DEVIN TOWNSEND: Empath – A “summary album” by the new Frank Zappa.

There is one rule about Devin Townsend’s catalogue which you should always take heed of: there is absolutely no cohesion at all between each album. In layman’s terms, no two consecutive releases are the same (for example, his “Z2” double-album involves one single-focused disc, then another devoted to the [thin] concept of an alien called “Ziltoid the Omniscient“, with a severe coffee addiction). All the same, at least this makes any new album of his very interesting to write about.

This time around, he has apparently taken it upon himself (alongside a cast of all-star guests, several of whom worked with him in previous projects) to conceive a whopping 74-minute-long album all about his whole career!

Firstly, the album begins with “Castaway”, an ambient introduction that gradually leads into the sprawling first single, “Genesis”. This track perfectly emulates Townsend’s attitude of throwing in “everything including the kitchen sink, but make it fashion” (read: chunky guitar riffs here, a dance-beat there, not to mention several cats and a gramophone), while also providing one of the best choruses of his entire discography.

Afterwards, the rest of the album starts going through several changes in musical style, enough to even rival Queen; “Spirits Will Collide” is OTT arena rock, “Sprite” is pure Jethro Tull, and “Hear Me” is a ludicrous slice of death metal that would perfectly fit in the albums from Townsend’s “Strapping Young Lad” project. Meanwhile, “Why” certainly would not feel out of place in a Disney film, and the camp “Borderlands”, with its Slade-esque chorus, could have been a brilliant mainstream hit were it not ten minutes long.

It is then that, after a rather ambient interlude, whichTownsend rounds off the album – with an EP, if you could call the 20 minute-plus “Singularity” that. Again, different musical styles clash together, but this time round, at least they can be easily separated into chronological sections. Of course, this somehow comes off as a general success, particularly since all the “tracks” (and the album itself) blend into each other like Monty Python sketches.

All in all, a very dense, but extremely rewarding listen, which perfectly shows that the legacy of the late Frank Zappa is in good hands, seeing that his former bandmate, shred legend Steve Vai – now Townsend’s boss – contributes to the guitar solos.

Verdict: 10/10

For those who want more of this kind of music, listen to the following:• “Ziltoid The Omniscient” and “Z2: Dark Matters” (those who like diabolical “musicals” with silly voices and horrible jokes)• “Transcendence” (those who like cerebral prog suites)• “Epicloud” (the most “mainstream” of his albums).

 

Review by James Wood (Year 10)

Image courtesy of Freestocks @unsplash.com