Album Review: Devin Townsend – Empath (2019)

Review by: Nick Licata

Have you ever listened to an album and each time a new song came on you shout out loud “I fucking love this song!” Sure it might take a few listens before you realize it, but then just the simplest thing, like the crowing of a rooster or a muted bass riff just gets you pumped. While that might be a specific example for one of the songs (“Borderlands”) on Empath, I assure you after a few listens there will be something that gets you off for each song on this Prog Metal masterpiece.

Masterpiece, you ask? That’s such a strong word. This is true, however I have been listening to Devin Townsend for 20+ years now and Empath is one of the first albums of his that I feel, truly captures his unique sound in each and every song. It’s like walking through Willy Wonka’s factory, there is a sound out there for everyone and each song is vastly different from the last. You have songs like “Spirits Will Collide” or “Sprite” that could easily have been on Transcendence or Epicloud, “Genesis” is something a bit more experimental like you would hear on Infinity if it was mated with Physicist. “Evermore” pairs well with Z2: Dark Matter/Sky Blue and then you have something straight from the SYL days in “Hear Me” which flows right into “Why” for your those that love the operatic vocals. I’ll go into more detail in these songs, but I think it’s safe to say Devin Townsend is the Willy Wonka of music and because he touches all those sounds in one album, while staying true to what he believes, yes this album is a Prog Metal masterpiece!

Empath is a result of life, you have your happiness and anger and you can hear it in the lyrics throughout the album. Happiness and anger come at you from all directions, whether it’s having and raising a child, watching the news (which these days is often more scary than not), or in the case of our subject Heavy Devy trying to make a living by creating music that is always criticized in good and bad light; yet he continues to open his heart up for all of us in ways only he can feel comfortable doing so, regardless of the consequences. I said that Empath is a result of life and you can feel that while listening to the album. Kicking off with ambient sounds of the beach and a female choir and leading into the first single “Genesis” which is filled with sheer and utter chaos. This happens throughout the album bouncing back and forth from calm and soothing to masterful and chaotic and in some cases full on brutality. In a sense, the album is portraying that even though the world is full of shit and times can be difficult, eventually you pull through and things are okay. Even if just for a short amount of time, life fixes itself and things are on the up and up.

After “Genesis” you get into a very poppy, Enya-esque sounding song (Heavy Devy style), that you really can’t help but sing-along to titled, “Spirits Will Collide.” The crunching of the guitars alongside orchestrations and a choir really add to the depth and ties itself together rather well. Second single, “Evermore,” kicks off with a catchy riff followed up with operatic singing, a Willy Wonka sing-a-long section and a brutal finish to the song. While we know it must be difficult coming up with which songs will be used as singles, we couldn’t agree more with the choices so far. “Genesis” and “Evermore” each showcase many of the different elements carried throughout the album without just focusing on one specific sound. “Sprite” kicks off next with a little  story time about a bird and a bear and continues into a song that could be one of the most technical slow songs, that feels like it would have fit right in with Sky Blue. He really experiments with layers and vocal patterns in this track which takes a beautiful track and turns it into a form of chaotic beauty before leading into the most Strapping Young Lad sounding song since, The New Black, but sounds like City or SYL era Strapping, “Hear Me.” Strangely enough, this song features vocal harmonies by Nickleback’s Chad Kroeger, buried in the mix. While some would consider this a turn off, I can honestly say you don’t even notice him, and  well if not for Chad, this album would be completely different, as Devin has stated in many interviews about the album.

What comes next, is the most dramatic change on Empath, crazy Tech Death to full on Opera, a vocal style we are all to familiar with in his most recent years, something I personally have grown to love. Remember when I mentioned hearing a simple intro and exclaiming “I love this fucking song?” The next track, “Borderlands,” not only has one of the catchiest riffs of the album it is easily my favorite song on the album. Tracking at 11:03, “Borderlands,” kicks off with the crow of a rooster (this and the muted bass line that follows are what immediately gets me going) and turns into a banger of a track. This song should translate really well live, amongst the rest of the album, but the riff I’m talking about is sure to make you bang your head ’til it falls off. Next, is the calm before the storm. Cleverly titled “Requiem,” this ambient track with the female choir takes you through what seems like the soundtrack to the next hot Disney movie and then flows into the best 24 minutes of your life, “Singularity.” The crazy thing is in “Requiem” there are a lot of reprises to songs from albums past, which solidifies my thoughts on Empath representing everything he’s touched upon in his musical career.

“Singularity” is the crème de la crème of the album, it gives you everything from a great rock song, excellent prog, heavy fucking’ riffing and a section that would make Zappa proud at roughly the 14 minute mark. Now, it would be hard not to try to compare this album to the Devin Townsend Project’s, Deconstruction album, however the only similarity is the use of multiple “guest musicians” to help create the sound he was looking for in this album. Empath stands strong with the rest of the Devin Townsend discography and well I’ve said it once and I will say it once more, this is a Prog Metal masterpiece. It doesn’t matter what is next on the table for Heavy Devy, he has left his mark in more ways than one. Let’s be real even if he can’t top Empath (which will be quite a feat), it’s still going to be over the top and true to what he wants to create.

While it looks like I’m just trying to be a kiss ass, I really can’t find one thing that I dislike about this album. Empath is Devin Townsend through and through. It is a great metal album for fans from all over the genre, there is no denying that this could be album of the year. It almost plays as a best of album or better yet an Anthology, with a collection of all sounds throughout the years, and well he turned them into brand new songs that’ll make people happy with each listen. Empath is due out through InsideOut Records on March 29th, be sure to get your copy here. The jewel case CD comes with a bonus disc containing ten bonus tracks or if you’re a vinyl connoisseur, well hurry your ass up, those are selling like hot cakes!

Rating: 5/5

RIYL: Devin Townsend Project, Frank Zappa, Enya, Strapping Young Lad, Steve Vai

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