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Prog metal genius Devin Townsend returns with his newest studio album Lightwork, providing a post-pandemic catharsis via accessible pop-infused tunes. Lightwork’s tone is set with the mechanical but catchy Moonpeople, it's eerily chaotic synths battle with a straightforward lightly driven chugging guitar and drums, complimented by hooky melodic vocals, developing a breezy but reflective attitude which permeates the album.

This leads into familiar Townsend territory with the positive stadium rock boastfulness of Lightworker. Its waltz time immediately delivers punching enunciated guitars entering flowing acoustic introspection. This song wouldn’t feel out of place on Townsend’s previous albums such as Synchestra or Epicloud and it emotionally culminates in an authoritative descending bridge, utilising the low-end guitars to maximum effect with his powerful fry vocal screaming.

Equinox has all the upbeat background pop qualities of an Owl City song, whilst catchy arpeggios focus the melody in a rich hybrid of low-key electronica and Animals as Leaders style precision, as Townsend’s mastery of vocal hooks imbues the track like a spiritual enema.

This blends seamlessly into an album high point Call of the Void, a song with an anchor melody whose calming 80’s soft rock flow coupled with a chugging methodical train-like guitar create an awesome sense of landscape and movement. Lyrically, Call of the Void is the album’s thematic highlight with the catchy chorus “Cause when you feel the world’s insane reaction / To follow your heart the worst reaction is to freak out.” Townsend implores the listener with permission to embrace the feelings of confusion, uncertainty and helplessness brought on by the pandemic years, and provides a safe space to decode the anxiety of it all and take a step back. He knows it’s been a fucked up experience, we know it’s been a fucked up experience, and that’s ok.

The album takes a sharp turn bursting into the dense prog-beast Heartbreaker, clocking in at just under 7 minutes fans of Townsend’s more complex work shouldn’t be disappointed with its quirky off-time riffage, building on some of the more technically complex elements he teased on his previous album Empath, but ultimately doesn’t feel quite as focussed.

Dimensions is a rare example of Townsend dabbling in pure industrial metal, delivering pounding mechanical guitars and harmonics with synth overlays and heavily augmented vocals. This track has the familiarity of early Static-X output, but soon reverts to familiar melodies, an off-piste guitar solo and choral wall. Dimensions is catchy but with a malevolent undercurrent culminating in cacophony.

Fans of a previous album Transcendence will recognise the bombastic stadium rock track Celestial Signals as Townsend once again takes a turn at re-recording his own material. The production of this song seems slicker and more oxygenated than the original version, dripping with layered vocal hooks slathered in reverb and seems well-placed in Lightwork, ending with a beautiful palate cleansing piano-synth combo.

The feminine Heavy Burden draws on flavours of Pogo and Massive Attack. A layered and bouncy song embracing its electronic elements to full potential, vocal alteration and joyful stomping industrial accentuations. Whilst Vacation consciously offers some much-needed downtime with an easy listening Americana-style ballad, a perfect canvas to show off Townsend’s more delicate vocal offerings.

The album culminates in the soul-enriching 10-minute closer Children of God. Cathartic and soaked in reverb, its dream-like ethereal quality provides a landscape to reflect on the mixed tonal and contextual experiences of the album, as well as the collective personal experiences of a world surviving a hugely turbulent period. Lightwork is Townsend at his most mature and reflective, it stands a symbol of collective hope and survival, providing an outlet to confront, analyse and ultimately move forward.

Lightwork is released via InsideOut Music

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