Devin Townsend's Ziltoid 2 (Sky Blue/Dark Matters)
Release Date: October 27th, 2014
Genre: Progressive Metal, Musical Comedy
I will be completely honest here, I was never really a big fan of Devin Townsend, a man widely regarded as one of the most influential and musically intriguing minds in Metal, if not all music, in the past couple decades. He has a very colorful musical career, from his early days playing with renowned guitarist Steve Vai to his founding of Strapping Young Lad to his work today, which includes the Progressive Metal album we will be talking about and a Country Rock album called Casualties of Cool, also released this year. My first real experience with Townsend, aside from various songs here and there, is the Causalities of Cool album, which you'll notice is not the album I am discussing in this review. That is because I hated that album, thought it was dull, uninspired and just overall uninteresting. Some diehard Townsend fans may argue with me on that point of view, as may some country rock fans, but that's just what I got from that album, and that left a bad viewpoint on Townsend ingrained in my mind, something that I still had when I picked up this double album, hearing that it was more Metal and interesting than the Casualties of Cool train wreck. My opinion of him did a complete 180 after hearing this, and now I am going back through his solo discography and finding even more that I like that I am surprised I never considered before. Since this album is in fact a double album, I will be discussing both parts semi-separately.
Let us first start with the first part of the album, Sky Blue, and reveal some background on this album, before we dive into it. Devin Townsend is a very interesting artist that is not consigned with picking a certain style of music and playing that over and over again, as seen previously by his release of Casualties. Hence, he can easily be given the label of Progressive Metal, which is more or less defined as the mixing of several genres and taking leaps of faith to try new things. Thus, this album mixes many different styles and draws influence from a lot of peculiar sources, even taking influence from a song by Usher and the 80's song "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)" by Dead or Alive. Every song you listen to as you peruse the album then is a completely different experience than the previous one, giving each and every track its own identity while at the same time retaining similar elements, such as the semi "Beauty and the Beat" style of vocals between Townsend and guest vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen, former vocalist of The Gathering and one of three members of The Sirens.
The album is split about half-way between fun, energetic metal tracks and slower, ballad-type songs, most of which appear in the last half of the album. If you've been paying attention to any of my previous posts, then you know I am a huge fan of the metal that gets you off your ass and makes you move and groove to the beat, so I am far more partial to the energetic half of Sky Blue, but that does not retract from how good the ballads are, or even the more melodic tracks that bridge the gap between energetic and ballads, such as "Warrior." From what I have seen though, again remember my limited knowledge of Devin Townsend's full discography, this seems to be a more toned-down album, all things considered, when compared to some of his previous work. Most of the energetic tracks I spoke of previously do not reach far into heavier types of metal and stick closer to a brand of Melodic, Symphonic Hard Rock, though this is still extremely enjoyable. Let's look at my favorite example from Sky Blue:
I simply love the melody of the above song, it is so upbeat and fun and it is a fantastic track to sing along to. In fact, most of the songs in Sky Blue are amazing to sing along to; Townsend and Giersbergen's vocals are so crisp, clear and thrown onto the mainstage that you can't help but want to join them in singing. Now, what the meanings of most of these songs are, I couldn't tell you, but from what I can tell, "Universal Flame" has to do with Love between two people that are separated in some way, the "Flame" being the love that will stay ever lit. But that is just a Theory, a SONG Theory (internet joke). Townsend himself was in charge of about everything on the album, naturally, and did a hell of a job at the production of the album, not centering on his own guitar work and instead creating a plethora of songs that equally include every element available to him, creating a wall of sound, which is something very common in his work, as I can see. The only element that is pushed forward as I said earlier was the vocals, which you would think would glorify Townsend more, but actually Giersbergen is the real star vocalist here, at least in my opinion, as she gets some of the best parts of the songs and although she doesn't show up every minute of every song, she puts on a hell of a performance, particularly in songs like "Fallout" and "Silent Militia."
That's an odd picture for the "Fallout" video... huh, no matter, it's a good song regardless. I don't really have any gripes with Sky Blue, other than the fact that there's a few too many ballads for me, even though they are still good songs, and I think Townsend could have done a better job to tie these songs together lyrically. With all the work he has done with Giersbergen, I really think he could sit down with her and make their own side band, something separate from the Townsend solo work. I mean, since The Gathering split in 2007, she's only been doing guest work really, and I think these two work so well together that an actual serious project between them could work very well. Thoughts? For me, this was my favorite Prog album of the year, which is odd considering last year a third of my list was Prog Metal, and this year this is my only entry in that "genre." Well on that note, let's move on to the other half of Z2, the second album in the Ziltoid Saga, Dark Matters.
Just look at that album cover. If you don't already know that this is going to be a hilarious experience, then I suggest you check your heartbeat, because you are probably already deceased, possibly killed by Ziltoid the Omniscient himself or possibly by the War Princess and her army of terrifying Poozers. When I tell people to listen to this album, which includes anyone with ears, I tell them the following phrase: "It's a comedy-metal album about an Alien who has come to earth because he craves coffee and wraps himself up in an intergalactic war concerning massive deathrays, the cutest planet-destroyer in the universe, and tongue-in cheek twists you would find in a bad soap opera." Seriously. And if you think I am kidding, listen to the album yourself and see how accurate that statement is for yourself. It is a sequel to the 2007 album Ziltoid the Omniscient and continues the story of this hilarious coffee-addicted alien. The first album was great and gets a lot of love from Townsend fans but I have to say that this album is better. Why? The guest vocals, again.
The first album did not have any guest musicians aside from those that were already a part of Devin Townsend's band The Devin Townsend Project but this album, Dark Matters, features a couple of fantastic voices, the best of which easily being Dominique Persi, the fantastic frontwoman of the band Stolen Babies, a band I have been enamored with for years. Unfortunately, we do not get to hear her signature accordion, but we do get a lot of her fantastic vocals, both clean and harsh, primarily on the song "War Princess," an 8-minute epic song that lets Dominique dominate, as she normally does, and Devin to come up with some of the best guitar work on the entire album. The other notable voice is Chris Jericho, former wrestler and singer of the band Fozzy, who voices Captain Spectacular, and a does a, ahem, spectacular job at it. I apologize, but that was too obvious to pass up. In all seriousness, he does a pretty good job, though we don't really get to hear him sing at all, which would have been nice to hear. What is nice to hear is the narration work of Bill Courage, an actor that has a good narration career over the years and does an equally great job here. Basically, this album is the true focus of Z2, and is easily the best part of the double album experience.
The song above is the track I mentioned that features the majority of Dominique's vocals, and is easily one of my favorites from the album because of that fact. It has a nice chanting section and the repetition of Dominique's vocals do a good job of conveying a sense of impending war, of arming a force to go to war and inspiring them/reminding them why they must follow what she says to the letter. Also, I just cannot get over her harsher vocals, particularly when she screams "NOW!" about five minutes into the song, and with the lack of knowledge about when Stolen Babies next album will be recorded and released, I have to take what I can get, which is thankfully very good. A couple of the tracks on Dark Matters, like Sky Blue, draw on varying influences, such as the Melodeath masters Soilwork, who were an inspiration for the song "Ziltoid Goes Home," which is another one of my favorites that lets Townsend mix his harsh and clean vocals in a Melodeath type of style, although with significantly more emphasis on the Melodic side of things, as is expected.
"Ziltoid Goes Home"
Now I will not go further into the lyrics side of things for this album because I do not want to spoil the story for those that plan on listening to it, but I will say that it is worth it, and the payoff in "Through the Wormhole" is well worth it. The spoken-word segments of all the songs are just as well done as the production of the album and always gets laughs out of the listener, particularly from Ziltoid and the Narrator, though they would not get as good of laughs without Dominique and Jericho's contributions. Ziltoid is a great comedic protagonist, The Narrator is a hilarious straight-faced onlooker, Dominique is a fantastic choice for a villain and Jericho, maybe the weakest element, does a good enough job as the Superman-type hero. What is even nicer about this album is that the songs do not have to be listened to one after another and they do a great job at tying in together while at the same time standing strong on their own, particularly "March of the Poozers," "Z2," and the previous two songs. Everything is put together well here and you can tell that Townsend held nothing back when producing and putting this album together, and I am so glad he went even bigger by hiring other voices to give the album more life. Give it a listen if you want a good laugh and a decent storyline, it will not disappoint.
"March of the Poozers"
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