Dense, vast and patience testing

Devin Townsend has been one of the most interesting and influential figures in the realm of progressive music for the past 25 years, rightfully deserving of his place beside names like Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt.

Empath is the 17th album to be released either under his own name or a variation of it, an epic and at first overwhelming summary of everything he is best known for. First single “Genesis” is the indicator of what can be expected as Townsend throws every one of his signature tropes against the wall: howling lead vocals, a female choir, crushing riffs, multi-layered synths, blast beats, quiet/loud transitions, swirly keyboard noises – this track has the lot.

And that’s really Empath in a nutshell – it’s standard Devin Townsend. To be fair, that’s exactly what he promised it would be: it’s everything he’s ever delivered so far, and nothing he hasn’t. “Sprite” is off-kilter synthy pop, “Why?” is like some strange stage-musical number and “Hear Me” is a Strapping Young Lad song with Chad Kroeger singing on it for some reason. Finally there’s the enormous six-part “Singularity”, a phenomenal colossus that begins with a clean, sad guitar reminiscent of post-Waters Pink Floyd before it ebbs and flows through what is basically a compressed summation of its creator’s entire oeuvre – dark ambience, crashing metal and those over-arching vocals and synth melodies that seem to underpin all his work. It almost comes undone in the middle with idle whistling and a hubbub of voices until a timely and ferocious riff carries it off again toward a conclusion in which Townsend is again reunited with Steve Vai.

Like the album as a whole, “Singularity” is dense, vast and a little patience testing. Just the last three of  Empath‘s songs together span more time than the average thrash metal album. At 78 minutes, it’s even longer than The Hummer, which remains his biggest indulgence so far, but Empath‘s biggest fault is that it’s just too self-referential. There is literally nothing here that those who have followed Devin Townsend’s career so far haven’t already heard him do.

With so much going on, over such a long time, Empath is hard to digest. It demands complete attention from start to finish and for that reason alone it’s probably not going to be an album that anyone is going to listen to all that often. This is neither Devin Townsend’s greatest moment nor his weakest, but it is perhaps one of his most self-indulgent.

  1. Castaway
  2. Genesis
  3. Spirits Will Collide
  4. Evermore
  5. Sprite
  6. Hear Me
  7. Why?
  8. Borderlands
  9. Requiem
  10. Singularity

 

  • Ulf Claesson

    What is wrong with
    “self-indulgent” anyway? Isn’t every work of art self-indulgent? By its
    very nature and existence? I make something = Self! I work out my
    feelings and thoughts = indulgent. So what is a work of art supposed to
    be?

    • Brian Giffin

      I agree with you. I’m not criticising this for being self-indulgent, just saying that it is.