Album Review: Devin Townsend, Empath

By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy

The first time I listened to Devin Townsend, it was when he put out his last record with the Devin Townsend Project, entitled Transcendence. I remember when I first heard the music to opening track, “Truth,” I was immediately hooked to the whimsical world of prog metal and symphonic metal merging as one. Right then and there, I knew I was hearing a pure genius at work. Amazingly enough, Townsend started out an industrial/thrash metal monster in his group Strapping Young Lad. To go from ear-splitting screams and fast guitars to a style of metal that is so complex is beyond me. Then again, look at Darius Rucker, going from the pop-rock Hootie and the Blowfish to a successful country solo career. 3 years after Transcendence, Townsend is back with a new creation, Empath. He wanted to take a break from the Devin Townsend Project and make something that is one of a kind. Combining all the styles of rock and metal that he has played with over years, Empath does just that.

The crashing waves, ballad-style guitar playing, and angelic choir (sung by the Elektra Women’s Choir) you hear in the opening track, “Castaway,” leads you down the rabbit whole, like Greek sirens leading ships into the cliffs. Townsend then leads the charge with “Genesis.” There is a madhouse of creation that is floating over this song. The drumming is a rapid pleasure-dome, played wonderfully by former Frank Zappa member Morgan Ågren. Townsend tiptoes between his vocal ranges, which go between screaming and melodic singing. Up next is the grand “Spirits Will Collide.” This symphonic piece is very spiritual and uplifting. Lyrically, Townsend put together a song that is meant to give hope to the hopeless, and love to the loveless. It is a glorious song with a triumphant feeling. “Evermore” is an enchanting that features an aggressive and complex bass beat that is performed by Nathan Navarro. The song mixes in progressive rock with thrash metal and avant-garde that would make Zappa rise from his grave just to sit in on this jam. Townsend adds in his signature growls to go along with his angelic singing approach. In “Sprite,” things take a somewhat soft turn. In the beginning, there is soft singing and folksy guitar, and then comes the progressive rock style with synthesizers that would suit Styx or Yes. While softer, Townsend adds a little bit of his death growl. The lyrics are uplifting here as well, explaining that slow progress on positivity is still progress.

There are goblin-like voices at the end of “Sprite” that carries on into “Hear Me.” Heading back to a more aggressive approach, Townsend does this unique breakdown on the lyrics. I feel like that it makes a bigger impact on the song. Tackling the issue of hatred and negativity, he plays fiercely on his guitar, and drummer Samus Paulicelli is all over the goddamn map. Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger lends his voice on this song, giving it an extra jolt of excitement. This has more thrash approach than his previous tunes off Empath. “Why?” takes a sudden turn into the unknown. It has an orchestral feel with a mixture of opera, pop, musical, and a tiny bit of death metal when he growls, “LET ME GO HOME!” This is the kind of stuff that would belong at the Metropolitan in New York or the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. “Borderlines” is appropriately titled because the music borders on a lot of different music. For over 11 minutes, Townsend takes us on a wild ride filled with synthesizers, choirs, and guitars. One minute he is grand conductor, next he is a soft-spoken rock singer that could melt the ladies hearts. Guitarist Ryan Dahle adds in some extra riffs and it is very well done.

After hearing a fanciful tune in “Requiem,” we come to the grandest song of the entire record, “Singularity.” Townsend creates an odyssey style song that is broken down in six sections: I. Adrift, II. I Am I, III. There Be Monsters, IV. Curious Gods, V. Silicon Scientists, and VI. Here Comes the Sun! Adrift has a soft melody where Townsend goes even more deep in his singing than before. When we come to I Am I, he heads into vigorous territory where his choir uplifts the tune, reminding us that we are infinite. Guitars and synthesizers rule over this song, and it kicked ass. In There Be Monsters, Townsend gets vicious and nasty, an accustom he is use to very well. The screeches and scorching riffs from his chords are ferocious, the sort of music that is up my alley. He tells us that reality is a never-ending war, and we need to face it head on. The song becomes cheery and trippy when we come to Curious Gods. An interesting take on “Singularity,” it is full of ambiance noises and PA system that one would hear at the airport. It gets even trippier with scientific sounding synthesizers. That leads us into Silicon Scientists, where a robot overlord has overtaken our minds. Townsends tears this song a new one with a sizzling solo that would make Eddie Van Halen jealous. Towards the end of this segment, the hero emerges victorious, willing to forgive himself. The adventure ends with Here Come the Sun! Songstress Anneke van Giersbergen reminds us all to shine on. Guitar legend Steve Vai riffs up on this tune, and he’s still got it. For over 23 minutes, “Singularity” took me on an epic journey of enlightenment.

To quote Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes, “I have gone down the rabbit hole. Though I have dirtied up fluffy white tail, I emerge somewhat enlightened.” Townsend’s musical odyssey that is Empath that was one insight and progress excitement. Compared to Transcendence, which I enjoyed immensely, I feel he reach a musical mecca with this album. Throwing in every style he has played over the years, this is one of the best all-around records of the year so far. If you wish to seek enlightenment, listen to what he has to say. To Devin Townsend, I salute you. Horns up!!! 10/10

Track Listing

1. Castaway
2. Genesis
3. Spirits will Collide
4. Evermore
5. Sprite
6. Hear Me
7. Why?
8. Borderlands
9. Requiem
10. Singularity
Part 1 – Adrift
Part 2 – I Am I
Part 3 – There Be Monsters
Part 4 – Curious Gods
Part 5 – Silicon Scientists
Part 6 – Here Comes the Sun

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