Janelle Cammenga—Staff Writer
This past Friday, progressive metal legend Devin Townsend released Empath, a one hour, 14-minute album that refuses to fit a single adjective.
Empath is not like anything Hevy Devy has given us before, although it has elements of many of his earlier albums. He told fans on Instagram that each track was its own world, and he wasn’t lying. So I’m gonna break this down, track by track—as briefly as possible.
“Castaway”—Carribean island vibes and a choir lead us into…
“Genesis”— Fun to listen to, but not relaxing or unifed. A lot of strong moments, but every time it starts building towards a musical climax, it suddenly switches genres. The “Let there be light” section might count as our focus, where Townsend lets ‘er rip, at least a bit.
“Spirits Collide”—The cohesion I was missing from “Genesis”: The uplifting lyrics and heavy undertones build to a celebration, and then dwell there for a while in all its rocking, exultant glory. Nothing mind-blowing, but it’s great at what it sets out to do.
“Evermore”—Once again: Good moments, but no cohesion.
“Sprite”—Bird narration, animal imagery, pretty gentle without a focal point (although there are growls thrown in for good measure). Nothing that really stuck with me. Some ominous rasping at the end takes us to…
“Hear Me”—The heaviest track of the album, which features Anneke van Giersbergen (a guest on both Addicted and Epicloud). The rhythm and rhyme of the main lyrics are almost a direct lift from part of “Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!” from Townsend’s earlier Ziltoid the Omniscient.
“Why?”—Starts out like some internet game soundtrack, then leads straight into love ballad/Broadway musical territory. You can practically see bunnies and baby deer frolicking in a meadow at moments (albeit with some growls and heavy bass thrown in on occasion). One of the album’s strongest tracks.
“Borderlands”—Begins with a very “chillin’ on the back porch” feel at its outset, then takes you straight to space, a rock concert, a nightclub, and maybe a demolition derby? The track ties the disparate sections together with a few musical threads. The ambient section in the middle got a little long, as did the 11-minute run time.
“Requiem”—Showcases Townsend’s skill in choral and symphonic arrangement.
“Singularity”—A 23-and-a-half-minute beast. It goes from ambient to acoustic to metal and back. While most of the songs on the album were overwhelmingly positive, “Singularity” uses its longer run time to explore some of the depths of the human experience, while still embracing themes of companionship and mutual encouragement. It has some shining moments, but I wouldn’t rank it equal to Townsend’s 16-and-a-half-minute track in the middle of Deconstruction.
All in all, it’s not Townsend’s strongest album by any stretch, but the mixing is heavenly. It has plenty of great moments dispersed in almost every track, but that’s just the problem: Those moments are too disjointed to create a unified whole, which ruined the overall experience for me. I enjoyed the sense of positivity that encompassed the album, which hearkens back to what Townsend wanted to do with both Epicloud and Addicted. Where Addicted had some underlying foreboding that led directly into a following album (Deconstruction), Empath seems to really believe its positivity.
But, while I’m happy that Devin is finding a healthy mindset from which to create art and is letting that positivity into his music, I won’t be listening to Empath on repeat.
If you want to see Devin at his finest, you have plenty of albums to choose from. Addicted and Ocean Machine are great ways to get introduced to the man. But if you need me, I’ll be blasting Deconstruction.