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Devin Townsend - Empath CD (album) cover

EMPATH

Devin Townsend

Experimental/Post Metal


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5 stars Wow. This is nothing like the Devin we have known. Some beautiful music with amazing production. A little cinematic. Always knew this was in Dev. So happy for him. He has nailed this. Die hards may hate it but this is what dev wants at this time in his life. He has pumped out so many albums. Standout song for me was 'why?' This is up there with Ziltiod but totally different. Devs vocals are the best they have ever been. The mixing is right up there and easily the best production of all the devy albums. Must Listen on headphones. Epic Album. Im not sure what Devin can follow this up with. Singularity suite could be an album on its own.

Report this review (#2169009)
Posted Wednesday, March 27, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars The more I listen to it, the better it gets. Empath is a unique experience from Devin. If I had to pick a favorite track, I would go with Borderlands. But this is not an album to dissect. Sometimes I just get so lost in the craziness that I do not know what track I am on. Empath has a more electronica vibe to it, and it mixes well with the heaviness. The production is A+, and you need to take it in with good headphones. I do not know where Empath stands yet in my favorites depth chart, but Devin can do no wrong. It is a welcome addition to an excellent catalog of music.
Report this review (#2170619)
Posted Monday, April 1, 2019 | Review Permalink
Negoba
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars First Listen: Delicious Mess Fifth Listen: Album of the Year 15th Listen: Maybe the best Prog Metal Album ever Made

I am a Devin Townsend uberfan. He is my favorite artist of the last 20 years. At the same time, I was seriously afraid he was finally running out of mojo as I wrote in my review of his final DTP album Transcendence.

I was wrong. The old man has mucho mojo for the mortals still to deliver.

When my non-metal or non-prog friends ask me to describe Devin, I usually say he is the musical grandson of Frank Zappa, as he got his start with Steve Vai who in turn got his start with FZ. Up until now, the comparison was loose. Empath is metal Zappa, composed by a fully matured and sophisticated artist who happens to have the added bonus of being a virtuoso rock vocalist. In fact, among the album's numerous contributors is another Zappa alumnus Mike Keneally who serves as musical director.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this album may have the broadest range of styles ever juxtaposed. The blast beat festival of Hear Me is immediately followed by orchestral / choral Why. And it works. Well, at least after 3-4 listens. This album is not an easy listen, especially the first time through. Not only does it span an enormous palette of musical ideas, it evokes an immense range of emotions. In fact, Townsend has said this is the point of the whole album, that in spite of a chaotic world, we are in the journey together. The thematic idea of the album is monsters and light.

The lead video "Genesis" actually serves as an overture, while the album ends with the 20+ minute multipart epic "Singularity." The prog-head in me giggles at the way this 2019 album follows this classic formula. There are also little musical allusions to other artists, some obvious (Nirvana's "In Bloom") and some subtle (Opeth-ish guitar parts in the epic).

The bonus disc is also excellent, and would have sit nicely in the DT discography if it had been the primary album. It still would have been his best since Epicloud. But like the majority of Dev's albums, it has high points and low points.

Empath itself has no filler. It is the first masterpiece album I've heard in years.

Report this review (#2170824)
Posted Tuesday, April 2, 2019 | Review Permalink
TCat
COLLABORATOR
Eclectic Team
5 stars Devin Townsend just keeps on going and he keeps on releasing amazing albums. "Empath", released in March of 2019, continues his amazing legacy, and fans will not be disappointed. But how do we get the world to listen to this genius of progressive metal? It's true that his extremely emotional vocals and his wall of sound technique doesn't fit everyone's tastes, but man, are these people missing some great music. Many of the tracks feature the "Elektra Women's Choir" which give a really amazing feel to the tracks they are involved in, and make this music even more uplifting.

Leading out with a introductory track, "Castaway" is pretty amazing and set the stage for what is to come. It is a lovely build with a full choir singing at the end that brings it into the next track "Genesis". Then, Bam! Devin is in your face with some of his heaviest vocals and music, but don't worry, even in this first track, there is so much dynamic and variant sound. Che Aimee Dorval, who has worked extensively with Devin in the past, guests on this track, and this is one example of the many tracks that feature multiple drummers (at least 3 in this track). The overall feel of the track is progressive metal, but there are so many changes and surprises around each corner, the choir continues, cats meowing, cows mooing, seagulls screeching, and it all somehow fits together seamlessly. "Spirits will Collide" continues with that uplifting power metal giving breaks in the wall of sound for when the choir sings alone, but bringing it back when Devin joins in. At this risk of sounding sappy, this emotional heaviness can bring one to tears.

Not being one to stand too long in any certain subgenre, Devin ventures into a more symphonic sound in "Evermore" without completely losing the wall so sound feel, but incorporating quieter sections with some great synth work. Devin has a way of turning his heavy music into something that sounds like a complex rock orchestra, and this is very apparent in this track. In "Sprite", which features a strange reading, Devin resorts to his head voice giving it a more airy feel, and the music itself is a more carefree feel, lighter and playful, yet quite complex, as you should expect. But, as with most of his music, there is something lurking underneath it all. Everything bursts into crazy rapid fire notes when we go into the next track "Hold On". Anneke Van Giersbergen, another DT regular guests on vocals along with Chad Kroeger from "Nickelback", though I can't quite pick him out in this crazy music. This track is emotional like the rest, but in a no-holds-barred kind of way, as it is more extreme and loud. But it's still amazing! Yes, there is growling in there, but it only elevates the power of it all. And Devin's vocals are at their extreme on this one too.

"Why?" is the crazy musicianship of Townsend at it's best. This one sounds heavily orchestrated and sounds very Disney-like, complete with birds singing on Devin's shoulders. It might sound corny, but that is why Devin is so damn good at this, because it is just as awesome as everything else on this album. The choir only helps to make this even more believable. The power of Devin's voice becomes almost operatic. "Borderlands" follows and this time starts with a reggae feel, which later becomes complex and then a nice, heavy metal feel soon after. This 11 minutes track is wonderfully progressive and flows so well for a song that goes just about everywhere in musicality and style. If there is one song that demonstrates all of Devin's genius, his penchant for effective use of dynamics, and the many styles that he has touched on in his career, this would be that song. It is a tour de force of his music, even becoming blissfully soft and pensive for several minutes in the middle of the track and then coming out of that mood with the choir leading him along seemingly saying "Don't be sad Devin, lets go play some more". He does for a while, but the track finally ends in an ambient way. This flows into the beautifully constructed "Requiem" which utilizes the choir and is quite orchestral.

As if this isn't enough, Devin puts a 23 minute suite at the end of the album. "Singularity" is a 6 part suite that starts with "Adrift" with a solo electric guitar playing a melody by itself before an acoustic guitar comes in with Devin singling in his best mellow voice. He is later supported by the choir making this a very celestial sounding track, and then DT waxes operatic again, in the best possible way of course. At 5 minutes, "I Am I" goes into a more bombastic style, and the wall of music and vocals returns in a big way. The music mellows out after a while for a quieter section, then at 8:30, part 3, "There Be Monsters" section switches to a darker tone and builds in intensity and then things just go wild in another study in heavy extremes. The fourth part is "Curious Gods" replaces the loudness with a quick calm down and a return to a softer sound after 13 minutes. There are some nice harmonies in the form of layered vocals and complex yet mellower somewhat avant garde sounds and some whistling. When it slips into the next section "Silicon Scientists" things are chaotic, and then get into some interesting meter changes and deep, character style spoken vocals. At around 19 minutes, the last section "Here Comes the Sun", with Devin's vocals coming back softly and things build to climax when Steve Vai comes in for a guitar solo guest spot to complete this epic suite and close this amazing album.

There is a 2nd disc with the limited edition of this album that includes 10 more tracks, most of them demo versions of other songs not on this album. The thing with DT is that his demo songs many times sound like they are finished. I'm not going to go through these tracks, but just know that it is more amazing music from this genius.

Those that were afraid that DT might be losing his edge need not worry. This album is one of his best albums, and that is saying a lot. You get the signature DT sound here, and you get an amazing amount of variety. There is plenty of loudness here that will satisfy the ones that love DT's heaviness, some of which is very extreme and rank up there with his heaviest, but there are some beautiful sublime moments there too. DT always does his best when he is so dynamic as he is in this album. The addition of the choir on many of these tracks give so much depth and emotion to this music.

DT has quickly become my favorite Progressive Metal artist and this album completely solidifies that, but also brings him up to one of my favorite all around artists. If you ever loved DT's music, then you need this album. If you were always on the fence about his music, you need this album. If you have never heard of Devin Townsend, then you definitely need this album. One of the best albums so far this year and I have a feeling, unless something amazing comes along, it will be the best of the year. 5 bright stars.

Report this review (#2170884)
Posted Wednesday, April 3, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars Devin Townsend's newest release is truly a work of art. From the chill-out feel of the opening track to the epic closer, it's a wild journey of metal, choral arrangements, and all around excellent progressive rock. Some of his most excellent ambient moments since 2001's Terria are on this album, especially the wonderful, albeit brief, "Requiem" track separating the two longer songs on the album. The first full song, "Genesis", is one of the strongest songs on the album, and it serves as sort of an overture to the rest of the album. Other highlights include the groovy track "Hear Me", the wonderful symphonic "Why?", and of course the two longer songs on the album, "Borderlands" and "Singularity". "Borderlands" has a great opening into a dramatic heavy section with some awesome synthesizers throughout the track. "Singularity" is a 23 minute, multi-part epic, that shifts wonderfully between smooth ambient sections, intense heavy sections, and more relaxed sections reminiscent of Porcupine Tree on Lightbulb Sun or Stupid Dream. The album as a whole, of course, utilizes the "wall of sound" technique that Townsend often incorporates, but its lighter moments are a wonderful relief for listeners who usually find the technique to be a bit much. All in all, Empath is sure to be one of the best albums of this year.
Report this review (#2204621)
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars When i was about to hear this album for the first time, i was pretty sceptical about it mainly because i wasn't a big fan of Devin's work even though i enjoyed some of his stuff. But, this LP completely changed my view towards his music and it eventually became one of my all-time favourites. First, i have to say this is definitely not an easy listen. Like most prog, it requires a reasonable amount of spins and a certain dedication to fully understand and enjoy the record. But, it's worth, believe me.

The album starts with the laid-back and relaxing "Castaway", with a soaring guitar, accompained by mood settling beach noises. You really feel "Cast away", while listening. Near the end, The Elektra Women's Choir joins, instilling pleasent celestial feel. The track flows into the absolute contender for the craziest, most bizarre track of 2019 - "Genesis". If someone wants you to explain what Devin is all about, just play them this one. It encompasses the adventurous and unorthodox nature of his music completely. The choir fades out leading to Devin's powerful, roaring atop of a mountain, clean vocals. The overall feel is his usual epic progressive metal, with many interweaving layers. The "chorus" here is heavy, full of blast beats, reminiscent of Dimmu Borgir. A slight musical reference to the beginning of "March of the poozers", but sped up occurs, followed by another wave of epic chorus vocals, sounding genuinely uplifting. This is noticeable tendency in the latest Devin albums - his compositions tend to be rather uplifting, as opposed to his earlier material. And, purely in the mad scientist of metal nature, you can hear integrated cat's meowing, right before a wicked syncopated heavy, abysmal riff, serving as a bridge. After all that, we are taken to the 80's in some form of metal disco, just proving that Townsend has no limits. Absolute monster of a track.

What i find to be appealing to non-fans of HevyDevy, is that in this album we hear less of his regular "wall of sound" recording technique, while still maintaining the heaviness. The next track provides some form of respite from the madness. "Spirits Will Collide" starts with the women choir above a middle-paced symphonic power metal background. Devin's vocals here are one of the most uplifting ones he has ever done and i think it will appeal to more people, not familiar with his work. Without a doubt easiest digestible track of the album.

"Evermore" has similar construction as "Genesis", but this time with an underlying symphonic and orchestral feel. Here, the wall of sound is reduced to minimum and we can actually occasionally hear clean jazzy parts, interfering with the overall epic heavy sound. I'm just going to say that the chorus here is one of the most ear-worming things ever, seriously. This track feels like a space voyage that ends in a wormhole. Yes. I had to repeat it over and over again, it's that satisfying.

The next song, "Sprite" has this subtle, airy, alternative feel to it. The track has strong emotional impact due to its existential nature - Devin delivers really poignant-driven vocals, almost having an operatic tinge. Beneath the structure of the composition there are deeply igrained elevating keyboard layers creating incredible emotional consonance. Sublime piece of music.

Now, "Hear me" is the blast beat festival, balm for the soul of every extreme metal fan. Listening closely, behind the primal anger of the music, there is actually very strong musical line, it's not just chaotic notes. The next track - "Why?", comes completely logical after the previous display of extremism. Probably my favourite composition, in terms of the sheer power of Devin's voice. Here, he goes operatic off the charts. If this doesn't evoke pathos in you, then i don't know what will, really.

Next, we have the 11 minute "Borderlands", starting off with soft, alternative rock vocals, leading us to a Hollywood-inspired humorous chorus section, reminding us of Zappa. And then, we come to probably the most memorable riff of the album, entwined with many different vocal lines, again very musical and Zappa-esque. Everything stops rather abruptly, into an ambient sonicscape, filled with Devin's soothing vocals, that serves as a prolong build-up for the final reprise of the main riff and vocal section. It all then ends with another relaxing ambient part. As a connection between the two epics, we have "Requiem" - orchestral/choral score, worthy of replacing any acknowledged soundtrack for a space-themed movie. Frisson inducing, definitely.

The last piece - "Singularity", immerses us with a somewhat Gilmour-esque guitar opening, progressing into a part that is essentially filled with quiet, "lonely" vocals, and an acousitc guitar. Later on, Devin is in-your-face with his overly emotional and powerful operatic-styled vocals, sustained by the cosmic, orchestra-imitating wall of sound. It's crazy how Townsend changes the mood completely in the span of just seconds, yet it feels smooth and organic. The middle section is dominated by blastbeats and heavy vocals, reminiscent of "Hear me". As in "Borderlands", we arrive at "purification station" for our ears, expressed by demulcent chorus and a subtle keyboard lines underneath, after all the intensity and raw force. The part slowly progresses into brief example of "Musique concrete", while still having a musical line running in the background. Towards the end we are graced with proggy uneven rhythms, this time uplifting clean vocals, and the magical guitar of Steve Vai himself, the musical father of Devin Townsend, who now carries the genius of Zappa, in an alternate way.

I am seriously concerned that the mad genius cannot top this album, ever. The juxtaposition of these varied compositions and the seemingly nonsensical interweaved musical ideas, "lacking" a "concept" resonates immensely with a musical-perdurantist perspective, something Zappa originated in. And with "Empath", Devin ultimately proved the world to be the modern-day Zappa - able to accumulate a wide pallette of emotions into something chaotic at first glance, yet perfectly systematic when you delve into it.

Report this review (#2241903)
Posted Sunday, August 4, 2019 | Review Permalink
Wicket
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 20 playthroughs and I still can't pick out Chad Kroeger's voice. It's probably just hidden in all the friggin' overdubs and noise saturation there, as usual.

As usual, and yet, not quite. Dropping the "project" moniker for this release, Townsend basically recorded this album as a symbolic two middle fingers to those of us "critics" complaining about his style of over saturation in his music, so he decided to sprinkle it in this album with a heavy dose of schizophrenia and growling.

Now "hevy Devy" is known for being very broad texture-wise due to his bipolar disorder, but never have we truly heard it coalescing together in one album. Indeed, listening to this album from a distance, it sounds disjointed somehow, but each song is composed with a purpose and structure. "Castaway" begins in a tropical matter, with echoes of Hawaii and steel drums before a choir triumphantly brings in "Genesis" with a roar. Right off the bat Townsend refers to his mind and his "fantasy world", with 8-bit samples and soaring soundtrack strings. The chords here down mesh and mush like they did in Transcendence. In essence, those damn near put me to sleep half the time. No, here the chords are jagged and rough. Right away, you realize this is an album you have to sit down and listen to. Right away, you realize Townsend is telling a story and he's going to drag you along for the ride, whether you [%*!#]ing like it or not. With a chorus only repeated once, "Genesis" is an anthem of Townsend's defiance to conform to critic's expectations, an emotion that's carried over into "Spirits Will Collide".

"Evermore" is more a balancing act of graceful waltz-like tempos, triumphant choruses, crunching power chords and a sprinkling of snappy castanets. There's a bit more variety here to sink your teeth into, but so far, so normal. These songs feel like an overture that's long overstayed its welcome, not spazzy enough to be different, but not quite catchy enough like some offerings from Transcendence.

Only when you get to "Sprite" does it start to get interesting. What starts off with what sounds like a fable or poem begins with a very soft and innocent fairytale soundscape. Some fancy drumwork flits and flutters between the strings and keys in the background, like fairies dancing betwixt the moonlight sky (or something like that). It all sounds very trivial and predictable. That's why Townsend lets it marinate for a good two minutes before Elliot Desgagnés (of Beneath the Massacre fame, FYI) barges in growling some sort of beast from between the 6th or 7th ring of hell, presumably playing the "monster" in this peaceful fairy tale (every fairy tale's gotta have a monster).

Then we get to "Hear Me", which is ironic, since it immediately starts with screaming and blastbeats. Yes, I'm pretty sure we can hear that Devin. To me, this is Townsend at his most ferocious since Deconstructed. This is definitely the loudest song off the album, and yet there's something which I can't hear, as previously aforementioned at the start of this review (so if anyone knows exactly when Kroeger [of Nickelback fame, of course] is singing, please feel free to let me know, my ears strain to pick out anything remotely resembling his voice).

Now Townsend's bipolarity are showing in full force. Transition from that to the intro of the classically waltz-like "Why?". This is something I imagine Townsend skipping through a field of roses (and potentially some corpses) in some Wizard of Oz musical type thing. Sprinkle some dissonance here and there and some crunching chords and Desgagnes growling and you're good. Honestly, this is one of the highlights for me. The styles being displayed are outstanding, and the conjunctions never feel jagged or abrupt. They're more akin to surprises a la Haydn's symphony.

So let's jump to a more indie folk pop sound to kick off "Borderlands" (one of my favorite shooters by the by), but now he's going off the rails, some Zappa-esque schitzo arpeggios, atmospheric soundscapes a la Ghost, capped off with more triumphant choruses continuing into the choral, operatic "Requiem". We cap off the album proper with the juggernaut of the lot, "Singularity" which takes its time to build up in that happy, symphonic theme that's been made prevelant since the beginning, but it's interspersed with dark electronic bridges, furious blastbeats (and screaming, obviously), another atmospheric break, some scary guy talking in a robotic voice and what appears to be a pots and pans solo. There are definitely isolated sections with smatterings of spastic guitar licks a la Zappa or Between the Buried and Me, but personally, I wish there was a bit more showmanship, some more solos and showcases and whatnot. The end is also a bit too abrupt for my taste, but the buildup with about 4 minutes left sort of emphasizes the point.

The second disc contains demos, a la Transcendence (aka songs that didn't quite make the final cut). They all have the same sort of theme so I'm not going to bother reviewing each one. Favorites would be "The Waiting Kind", "Methuselah", "Middle Aged Man" and "Summer".

All in all, it's refreshing to see Townsend get a bit of psycho back in his playing. It's a bit of refreshment to liven up an otherwise predictable sound, especially with what he's capable of and what he's produced in the past. One of his finest albums in quite a while, with perhaps a slight knock at the lack of sing-a-long-ability such as tracks of Epicloud or Infinity. Nonetheless, it's a bombastic return to form, and we all have Chad Kroeger to thank for motivating him to stick to his guns and buck the trend.

God, who would've known we'd be thanking Nickelback for indirectly producing a prog gem. You can't make this [&*!#] up.

4.5/5

Report this review (#2248625)
Posted Wednesday, September 4, 2019 | Review Permalink

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