Devin Townsend – Lightwork

I’ll admit that, when Devin released his two-part series in 2021, I wasn’t ready for a new Hevy Devy album.  I’m not sure why.  So, when The Puzzle and Snuggles – Beautiful Dream released, I missed them.  I do plan to visit those albums soon, though, because of how beautiful and mighty his brand new record Lightwork truly is.  The album releases on November 4th, and it has reminded me of how much I like his music.

Devin Townsend is a legend at this point.  He’s had a long and very consistent career, and his albums are generally epic, lofty affairs with bits of humor worked into their DNA.  For Lightwork, Devin handles guitar, vocals, synth, and programming.  As usual, he brings along a long list of guests, including: Anneke Van Giersbergen and Ché Aimee Dorval on vocals, Morgan Agren on vocals and drums, Mike Keneally and Steve Vai on guitars, Darby Todd and Federico Paulovich on drums, Diego Tejeida on keyboards, Nathan Navarro and Jonas Hellborg on bass, and the Elektra Women’s Choir.  What a host of brilliant artists!

Devin has often dabbled in a softer style, even though he is known as Hevy Devy and has been a fixture of the extreme metal scene for 30 years or more.  His 2019 masterpiece Empath was a perfect balance between insanely technical metal portions and illustrious melodies, in my opinion.  His two 2021 albums split the difference, one being heavy and the other being more ambient.  So, hearing a softer record from Devin isn’t out of the ordinary.

What we have on Lightwork, however, is something deeper.  It is somehow heavy, though it lacks a multitude of riffs.  It is emotional, celestial, and hyper-melodic with sweeping rhythms and hazy auras.  Somehow, though, it has gravity and weight that feel heavier than most metal bands out there today.  There is a vicious bite to it, especially in Devin’s signature vocal style, but there is gravy and butter that smooths everything out into this grand deluge of splendor and illumination.

Three things help this happen.  First, the mix is great.  I love how thumping the drums sound and how fiercely the vocals bite, but also how those things are flooded with light.  Second, Devin’s lyrics are again excellent.  He has really been leaning into the universalist message, so to speak, of unity, love, and goodness, and that really connects with me.  So, with a fantastic mix and meaningful lyrics, the album just feels like something I should love.  Third, the tempo here is mostly casual, which makes the album feel soothing and peaceful, even with the various textural elements.  This can be felt even in how Devin starts and ends the album with distant sounds of ships on the bay, as if the concept is a metaphor for humans who choose to be shining lights in the distance for ships/humans lost in the fogs of life, or something like that.  The entire experience is one of hope and peace, and sometimes I just need that.

But the songs are masterfully written, too, so it isn’t just the production.  Each of the ten songs feels carefully constructed, even when they might feel a little loose or abstract at times.  I can detect the calculation and structure under the hood.  I feel like the album has three parts with each set of tracks having similarities.  The first four tracks are the first set.  “Moonpeople” and “Lightworker” set things off with a bubbling fervor.  There are moments of heaviness here and there, not to mention addictive rhythmic ideas and piercing vocal fireworks.  Overall, though, they are softer songs.  So are “Equinox” and “Call of the Void”.  These two songs are some of the best on the album.  “Equinox” has an incredibly hypnotic rhythm that runs right through the heart of the song—I could listen to that and the beautiful vocal harmonies all day.  “Call of the Void” is similar, but with more texture.  It has a chorus that only Devin could pull off with the class and calculation that he does.  It really works and those songs are so memorable.

The second set is tracks 5-9 in what I call the abstract portion of the album.  “Heartbreaker” sets off this portion with an intense collage of melodies, voices, riffs, and ideas that somehow coalesce into a marching, dark tune with serious staying power.  I love it, but it took several listens.  “Dimensions” and “Celestial Signals” feel like two parts of the same track to me.  The former is a little insane, probably having the quickest tempo and heaviest portions on the record, but it sails into smooth waters in “Celestial Signals” as the notes become longer and more heavenly.  I don’t think I’d listen to those tracks separately.  Finally, “Heavy Burden” feels like the cousin of “Heartbreaker” with some of the same choirs and abstract concepts, but it feels more cinematic and even ambient.  It’s a terrific experience.

The last two songs are the final set, being “Vacation” and “Children of God”.  These two tracks are pure bliss, both in how I perceive them and in their actual sound.  “Vacation” is a delicate, tender ballad that is pretty short, but very effective.  I love how it has feelings of promise and hope in another place and time within it, and how gentle the whole thing is.  “Children of God” is the closer and might be my favorite overall.  It is about 10 minutes long, but that might be deceptive.  The song has one of the most beautiful and even haunting central melodies I’ve heard this year, and the chorus is 100% perfect and unblemished.  There is a dark spirituality here, something innate within the atoms that make up our flesh, and so the song is like a white haze of beauty and serenity.  It is subtle in how magnificent it really is.  The last couple minutes of the song feature the aforementioned ship noises, and I think that is an ideal way to close this song.  It helps me lean sharply into the themes and feelings evoked.

Lightwork is like the younger brother of EmpathLightwork learned everything it knows from Empath, but took some ideas and left others behind.  It does its own thing in its own way and has its own personality.  I love both, though I’m probably still partial to Empath—for now.  If you like Devin’s writing, this album is a no-brainer.


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