Devin Townsend – Lightwork Review

I’m a Devin Townsend fan. I first encountered his music when I was a fledgling metalhead and Synchestra was released, and I quickly latched onto the man’s back catalog, of which I still consider Ocean Machine, Infinity and Terria stone cold classics. But that doesn’t mean I love everything Devin has done. Z2 left me cold, and despite the critical acclaim, I never could get into Transcendence or his Casualties of Cool project. On the other hand, I vehemently defended the swimming pool-sized kitchen sink that was Empath. Since the production process of that monstrosity was understandably nightmarish, Devin announced that Lightwork would be a light, simple and poppy affair. That did not necessarily worry me; he’s done poppy before, and Addicted! was by all means an excellent and rather unique album. Did he pull the same trick off again?

Well… no. Nor does he try, because Lightwork is nothing like the hyper-pop of Addicted!, nor anything else he’s done. By and large, this is Devin doing indie rock. He sneaks in a few heavier chords or screams here and there, and “Dimensions” is a brief return to the fold, but overall, light simple and poppy is what was promised and it is exactly what was delivered. The pacing is firmly locked in place, the drums content with variations on basic kick-snare-kick-snare rhythms. An abundance of choral arrangements and sparkly layers of synths add a gospel-like flavor, with Devin’s own soaring operatic vocals the central focus, with the guitars taking a back seat with simple chug-a-thon riffs, occasionally providing a leading lick for variety’s sake.

The problem is that Devin doesn’t seem to know how to make this template interesting. The closer he sticks to it, the less enticing the track becomes. This becomes clear early on, as the album slogs through four subpar tracks before anything interesting begins to happen. Of these, “Lightworker” is the least offensive, with a more effective grand-to-quiet dynamic than the surrounding tracks and a chorus with some heft to it. But the others are downright insipid, and “Call of the Void” is a complete swing-and-miss with its overbearing repetition and awful lyrics.1 The middle picks up momentarily, but the album finishes as weak as it started, with the super-twee “Vacation” and the unending repetitive gospel of “Children of God.” All of these have practically the exact same rhythms for their entire running time, making for a maddening monotonous march of mawkishness.

But there’s yet evidence that the concept has merit. When the trickery box is opened wide and the weirdness comes to play, the entertainment factor jumps up right away. “Heartbreaker” adds a dash of syncopation, an odd array of synth effects and a jumble of vocals to stay unpredictable despite remaining a low-key affair. The higher energy of “Celestial Signals” makes it altogether more effective, and despite its overly cutesy nature, the big bucket of quirk dumped on “Heavy Burden” works in its favor, and it develops in rather more adventurous directions than anything in the opening quartet. “Dimensions” is the oddest duck of the bunch, especially as the album’s centerpiece. In the midst of a record so relentlessly pleasant it gives me heartburn, here’s a burst of dark semi-industrial metal with haunting half-screamed vocals and atonal guitar solos. On the one hand, it is a welcome bit of variety in an album that has it in short supply. On the other hand, it fits the album like a kid’s glove on an adult foot.

On the whole, despite a few tracks worth perusing, Lightwork is a dud in my book. I hate using the word ‘boring’: in the vast majority of cases, it’s merely a device to dismiss a piece of art or media without making any effort to understand or immerse oneself in it. But most of Lightwork is so predictable, repetitive, and monotonous that I find myself dangerously agreeable to its use. The midsection works hard to avoid this fate, but the interesting moments find themselves outnumbered by the dull. Among the difficult to translate words in the Dutch language is the term ‘gezapig,’ a kind of vaguely apathetic sluggishness, and it fits this album to a T. Devin Townsend is a man of many talents. Making toned-down indie rock is not one of them.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: InsideOut Music
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 4th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. I wouldn’t categorize him as a great lyricist but he’s ordinarily passable at least, whereas the chorus here completely hinges on the utter inanity of ‘Cause when you see the world’s insane reaction… the worst reaction is to freak out, so don’t you freak out.’ Wow, thanks Devin, I’m cured.
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