I’m not sure if Devin Townsend will win any new fans with Empath, and I don’t think he really cares; he just keeps doing what he does, and I love him for that.
Castaway opens the album with soft, dreamy (dare I say ‘new-age-esque?) guitars. There are seagulls and waves lapping at the shore. Steel drums seep in and slide guitars and choirs. I’m softly slipping into sleep. But this is Devin and an electro drum pattern builds, leading into the stylistically diverse Genesis. Every man and his dog is on this album – the guest list is enormous – and they all contribute something to this wonderful, magnificent album. Genesis leaps about like a mentalist kangaroo; eight-bit computer game sounds bleep and bloop, there are blasting drums and howling guitars. It’s an enormous composition with Devin’s polyvalent lyrics that shift according to the listener’s own state of mind. It’s fucking huge. Three-quarters of the way in and it gets a bit funky. Nice. It’s Devin and company at their finest.
The poptastic Spirits Will Collide is totally accessible, and you’ll be getting your lighters out to this one at the live gig. It soars and has a melody that’s incredibly familiar but I just can’t recall what it is. Bastard. I envision the label’s PR department, with dollar signs in their eyes, urging for this one to be the single (it’s not, Genesis has that honour). Evermore has a harder edge, and the layering, as with every track on here, is mind-blowing. It throbs with vocal harmonies as it gets increasingly heavy, fatter, and fuller. Truly it reaches a point, like many of the tracks on here, where it is fit to burst. The drums! Oh! The drums…then it darts off into the waters of pop again yet it remains achingly heavy. Now we’re on to Sprite with its children’s’ story narrative intro about a frightened bird. But that fades out before we ever know the bird’s fate. Electro-trumpets, synths, dream-like angelic vocals, they all crowd in on you but it’s strangely soothing. It’s Jarre and Vangelis and so much more. A jovial electro outro gets all dark and spooky. It’s jangling chaos as we enter Hear Me. Goodness! It’s Heavy Devy on eleven. Blasting and riffage (and the always wonderful vocals of Anneke Van Giersbergen) punch me into a wonderful submission. It’s abso-fucking-lutely mental and glorious. The surging vocals are spectacular; it’s beautiful madness with drums popping all over the shop and blazing guitars. It’s howling, it’s roaring; a terrible blackness beneath the pink bubble-gum (what?!). It’s all topped off and rounded out with an ambience of ‘maybe’ and the possibility of good things.
It ends abruptly, going into Why, Devin’s weird Hollywood musical soundtrack, with him doing his best ‘Scott Walker sings Jacques Brel’ impersonation. But then in comes a death metal
vocal and I’m stunned at the beauty of the track. Bung in a rooster sample and we’re into Borderlands which starts a bit ‘white-man reggae’ before launching into one of the most addictive
riffs you’re likely to hear. Crying babies and more eight-bit computer game samples leap out at you. Oh, that riff… Castaway makes a re-appearance, and the magnitude of Devin’s ‘songs within songs’ compositions slaps you about the chops. But then that riff comes back in and I’m grinning like a loon. Such fun! Ocean-like synths and choral vocals lead into Requiem, another cinematic piece for gambling puppet creatures, epic aerial shots of vast landscapes, a hero finds a magickal sword, and a spell takes effect on the general populace. Don’t ask, just listen.
Final tune Singularity once again brings back Castaway and I start to drift into sweet, sweet sleep. But no! It morphs into an epic ballad. But no! It morphs into crazy free-range jazz. But no! It’s all chunky riffage. Thou shalt not label this nor indeed anything that Devin produces. Instead, you should just experience it. A totally fucking brilliant album (did I mention that I love Devin?) with
more layer upon layer of aural pleasure; the amount of stuff crammed into every song should blow your fucking mind – but then if you’re not a fan already, there’s a good chance that Empath won’t convince you any further.
Empath is out on March 29th on InsideOut Music.