Devin Townsend - Lightwork: "Glorious!"

Canadian maverick swaps heavy riffs for synths and strings

Devin Townsend - Lightwork cover art
(Image: © InsideOut)

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Born from material that Devin Townsend wrote during the pandemic, Lightwork finds him in a reflective, optimistic mood. Unusually, the one-man prog powerhouse brought in a co-producer for the album in the form of GGGarth Richardson, whose credits include Rage Against The Machine, Melvins and Biffy Clyro. The result of their collaboration isn’t what might be expected given Richardson’s extensive background in heavy rock. Lightwork builds on the direction Townsend pointed towards on Empath, with less emphasis on mammoth guitar riffs and venturing into the territory of progressive pop. 

Sonically, Townsend maintains his trademark wall of sound, like a proggy version of Phil Spector minus the evil undercurrent. It’s a huge, deep mix, with instruments layered upon each other measured in fathoms, big, punchy drums, and vast swathes of strings and synthesisers. The opening Moonpeople establishes the vibe, with Townsend touching on falsetto with his vocals, a cheerfully catchy chorus hook, and lyrics that introduce the album’s themes about self-discovery and coming out of the darkness, metaphorically addressing all the uncertainties of the pandemic. 

Lightworker has hints of the musical theatre of Why? from Empath, with a monster chorus and production expertly designed to bowl the listener over. It feels guaranteed to be an absolute behemoth live. There are several moments when the album brings to mind the style of Tears For Fears and in tracks like Equinox and Call Of The Void, Townsend even sounds like Curt Smith, although some distorted singing serves to underline his metal roots. If not for the occasional screamed vocals, Equinox could fit on The Seeds Of Love, the songwriting is that strong and the production suitably lavish. Call Of The Void is reassuringly hopeful, Townsend, urging the listener not to freak out: ‘Because when you feel the world’s insane, relax!’ Vacation is a mellow slice of sunshine as Townsend opines about longing to get away from it all. 

Dimensions adds an industrial edge to the album with its NIN-style pulsing synths and machine-like drumbeat and the album closes with the expansive Children Of God, which brings back the prog pop aesthetic. Lightwork may be the closest that Townsend has come to a conventional set of songs, and it’s almost a shock to hear the mind behind Ziltoid The Omniscient offering the world a musical hug, but being unanticipated doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The final sound on the album is a lighthouse’s lonesome foghorn, calling the listener home, guiding them out of the dark and into the light. Glorious. 

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After starting his writing career covering the unforgiving world of MMA, David moved into music journalism at Rhythm magazine, interviewing legends of the drum kit including Ginger Baker and Neil Peart. A regular contributor to Prog, he’s written for Metal Hammer, The Blues, Country Music Magazine and more. The author of Chasing Dragons: An Introduction To The Martial Arts Film, David shares his thoughts on kung fu movies in essays and videos for 88 Films, Arrow Films, and Eureka Entertainment. He firmly believes Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years is the tuniest tune ever tuned.