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Devin Townsend - "Z²" (CD)

Devin Townsend - "Z²" CD cover image

"Z²" track listing:

DISC 1 - The Devin Townsend Project, "Sky Blue"
1. Rejoice
2. Fallout
3. Midnight Sun
4. A New Reign
5. Universal Flame
6. Warrior
7. Sky Blue
8. Silent Militia
9. Rain City
10. Forever
11. Before We Die
12. The Ones Who Love

DISC 2 - "Ziltoid The Omniscient - Z2: Dark Matters"
1. Z2
2. From Sleep Awake
3. Ziltoidian Empire
4. War Princess
5. Deathray
6. March of the Poozers
7. Wandering Eye
8. Earth
9. Ziltoid Goes Home
10. Through The Wormhole
11. Dimension Z

Reviewed by on October 20, 2014

"...Townsend and crew have done the improbable: given depth to a puppet, legitimacy to Broadway-esque counterpoint within a heavy metal framework, and completely surpassed the first album by leaps and bounds -- with tongue firmly in cheek."

If you've been listening to Devin Townsend at all over the last decade, you should be no stranger to hyperbole. Critics and fans alike cannot get enough of him and he's been burning the candle at both ends at a frantic pace to bring more music into the world, much like the late Frank Zappa before him. His creative output has eclipsed 14 albums as well as 3 live DVDs, one of which contained four concerts where his quadrilogy was performed in its entirety, in only the span of ten years alongside touring the world. The size of his productions are grand and free of redundancy, chronicling his artistic evolution from creative madman to respected renegade. That all being said, the hyperbole surrounding him really isn't hyperbole at this point: it's all justified.

Originally, Townsend created the story and music of "Ziltoid The Omniscient" in 2007 as an attempt to deal with his emotions surrounding fatherhood, sobriety, and the fallout from Strapping Young Lad. Also originally a one-man project in its entirety, its scope exceeded that of most full-band productions. Its content was highly praised and many folks called for a sequel, impressed by the antics of Ziltoid the puppet and the quirky storytelling about a goofy alien with a bit of a Napoleon complex in pursuit of the finest coffee in existence. Thus, the idea of Z2 was born after Townsend purged himself of 6 other albums and 2 massive live DVDs and sat down with his thoughts of the Ziltoid storyline.

The first disc of the follow-up, "Z2," however, has nothing ostensibly to do with the Ziltoid storyline. In continuing the train of thought behind the recent "Epicloud" record, Townsend and his crew in The Devin Townsend Project bring us "Sky Blue," a mesmerizing record more meditative than its predecessor, but also more intricate. The amount of choral work backing the metal madness is enough to make famed choral composer Eric Whitacre eat his heart out, including contributions from ~2,000 fans who submitted recordings of themselves singing the same lines together in a "universal choir." The staggering beauty behind the album is perfectly summed up by the emotion in the artwork: a young boy in a field with a telescope, pointing up at the heavens, full of awe and eager curiosity.

Themes of struggling with life and death, perseverance, and optimism run wild on this album, bringing with them the energy of "Epicloud," as well as the overwhelming need to shout one's love once again. The album starts with "Rejoice," and re-introduces the wonderful vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen before Townsend's vocals kick in. When he does come in, his range spans his trademark fiery melodic yells, his layers of full and warm clean singing, and his vibrato-heavy Broadway-style leads.

Most of the songs turn out anthemic lines, with "Fallout" and "Universal Flame" having particularly huge and impassioned examples of this. "Midnight Sun" is a bit of a throwback to early Devin Townsend Band days, while "Sky Blue" moves forward in new energetic pop style and is jam-packed with synthesizers. "Silent Militia" drives like a marching war song while "Warrior" intricately jabs much like the songs on "Terria" or "Synchestra." The entire album is awash in his trademark vocal and instrumental reverb, itself a character in the band, lending lightness and air. The disc ends on a pastoral choral song, gently leaving us in suspense for the next disc.

The next disc is where the Ziltoid story picks up at: Z2. In radio-drama style, a goofy and eerie melodic narrator bring us into a story-circle, introducing us to the very real Ziltoid The Omniscient character, whom we all thought was just a figment of our imagination at the conclusion of the first record. The universal choir does an excellent job of bringing the story to its head. The story is a big part of the intrigue of this album, so I will refrain from ruining the storyline for listeners here, instead commenting on the songs themselves. This second Ziltoid story is amped up in size from the first in every way imaginable: size (entire choirs!), non-programmed drums, guest musicians, impressive musicianship (this stuff is TOUGH to play!), and scope (multiple universes/dimensions and introducing: the Ziltoid collective!).

"From Sleep Awake" almost sounds like it could've gone on "Sky Blue," but fits the storyline. "Ziltoidian Empire" establishes the prominence of unexpected and awe-inducing melodic changes to imply grandeur. Townsend's adapting of his music to the backgrounds of the narrative in points of character conversations is expertly done and classic in feel. Themes are established that span coordinated choral chanting and playful back-and-forth between instruments and vocals. "War Princess" is huge and utilizes the fantastic talents of Dominique Persi of Stolen Babies as the voice of Queen Blutaria of planet Titan, the war princess, enraged but refined in a "classy Disney villain" style. Chris Jericho also guests on the album as the character of Captain Spectacular, while Townsend reprises his role as the voice of our beloved protagonist, Ziltoid.

A true sci-fi masterpiece, like a musical Orson Welles radio show, "Dark Matters" has no weak points and both starts and finishes strong, with a surprise twist thrown in for listeners in the final minutes. In short, Townsend and crew have done the improbable: given depth to a puppet, legitimacy to Broadway-esque counterpoint within a heavy metal framework, and completely surpassed the first album by leaps and bounds -- with tongue firmly in cheek. This is an album for the ages, folks. Yeeeeessssss, indeeeeeed!

Highs: The double-album is so deep and large in scope that it begs a double-take.

Lows: Chris Jericho's voice acting could be better.

Bottom line: A wonderfully eclectic progressive metal concept double-album for the ages.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)