ALBUM REVIEW: Devin Townsend – ‘Lightwork’

An illustrated lighthouse, with tentacles reaching up from the rocks and water below it

Lightwork sees Devin Townsend take a step out of his comfort zone. Working alongside producer and long-time friend GGGarth, the album is comprised of tracks written during the global pandemic. Understandably, many artists spent that period writing and producing music with much inspired by the darker side of the experience. Interestingly, while there are references and hints towards the shadowy nature of that time, much of Lightwork is uplifting coming from a place of self-reflection and striving for betterment. Emerging with sounds of water by the shore and a vast droning call, Lightwork voyages on a thrilling journey.

Moonpeople introduces the album with a synth-fuelled onset. The chosen electronics evoke a sense of the other worldly. Devin’s vocals lead on a journey through the album’s opening narrative, leading you further in. The upbeat chorus delivers a catchy hook that floats immersed in multi-textural instrumentation. Adding a heaviness with the arrival of distorted guitars emphasises the overall impact and the strong bass tones complementing the soaring melodies above. A desire for escapism permeates through the track. The telling lyric “Though what is appealing / Is the act of disappearing” reflects the changing mindset of that place in time, with the sudden “Stop it” a reminder to return to oneself. Orchestration is used to bring a thrilling sense of drama and theatricality in Lightworker. There’s a dream-like quality to the track with the powerful anthemic chorus that is comprised of a huge engulfing sound.

Soundscapes of orchestration, guitars and soaring vocals deliver an immersive sound that carries an uplifting aura. More minimal moments of serene and calm build into grand momentous crescendos of awakening. The rising and falling of dynamics in Equinox carries a powerful emotional delivery that transitions through a multitude of moods. Electronics provide an atmospheric backdrop for the melodic guitars. Softly performed lyrics contrast with the harsher, explosive vocal parts. This is one of the tracks where at times, the gloom seeps through, but stylistically the music remains on the lighter side.

A sense of the eerie exudes from Call Of The Void with a haunting opening synth, before the music turns back somewhat into the light. Vocal harmonies contribute to the gentler vocal delivery in the verses, contrasting to the powerful performance in the choruses. One lyric that stands out in this track is “the worst reaction is to freak out”. Again, Devin Townsend vocalises a very poignant thought that remains relatable. Heartbreaker ventures into progressive realms with non-standard time signatures and contrapuntal melodies bringing a chaotic feel to the track. The two distinctive styles of the vocalists balance beautifully and bring to life the lyrical content of the song. It’s emotive weaving in and out of lighter and darker moods. The music ebbs and flows, building into heavy chaos and dissonant sections before subsiding and returning to somewhat more peaceful shores.

Dimensions materialises with an industrial edge. Low bass tones, razor-synths and gothic choirs have a ghostly impact. Devin’s soft-spoken vocals contribute to the eerie atmosphere, with harsh performances enhancing the distorted instrumentation. The industrial heavy tones are interrupted with soaring vocals and atmospheric synths, but the moody instrumentation remains as a grounding feature. A change in tones arises with Celestial Signals. Thepowerful choir returns alongside cinematic orchestration in a grand intro. The dynamics change with the minimalist verse seeing vocals, percussion and lighter melodies introduced. The contrasting sections of more minimal and maximalist arrangements augment the overall effect of the track. Vocal melodies and harmonies are fully utilised in Heavy Burden. Ethereal choir vocals and instruments manifest a calm and gentle air. It’s an interesting musical decision not to have this track in a metal style as the title’s connotations might suggest. Instead, this antithesis makes a different impression that is perhaps more compelling given the subject matter of Heavy Burden, and Lightwork as a whole.

This calming aura is continued into the following track, Vacation consisting of an upbeat, rhythmic sound comprised of clean guitars and airy synths. Gentle vocals feel more intimate and personal in the delivery of the lyrics. It’s whimsical and dreamy, again creating a stark opposition with the inspiration behind the track. Segueing into the epic conclusion Children of God, the energetic rhythms and wall of sound carry a theatrical feel. The anthemic chorus is deeply resonates as the soundscape is all-encompassing. The album ends with the haunting sounds of ocean waves, nature and droning horns, ending Lightwork where it began.

Lightwork is an intriguing collection of tranquil and melancholy moods. Chaos ensues and the gloom succeeds in permeating at times, but the central focus of calm is a throughline that is maintained across the album. Devin Townsend explores the human condition in that indescribable shared moment in time in a manner acknowledges the hardship while still grasping onto the light.

For fans of: Haken, Leprous, Voyager

‘Lightwork’ by Devin Townsend is released on 4th November on Hevy Devy Records / InsideOutMusic.

Words by Holly Royle

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