THIS WEEK I’M LISTENING TO...DEVIN TOWNSEND Devolution Series #3 Empath Live In America (InsideOut Music)THIS WEEK I’M LISTENING TO...DEVIN TOWNSEND Devolution Series #3 Empath Live In America (InsideOut Music)

When multi-instrumentalist and all-round polymath Devin Townsend started the Devolution Series he referred to it as “a grouping of oddities and interesting material that I would like people to hear, but don’t necessarily want to present as a ‘major release’.” So, following on from the self-explanatory ‘Acoustically Inclined – Live In Leeds’ and ‘Galactic Quarantine’ (the audio and visuals of a virtual gig originally streamed in September 2020 in place of the pandemically-wrecked ‘Empath’ tour), this third outing in the series presents a representative show from the few gigs that did actually take place in the first quarter of 2020 before Covid hit home. Backing Townsend is what the guitarist/frontman calls “a stripped back version of the ‘Order Of Magnitude’ band (without choir and a few other members…)... Therefore, this tour marked a ‘free form’ version of the material. There were no backing tracks, click tracks, or even a setlist, so every night was unique and different. The audience yelled out requests and we just rolled with it. The material was therefore interpreted in unique ways and the experience was a very special ‘fly by the seat of our pants’ musical night.”


photo credit: Wessel de Groot

For someone like Townsend and his musicians (Mike Keneally, Nathan Navarro, Diego Tejeida, Morgan Ågren & Ché Aimee Dorval) though, these are the conditions that make him and his music come alive. Songs like the wildly energetic ‘Hyperdrive’ with its almost Sister Of Mercy groove and effervescent riffing or the dense ‘Love’ (with its enthusiastic audience response and, OK, slight fluff at one point) still sound in the main tight and controlled, while the ably-named ‘Fuck Around Section’ meanwhile shows that they’re happy to go with the flow and hope the wheels do actually stay on. Amidst the mayhem, the early pre-lockdown days – and Townsend’s humour – are reflected in his early comments about how to respond to social media posts that everyone was going to die: “I figure you listen to metal, and try and have some good meals, and tell your mum you love her, and drink lots of water...” Chris Whitty it is not!


Townsend has never been ‘easy listening’; some of his music can be quite challenging, and if you don’t get him now this album won’t change your mind. But that’s not the point. It’s a great live snapshot of him and his band having a blast onstage. As a true maverick Townsend treads his own path, and his music is all the better for it.

Video clips:
‘Forgive Me’ –

‘Evermore’ -

© John Tucker August 2023