Friday, March 29, 2019

Album Review: Devin Townsend - Empath

Even if you've been following Devin Townsend's career, nothing can prepare you for the psychotronic sonic assault that is Empath. It's like a symphonic metal version of Frank Zappa's Lumpy Gravy mixed with Queen-style vocal harmonies and Mr. Bungle's histrionics as well as a little Ministry-style industrial aggression thrown in for good measure.

If all that sounds a little much, it's because it is. The incessant barrage of sound can get very stressful and at times even unmusical. It doesn't help that the sound is very digital and heavily compressed and the layers upon layers of instrumentation produce an information overload that is pretty taxing on the listener.

Perhaps the casual music aficionado isn't equipped to follow the challenging constructs of Devin Townsend's musical brain. Perhaps the listener needs more training to fully grasp the scope of his art.

Even a seemingly simple, pretty song like Borderlands is crammed with thousands of musical motifs and production ideas that subvert the original melodies and turns the piece into a nearly abstract architectural collage.

The first single Genesis is perfectly representative of the album's schizophrenia: it's a Dance Metal tune with a choir, pop synthesiser riffs, crushing guitars, symphonic accents and frantic bursts of industrial speed metal passages. It's absolutely packed with brilliant ideas, but they are not given the chance to develop and at times the song, like the album, feels a little unfocused.

The best songs on the record are Spirits Will Collide, a great fist-pumping mid-tempo anthem which, like the rest of the record, could benefit from a little more organic sound and Why? an orchestral waltz with a fantastic vocal performance that runs the gamut from operetta to quasi-death metal growls.

Singularity, the last track, is the pièce de résistance: a twenty-minute prog-metal suite which starts off almost ambient then proceeds to take every imaginable twist and turn: colossal heaviness, acoustic balladry, jazzy improvisations, monumental vocal pyramids, killer riffs, pristine melodies and cacophonous noise...

All in all, Empath is a multipolar experiment that succeeds more than it fails and could be somewhat better if a little reigned in and less sonically aggressive. South Of Reality, the new album by the Claypool/Lennon Delirium, is an example of how this sort of approach, albeit in a different musical style, can amount to a perfect record. As it stands, Empath is merely very good with flashes of brilliance. Any artist would be lucky to release a near-miss of this quality.

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