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Devin Townsend - Z CD (album) cover


Devin Townsend


Experimental/Post Metal

3.75 | 152 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The original Ziltoid album, "Ziltoid the Omniscient" was a one-man show. Devin Townsend recorded the whole thing at home, playing all instruments except for drums, for which he used Drum Kit from Hell to program the drums. He did nearly all the voices: vocals, Ziltoid and his crew, Captain Spectacular, narrator, Planet Smasher and others. There are only two other names credited as guests (one called The Beav) who provided a small contribution. The story was wacky, cheesy, silly. The music sincere, loud, fun, and sometimes really good. Whether you liked it or not, it was an album that showed what one person's imagination could do and get away with. It was crazy. It was cool because it was so crazy.

"Zed Squared", as it is called (written as Z to the power of 2), is the sequel, and like many sequels to original movies, the budget was way bigger this time. No longer a one- man show, this album features a band, a choir, and an orchestra along with guests playing the main characters (Chris Jericho as Captain Spectacular, Dominique Lenore Persi as Blataria the War Princess, and famous broadcaster Bill Courage as the narrator). You could compare the two albums to "Terminator" and "T2" for budget or "Alien" and "Aliens" for a boost in the cast. The album is big and loud, the story cheesier and sillier, the music over the top, and the voices and sound effects will make you feel like some 50's B sci-fi movie has been remade into a heavy metal musical.

Devin himself has stated in interviews that even he can't say what the true meaning behind it all is. He won't know for a while. For now, more than anything, he hopes that someday in the future people will look back on this album and think that it was incredible that anyone could do this. Not just him. This entire project with so many people involved to make the vision come true. About the story he has also said that many ideas were given to him by children and that he sucks at writing stories. But he loves theater and entertainment and puppets ("The Dark Crystal" left an indelible mark on him as a child) and he really wanted this to be a huge production. In fact, it was so demanding that numerous times he wanted to just quit. But he didn't and that's one big reason why he's so proud of it. In addition, the schools were on strike while he was working on wrapping up the album and kids were tearing up the place.

Keeping the big impossible production theme in mind, you'll find that the story and voices drive the album along as much as or perhaps even more than the music. I find myself paying more attention to the story and voice acting than many of the songs. Bill Courage is excellent and a familiar voice to me, having grown up in Canada with Bill's voice often on television programs. Some of the lines in the script are so silly and Bill hits the delivery right on. There is so much that is clich in this story and so much ham, cheese, and corn that you'll wish you had some bread to go with it except that Devin spent all the bread on making an animatronic Ziltoid puppet (search for Ziltoid ZTV on YouTube).

As everything is so big and loud, I find that my visual impression of the music is not of a 3-D array of instruments and voices where I can move between the sounds and pick out the individual instruments but rather like a wall with a raised-relief surface in which the instruments are carved. It can be a little too solid, dense, and massive at times. If you can get past the theatrical aspects, there are song great songs here. I really like "War Princess" and the catchier single, "Death Ray", which is full of clichs both in composition style and voice acting lines. It is so brilliant like that though, and I love it! "People of Earth! We are your Poozonian overlords. You cannot run. Resistance is futile. Hand over your coffee!"

If there are any real disappoints for me, they are in changes made to the story. In particular, after so much was made about the Planet Smasher (a.k.a. Herman) coming to earth, it was a let down to hear him described as being a cute furry little creature the size of a football, whose voice could destroy entire galaxies. In the CD booklet that came with "Ziltoid the Omniscient", the Planet Smasher is said to be so huge that he can't help but destroy planets when he moves about. But perhaps in his sixth dimensional nature he is as such. In his three dimensional form his only appears to be so small and cuddly. There are a few other small misses in attention to scientific and language detail that irk me a touch but I can let them go. In the end I think the album really is an incredible product. However, Devin warns us not to say that you love it or you hate it so soon. It'll take time before any of us can really understand what it really is. Well, for me it's more than an album of songs. It is an audio movie, or like those old radio dramas.

I purchased the limited edition, 3 CD set in the digipak with the extra artwork and it really looks spectacular. One disc is the Ziltoid disc without the between-song dialogue and most of the narration. As some of the songs contain music meant to be background music for the narration and dialogues, the extended instrumental sections that don't move anywhere can seem to drag on. Listening to the album proper is actually more entertaining and enjoyable in those moments. But because the dialogue is removed between songs, it's possible to enjoy just the songs themselves.

The third disc, which is actually the first disc, is the sixth installment in the Devin Townsend Project series, called "Sky Blue". The music here is very poppy until near the end but with the loud guitars and wall of sound that you'd expect from Mr. Townsend. Most of the music is not particularly complex but the melodies are very catchy and beautiful and Anneke van Giersbergen from the DTP album "Addicted" is back. The combination of her vocals with Devin's make the music sometimes sound like Enya meets melodic pop metal turned full blast. I'm enjoying "Sky Blue" quite a bit and have picked out a few favourite tracks already despite the heavy pop flavour (or perhaps because of?). Devin warns though that the songs are not so cheerful like those on "Epicloud". Prior to writing the songs, some people he knew passed away and his cat was eaten. But I find the songs are infused with hope. One line in "Universal Flame" optimistically claims, "Look for hope and it will find you," and the song ends with "The sun will rise again." Having recently acquired "Ghost" I think there are some elements of "Ghost" in the music here with the loud pop of "Epicloud".

Upon repeat listens, I can get used to the wall of sound if I listen from start to finish; however, when listening to a mixed playlist of Devin's music, "Sky Blue" sounds too dense even when compared to "Addicted" or Strapping Young Lad. I really feel that there are some beautiful melodies that are carried not as a stream of individual notes but a nebula of coloured sound with the flow of notes somewhere inside. When the album turns more atmospheric near the end it seems that even subtly has been pumped up to 10!

Overall quite a lot of music to digest but enjoyable. Perhaps I just have to get used to the massive sound that Devin likes to use. I give three stars to "Sky Blue" only because the music is simpler and four to "Ziltoid Dark Matters". The Ziltoid album has more complex music in places, and with the choir and orchestra Devin has really put something remarkable together. I can think of no other album quite like it, though at times I am reminded of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show".

FragileKings | 4/5 |


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