Devin Townsend is a mad musical scientist in the best possible way. Next to Nine Inch Nails founder and front man Trent Reznor, Townsend is one of the most innovative and creative minds in the musical industry today, and his new album Empath proves that once again without a doubt. It is a record whose depth crosses musical and lyrical bounds from beginning to end. Each song is completely unlike the others, at some points sounding like something that belongs on a grand movie soundtrack, such as in ‘Requiem’ and at others like something that belongs in a stage musical, such as with ‘Why.’ At yet another point, it presents a sound that it just uniquely Devin Townsend, as with ‘Castaway/Genesis’. These three songs are just a few examples of the genius that is on display once again from Devin Townsend on his latest album. When they are considrered alongside the rest of the album’s works, the album in whole becomes a work that is without doubt, one of this year’s top new hard rock albums and best albums overall.
Devin Townsend’s latest solo recording Empath is one of this year’s most powerful – both musically and lyrically – albums. It is a work that clearly displays Townsend’s musical genius from beginning to end, with works that are as diverse from one another as they are from anything that Townsend has ever crafted. One of the most notable of this record’s works is the soaring instrumental work ‘Requiem.’ By definition, a requiem is a musical work performed for the dead. In many cases, such works are vey somber and melancholy. Yet here, the arrangement comes across as something filled more with wonder and awe. The combined choral element and orchestral instrumentation makes the song sound more like it belongs on a science fiction movie, such as E.T. or Star Trek than maybe the full on drama that is Amadeus. At the same time, knowing the overarching vibe of Empath both musically and lyrically, one can assume that maybe, what Townsend was trying to present here was a song that was more celebratory of a person’s life than something more morose. All of the songs featured in this record present a theme of an empath, someone who experiences the emotions of others. Listening to the choral element, there is a certain positive feeling. That coupled with the more playful, orchestral element leaves one considering that maybe, just maybe this is what Townsend was trying to present – a remembrance, but not in negative fashion, but in positive fashion; people celebrating someone instead of mourning that individual. This is of course all speculative and could be completely off the mark. It is just this critic’s own take on the arrangement. That aside, what Townsend has crafted in this two-minute, 47-second song is a work that once again puts on display a level of talent in terms of composing, that is above and beyond so many of today’s mainstream composers. Listening to this work, it honestly makes one wonder what a partnership between Townsend and famed composer John Williams would produce. Moving on, ‘Requiem’ is just one of the songs that shows what makes Empath another powerful addition to Devin Townsend’s catalog. ‘Why’ is another example of what makes this record so impressive.
‘Why’ stands out in part because of its arrangement. The song’s arrangement this time, comes across as a composition that sounds and feels as if it belongs on a major Broadway stage score. That sense is established right from the song’s outset, which features a strongly accented string arrangement alongside Townsend’s wonderfully controlled operatic style singing. The addition of the castanets and cymbals adds even more to that sense. One can almost see the various camera angles, fog machines and lighting that would go along with this moment. That is how much this song feels like it belongs as part of a major Broadway musical. The song’s lyrical content adds even more to that sense.
Townsend sings in the song’s lead verse, “Darling, are you feeling alright?/And all our friends are/All our friends are watching us/I wanna go home/But why run away/Why?, Why? Why?” He continues in the song’s second verse, “Darling, are you seeing inside?/The wolves are alive/And all our faith is/All our faith is wrong.” The second subject responds, screaming, “LET ME GO HOME!” before the lead asks again, “But why run away/Why? Why? Why?” This call and response, with the seemingly existential discussion, makes for quite the interesting presentation. That is, again, especially interesting considering how it adds to that feel of a scene from a stage play. Taking such a musical and lyrical approach is original and creative to say the very least. That creativity makes the song stand out quite strongly. In turn, it serves to show even more why this album stands out as one of this year’s top new albums. It is not the last of the songs that serves that purpose, either. The combination that is ‘Castaway’/ ‘Genesis’ does just as much to make the album stand out as the other songs noted here and the rest of the record’s works.
‘Castaway’/ ‘Genesis’ stands out collectively in part because of its arrangement. This song’s overall arrangement shows great time and thought was put into its completion. The arrangement’s heavier moments are expertly balanced with its lighter moments, ensuring listeners’ engagement and entertainment throughout the song. There are heavy, death metal style moments contrasted by much lighter, more ethereal moments. Those moments are, at times, contrasted by more progressive moments and even some far deeper moments. The whole becomes an arrangement that shows Townsend’s ability to break the bounds and expectations set by critics and listeners alike, and succeed very well in the process. It makes the arrangement in itself its own success and just one part of what makes the song stand out. The song’s lyrical content creates its own interest.
Townsend reminds listeners at one point in the song, “All the world is in this together/Feel no fear/We’re fearless together…because you’re so in love with this island of the mind/know that this island is home/You’ve got to get on your feet again (Genesis)/Get on your feet again.” He adds later, “When we’re apart, we fall/Together, we feed the world.” This works directly with the song’s chorus in which Townsend sings, “Let us being to live again.” Simply put he is telling listeners that we as a people need to start over and come together. It would make sense, as he sings, “From the top to the bottom/Genesis.” That is saying, start over completely and live together. Such statement, together with the song’s musical arrangement makes the song in whole another powerful work in its own right and one more example of what makes Empath another equally powerful success in whole from Devin Townsend.
Devin Townsend’s latest full-length studio recording Empath is one of the most important rock records to be released so far this year. That is because it shows that whether with his Devin Townsend Project cohorts or on his own (as in this record), he is one of the greatest minds in the music industry today. His creativity and originality is on full display from beginning to end. The songs noted here are just a sampling of that creativity and originality. The remainder of the record’s body does just as much to exhibit that talent. All things considered, Empath proves to be one of this year’s best new hard rock & metal albums and just as easily, one of the year’s best new albums overall. Empath is available now. More information on Empath is available online along with all of Devin Townsend’s latest news and more at:
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