Devin Townsend
Empath


4.5
superb

Review

by SitarHero CONTRIBUTOR (55 Reviews)
April 1st, 2019 | 132 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Love, hate, confusion

Exactly twenty years ago The Matrix was released, and over the past two decades it has come to be regarded as a seminal moment in Hollywood cinema as well as a cultural touchstone. It was a mind-bending genre mashup that combined Hong Kong-style balletic martial arts and gunplay, with cyberpunk’s post-humanist paranoia, film noir’s claustrophobic palettes, Eastern philosophy’s musings on the nature of reality, and Blade’s oh-so-turn-of-the-millennium-cool-guys-in-leather-outfits-wearing-sunglasses-at-night-and-listening-to-techno-and-industrial-metal-while-walking-away-from-explosions-without-looking-back attitude. It was stylish enough to be enjoyable on the first viewing and substantial enough to be satisfying on the third or fourth.

In hindsight it seems like The Matrix was a surefire success, but it was the product of a pair of writers/directors who had only written and directed two slick but unremarkable[1] box office duds before it. It was a risky and confusing enough proposition that Will Smith—the producers’ original choice to play the the role of Neo—chose instead to star in Wild Wild West! The box office success of The Matrix also, of course, spawned The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions, which found the Wachowski siblings losing their way as their storytelling became increasingly convoluted and decreasingly entertaining.

The reason I bring all of this up is because Empath is, depending on your point of view, every bit as ambitious and entertaining as The Matrix, or every bit as bewildering and tiresome as its sequels, or maybe even both. But there is no compromise and no middle ground...and definitely no spoon.

Devin Townsend is a significantly more established commodity than the Wachowskis were when they made The Matrix so his diving headfirst into the deepest reaches of his fractured psyche and swimming to the furthest reaches of his imagination to pull out Empath isn’t as out of left field as The Matrix was. However, it’s still a little bit shocking just how ambitious Empath is, and just how much ambition Townsend still has left. Townsend could have played it safe by recreating any of the litany of sounds he has explored over the course of his lengthy career and pleased his devoted fanbase. But instead he chose to do the complete opposite and create an album meant to challenge even his most ardent admirers. If every album in Townsend’s catalog represents a facet of his personality, Empath represents an effort to create the auditory image of the cumulative sum of all those distinct, contradictory facets. Empath is Devin Townsend, in all his ridiculous, indulgent, impertinent, brilliant glory.

Of course, given the honesty of the statement that Devin Townsend is making with Empath, it’s not going to be for everyone. Hell, it might not be intended for anyone except Townsend himself. Devin Townsend, the man, once took a literal sh*t in Steve Vai’s guitar case (kudos to Vai for somehow remaining Devy's friend and supporter after that), so naturally he’s not the kind of person everyone is going to be friends with. Why would Devin Townsend, the album, be any different¿ Empath changes moods and styles on a dime or whatever the Canadian equivalent of a dime is.[2] It is rife with spoken word sections and animal noises. It eschews traditional rock/metal song structure almost completely. It spends significant periods eschewing traditional rock/metal instruments almost completely as well. It features humans playing traditional rock/metal instruments in a manner that sounds almost completely inhuman. It makes no apology for any of this, except that it’s Canadian so it has to, so the apology is awkwardly wrapped in a subtle dick joke.[3]

Townsend’s descent into unrepentant madness provides a few glimmers of hope that perhaps there is method to the madness. “Why¿” is one of the most beautiful and atypical songs he has ever made. “Hear Me” is the sonic equivalent of a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster[4] and a fun reminder of Townsend’s SYL legacy. “Spirits Collide” and “Evermore” are even kind of staid, all things considered, in that they sound like they were made by the same, but improved, Townsend who made Transcendence and Epicloud. However, as one gets deeper into the album the more the facade of normalcy slips away until it has dropped completely by “Singularity” which, at 23 minutes of sheer unpredictability, is exhilarating and exhausting in equal parts.

There’s really no easy way to evaluate Empath. Townsend is, at the best of times, a divisive artist and Empath features and amplifies his every unfettered, divisive impulse to a ludicrous degree. It’s not the kind of album you can walk away from and forget having listened to. It’s bound to draw a reaction, be it love, hate, or just bafflement. Perhaps in twenty years Empath will stand out as an artistic landmark of singular importance. Or perhaps it will signify a dead-end in an otherwise glittering career. Or maybe it will continue to be as challenging and opaque as it intends to be.


[1] If you consider ‘90s-era Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly playing sexy lesbian con-women unremarkable, that is.
[2] I looked it up. It’s a Canadian dime.
[3] I have no idea if the album contains any dick jokes, but I’m assuming it does.
[4] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster as the best drink in existence and likens its effect to having your brain smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.



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3.8
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If you can shine for you, friend, please shine for me...



Comments:Add a Comment 
SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2019


8937 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Well this was certainly a challenge.

Veldin
April 1st 2019


3839 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review! ;)

DungeonBoy
April 1st 2019


5821 Comments


but imagine Will Smith as neo

Digging: Inculter - Fatal Visions

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2019


8937 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Haha! Right?! I can't imagine Will would have been as iconic as Keanu. Will is just too damn Will-y to be the kind of blank slate that Neo needed to be.

Toondude10
April 1st 2019


13827 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

nice!

JohnnyoftheWell
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2019


13634 Comments


Cool review, certainly showed a lot of well-articulated love and attentiveness to this whole musical legacy

Digging: Blonde Redhead - 23

Source
April 1st 2019


10290 Comments


you had to remind me of Wild Wild West's existence

Digging: Last Crack - Burning Time

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2019


8937 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks Johnny!



Sorry Source!

ProjectFreak
April 1st 2019


3547 Comments


I'm on my first listen, and I'm wrapping up Sprite. Honestly this just sounds like cheesy garbage. Does it get better?

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2019


8937 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The two best songs on the album are right after Sprite.

TheNotrap
April 1st 2019


10235 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

You're one of the best sputwriters, great review



“There’s really no easy way to evaluate Empath”

Yep, I still don’t know how I'll rate this, but the album has indeed brilliant moments, Hear Me is massive.



Now keep up the good work and move on to the new Periphery.





Digging: Al Goregrind - The Temple Is Burning

ProjectFreak
April 1st 2019


3547 Comments


Hear Me and parts of Singularity rip, agreed

oltnabrick
April 1st 2019


36698 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

"Honestly this just sounds like cheesy garbage"



devin townsend in a nutshell

Digging: Absurd (GER) - Totenlieder

sixdegrees
April 1st 2019


5834 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

he's so epic and rAnDoM though

GhandhiLion
April 1st 2019


4230 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

I mean it should be expected, we are talking about a guy who stuck a telephone up his ass.

Digging: Laika - Silver Apples Of The Moon

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
April 1st 2019


8937 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"You're one of the best sputwriters, great review



Now keep up the good work and move on to the new Periphery."



Haha! Thanks a lot man! :] And yeah, P IV is definitely in my sights.

Dizchu
April 1st 2019


278 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review.



I might be the only person who actually likes the song Sprite. It sounds like a descendant of the songs that were on Ghost though it could have done without the opening narration.



Actually the song everyone seems to be singling out as a highlight (Hear Me) just reminds me too much of some of the wank that was on Deconstruction, though the drumming is superb and Chad Kroeger's harmony vocals in the chorus are a nice novelty.



I might review this myself once the hype dies down.

zaruyache
April 1st 2019


20668 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I looked it up. It’s a Canadian dime.



lol

TundraL5Z
April 1st 2019


2611 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm surprised the overall average of the album is lower than a 4 tbh

Dizchu
April 1st 2019


278 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

It's a very divisive album, I'm surprised it isn't even lower.



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