Thursday, October 30, 2014

Devin Townsend Project - Z² (2014) Part 2: Dark Matters

Disc 2 of "Z²" is the official follow up to the fantastic 2007 release "Ziltoid The Omniscient". For those of you who do not remember, that album was a concept album about a green, lizard like alien that started to invade Earth when he was served some fetid coffee, but was stopped when it came out that he was a nerd, and a puppet. In the end, it was all a dream from the mind of a sleepy barista (sorry for the spoiler), so it was easy to assume that we would not see Ziltoid any more, at least not in another album. But here we are now, 7 years after the release of the original, seeing Ziltoid being brought back to life with a new album, a TV show, a radio show, a coming comic book and a huge concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London next year. Who would have seen that coming? Well, maybe the omnidimensional creator.

So what is the story in "Dark Matters"? The story begins where Ziltoid is given a mission by the Ziltoidian Collective to investigate planet Earth to see if it could be the future home for the Ziltoidian race. He is also set to gather more data about a stimulant that the humans consume, but does not know of its hidden powers. And that stimulant is, of course, coffee. To do so, he has become a celebrity to the humans through music and being an alien. After all, he is a 4th dimensional guitar hero. Ziltoid has also made a visit to the planet Titan, where he has come across a race known as the Poozers, small creatures that are children to Blataria, the War Princess (played by Stolen Babies singer Dominique Lenore Persi). After hearing that one of her children were stolen by Ziltoid, she decides to gather her Poozer army, and invade Earth herself and take all of the coffee. Not the story I expected, but it is still interesting, and definitely more well thought out than the story line on the first Ziltoid record.

Now, there are two versions of "Dark Matters" that is available. One CD with dialogues, and one without. Frankly, I prefer the so called raw version because the dialogues are taking up too much space, acting like it is the main show instead of the music. One reason to why the original Ziltoid was so successful is that there was minimal dialogue, and the little dialogue that existed was in between the tracks. In other words, it was the music that was the focal point, which is not the case in "Dark Matters". Even if they take up lots of unnecessary space, the dialogues are telling the story pretty well. I especially like the narrator Bill Courage who gives the album a classic "War of The Worlds" touch. Other voice actors in this album are former wrestler and current Fozzy vocalist Chris Jericho as Captain Spectacular, Mark Cimino as a Poozer, and Chris Devitt as the Planet Smasher, also known as Herman.

"Dark Matters" has a lot of influences from previous Devin Townsend efforts, which does not surprise me one bit. What really surprise me though is that there is not many similarities between this album and the original Ziltoid. The original had that special sound that really fits the alien space theme, while this album feels like "Epicloud" in an astronaut suit. And most of the heavy stuff has more resemblance to "Deconstruction" than "Ziltoid The Omniscient" (there is also some SYL moments in this album). So for those of you who expected a new "Solar Winds", "Color Your World", or "Hyperdrive", you might get dissapointed. The only track that makes you think back to the original Ziltoid record is "Deathray", a song that represents the invasion of Earth. Musically speaking, it may no have much in common with the track "Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!", but the lyrics in the songs are about the same thing, except that it is the Poozers that attack in "Deathray". It is groovy as hell and is one of few songs that has a normal song structure, and it certainly has grown since I first heard it. Definitely one of the better songs in this album, despite its weird lyrics.

There are several other highlights in this album that one must check out. The heavy "Ziltoid Goes Home" blends the classic "City" groove from the SYL age with epic choirs. I did not know that Devin still had it in him to write that kind of music, and I love it. "Ziltoidian Empire" impresses with an irresistible groove that is both weird and humorous, especially when you follow the story line. I can see before me the small Poozer flying through space with the "hede-hede-ya-ah hede-yah" in the background. We also get an amazing performance from Persi in the track "War Princess". I definitely see why Devin chose her to play this role since her vocals fits so well with the War Princess's personality. I also love the apocalyptic "March of The Poozers", the later half of "Earth" and the epic "Dimension Z", the only one out of the three tracks in "Z²" that uses the Universal Choir in the right way.

I can honestly say that "Dark Matters" is the follow up album that Ziltoid deserves. The funny story line has a couple of things that fans of the first Ziltoid record will recognize, but enough new stuff to make it feel new and fresh. The music could have been better structured, but something tells me that this album was not as close to the heart of Devin as "Sky Blue" was. It feels kind of forced, like Devin was pressured to come up with this to please his fans. You do not need to do that Devin, we will still love you as much as the Poozers love the War Princess. Just do what feels good to you, and let the music do the talking.

The final question though is if this is the end of Ziltoid The Omniscient? I am sure that this is the last new musical material we will see him in, but evil aliens always has a way to come back in one way or another. We just have to wait and see, and enjoy the little things around us, like coffee, the sun, and of course, this album.

Songs worthy of recognition: Ziltoid Goes Home, Ziltoidian Empire, March of The Poozers, Dimension Z


All in all, "Z²" does not quite live up to my inhumanly high expectations, but that does not mean that Devin bit off more than he could chew. Both albums are great creations and I like the fact that they are so different from each other, like two polar opposites. I simply cannot pick a favourite out of the two because they excel in different ways. "Sky Blue" feels more down to Earth and closer to what Devin wants to do, while "Dark Matters" impress with the funny and interesting concept. Together they create a fantastic double album that is just another proof of Devin's vast musical mind. The man never seems to run out of ideas. The project is not at its final destination yet, but the highlight is now behind us, and all we can do is just enjoy the ride and remember the wonderful music. Next stop, the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Ziltoid musical. Prepare your finest coffee.

Rating: 8,5/10 Earths

Part 1

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