Who is Devin Townsend?
Devin Townsend is a Canadian musician focusing on Heavy Metal and Prog music. Devin founded the band Strapping Young Lad, performed lead vocals for Steve Vai, and released more than 23 albums from all his musical endeavors. Devin’s time with Steve Vai opened his eyes to the music industry, and Devin was not a huge fan. Devin felt as if he was being used and was a product of another’s imagination. Perhaps this is why all of his original works are so out of this world and unique.
I don’t even know where to begin with this review. I was introduced to this album by YouTube recommending the video for 'Genesis'. Before the video I had not heard anything from Devin, despite his various projects and groups. 'Genesis' was my Genesis to Devin’s musical genius.
The 'Genesis' music video was quite different from any music video I had seen. Devin is sitting down at a table in front of a green screen. He is listening to the song as the video plays behind him. As a viewer, you get to see Devin’s reactions to the song unfold in real-time — which was very cool. The music video was very visually intricate, showing vivid colors, abstract sections, and cats in space. (!!!) The moment in which 'Genesis' clicked for me was after the first chorus. There is this very tasteful blast beat section which transitions into this epic resolution full of synths, choirs, and chills that overtake your body. I immediately went and pre-ordered this album after that moment.
I eagerly awaited the release of the album, and blocked off time to sit down and listen without any interruptions. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Empath was in a different ballpark in a different universe. Every song is so vastly unique, whilst sharing certain characteristics throughout. There’s an intense, drum focused track, 'Hear Me', there is a Disney-esque track, 'Why?', and even a 23 minute long song, 'Singularity', that could be its own standalone EP .
The production on this album is amazing. There are so many layers going on at any given second that even after 20+ listens I am still hearing new elements. I would say that most of the time the sound takes on a “Wall of Sound” where the listener almost is sensory overloaded. I recognize that this can be off-putting to some listeners, but I think this is one quality that makes Empath such a good album. It’s difficult to be a passive listener with Empath. It demands the listeners full attention and rewards them with sonic ear candy.
The instruments in this album are very well done — especially with the wide breadth of genres present. Devin achieved this by featuring multiple guest musicians across all instruments and backgrounds. Despite featuring so many guest musicians, Devin was able to keep Empath sounding unique and not just a mix of all the guest musicians styles.
While most songs stick around in one’s head due to catchy riffs, or a reoccurring hook, the songs from Empath stick around do their moments of epic musicianship and earth-moving sonic assault.
I truly think that Empath is one of the greatest musical experiences I have ever witnessed. While some people might find it’s huge “Wall of Sound” moments off-putting, there is still something for everyone here. Empath is more of an experience rather than an album, and it is something that you will remember for a while.
Let me start this one off by saying that Devin Townsend has created an album with tremendous depth, an insane amount of layers and complexity, all with staying in a reasonable time frame. I would assume the amount of work put into this album is overshadowed and overlooked. He has a very impressive musical repertoire, and he uses each and every nook and cranny of it in Empath.
This all being said, I simultaneously love and despise this album. I recognize the sheer amount of creativity and talent put into the music. Each song tells its own story and feels like a trip into a new world. There’s so many layers of beats, sounds, riffs, and at times noise. His greatest accomplishment here is also his biggest flaw. The sheer size of this project and what he attempted is a bit mind blowing, but ultimately it doesn’t sound great. There are songs where it definitely feels like there are too many layers. The sound becomes chaotic and exhausting to listen to. Each layer on it’s own is brilliant if you focus in on it, but throw it all together and it becomes stale, like a soup with way too many ingredients of different flavors. Other songs attempt to be overly powerful, the blast beats erupt like a volcano into your face, it’s powerful, but can drown into a meaningless wall of noise. Most of the album is brilliantly composed and feels like many journeys through many different worlds, but there are many times throughout the album where it felt like Devin was trying too hard, and it resulted in stale soup or walls of noise.
Instrumentally this album has a lot more pros than cons, it is quite mind boggling how it can transport you. The biggest flaw(s) of Empath are the vocals, lyrics, and themes. The entire album feels like Devin has a god like persona and is spreading his wisdom through the world. I picture a man yelling into the heavens expecting everyone to hear him, it’s cheesy, it feels like he wants others to see him as a god, and it feels like he has a power issue. The constant use of church style choirs and vocal patterns takes away from the beautiful and powerful music behind it. I felt like the lyrics, theme, and the way the vocals were presented made the album become like a children’s storybook.
I highly respect this album, and I think that Devin attempted a massive project with style, but it lacks finesse. Empath is a powerful, enormous project where Devin tried too hard. I would rate Empath highly if it was instrumental, but as it is, I am not a fan. I also love music and albums that have a high replay-ability whether it’s in the story or the groove, but Empath lacks both. The story is very meh (adds to it’s big flaw) and the groove is very powerful and technical, but not something I’d want to hear over and over.