amalgamation to Devin’s incredible body of work thus far, and the limitless possibilities of where he can go from here. Guaranteed, you will not hear another album like this all year, or perhaps until the next chapter in the Devin Townsend musical story.