Devin Townsend – Lightwork
Released: November 4th, 2022
Devin Townsend / vocals, guitar, bass, synth, computer, orchestrations, co-producer, mixing
Anneke Van Giersbergen / vocals
Ché Aimee Dorval / vocals
Morgan Agren / vocals, drums & percussion
Mike Keneally / guitars
Steve Vai / guitars
Darby Todd / drums
Federico Paulovich / drums
Diego Tejeida / keyboards
Nathan Navarro / bass
Jonas Hellborg / bass
Elektra Women’s Choir / choir
Right from the outset, right from the opening strains of opener Moonpeople’, it is abundantly clear that the new Devin Townsend album is night and day, chalk and cheese, neck-snappingly different to his last release. But then, that has been the case for this most profoundly eclectic and dynamic of artists for virtually his entire thirty-year-long career, and this has only increased and expanded over the last decade and a half or so.
This is a bloke who, across the course of his illustrious catalogue, has created extreme metal, rock, pop, prog, jazz, orchestral, electronica, ambient, alt-country, concept albums, blues and more. It’s difficult to think of an artist in ‘mainstream’ music (depending on your definition of that term of course) who has covered more musical territory than the great Dev.
He is not an artist for whom it can be said that X album was the dawn of the new direction he took, because every single new album has its own direction.
So where does Lightwork fit into that mind-expanding canon? Once again, it’s hard to categorise, difficult to squeeze into a convenient box. One thing’s for sure, it doesn’t fit into any of the above genres, it is something new and different altogether. Again. It seems he has coined another whole new sub-genre for himself. Ambient pop-prog?
Whatever the case, this album is yet another winner from an artist who can seemingly do no wrong.
In the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage, School of Rock actor Jack Black talks about bands/artists and their ‘bottle of rocket sauce’ (ie creativity), and how some bands use it up on one album. Some even use it all up on one song. On the other hand, a band like Rush was still shaking the bottle after four decades of recorded history and the sauce was still flowing out. Well, Devin Townsend is exactly the same, except ‘only’ for three decades so far instead of four. And, the way he’s going, one can only think he’ll still be here, creating superb, diverse albums in another ten years and beyond.
Not only does Hevy Devy cover a monumental amount of musical ground, album to album, he displays his mastery over myriad styles within each album, track to track, and Lightwork is no exception. Within its grooves, he covers pure pop (‘Moonpeople’), odd-time prog (‘Heartbreaker’), more alt-country (‘Vacation’), the more grindy, industrial ‘Dimensions’, the symphonic/choral bombast of ‘Celestial Signals’, the ambient, feel-good ten-minute epic closer ‘Children of God’, and plenty more. On top of this, his use of the ephemeral female vocals of fabulous artists like regular collaborators Ché Aimee Dorval and Anneke Van Giersbergen (particularly effective on the wondrous ‘Heavy Burden’) to complement his own, only add sweet, ear-pleasing ambience to the piece.
Of course, this all begs the question, is it still one cohesive, listenable entity? You bet your left arse cheek it is. The seemingly disparate elements are all bound together by the pure distinctiveness of the man’s voice, and guitar playing, production and songwriting style. At no point does the album feel disjointed or jarring, it simply sounds like a profoundly imaginative and musically-hungry artist creating his art with skill and, well, a bottomless bottle of rocket sauce.
Now, a special call-out to the track ‘Call of the Void‘. This scribe has been a massive fan of the Dev since the Vai days (1993), and I have to pronounce this track as one of the very best songs he has done in his entire career. Big call I know, given the stupendous status of the aforementioned back-catalogue, but this track is a sweet catharsis, an inspiration, a real pick-me-up. Even the film clip, featuring a long, smooth and easy train ride into peaceful natural landscapes, is a beautiful, relaxing journey.
Conceptually and lyrically, the album is a positive-energy reaction to the state of the world right now, both in a pandemic and post-pandemic sense and in general. Many people across the planet are doing it tough right now, and even tougher after the Covid devastation, and this album feels like a happy, inspirational beacon in the blackness. Lightwork is music as therapy, a piece of work that only fills you with feelings of warmth and positivity.
Expecting the unexpected is the norm in Devin Townsend’s career, always has been, and this record only perpetuates and enhances that. We are approaching the end of 2022, and it’s going to take something extraordinary being released in the last two months to displace this from this writer’s number-one album of the year.
Devin Townsend – Lightwork tracklisting
- Call of the Void
- Celestial Signals
- Heavy Burden
- Children of God
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