Devin Townsend Project: z2 review

1994: Brendan Fraser posed a simple question to Harold Ramis – who would win in a wrestling match: Lemmy or God? Ramis of course, thinking he’d worked out what was going on, answered with what seemed the logical answer – Lemmy – to which Steve Buscemi responded: “wrong, dickhead, trick question. Lemmy *IS* God”.  That statement has always struck me – Lemmy certainly has something going for him, however fast forward to 2014 and I’m afraid he’s been replaced… …Devin Townsend is in charge, and his right hand (omniscient) being, Ziltoid, has come back with him for the second coming. Cryptically (or not) entitled Z2, the upcoming offering from The Devin Townsend Project has been a long time in the planning, and given the success of 2012’s Epicloud (I mean come on! That album was pretty much flawless from start to finish, and even delved into the world of pop music on tracks like Save Our Now), has a lot to live up to. Luckily for us, the hours have been put in to make sure this album is “up to scratch” – Devin himself has been talking of this album since 2009, as a follow up to his 2007 solo-album – Ziltoid The Omniscient……and here we are, 5 years down the line, and the album is finally about to see the light of day. So what of it? Well…let’s start at the beginning – from the moment Rejoice kicks things off on CD1 (Sky Blue), there’s no mistaking that this is a Devin Townsend record – the guitar work drips with his smooth and flowing technique, the vocals are as haunting as you would expect, and the depth of the music is simply phenomenal. Throughout the track (and album…), chunky riffs combine with pummelling drums and that incredible vocal range Devin has, accompanying the angelic tones of Anneke Van Giersbergen, forming a sound that you don’t hear, you feel. This is what has always struck me about the music that Devin Townsend creates – whether it be the seriously heavy stuff he does or the more laid back, ballad like tracks – they always have a sense of feeling within them, something which allows the listener to connect, understand and embrace what they’re hearing, and it’s no different here. Strikingly powerful from the word go, tracks such as Fallout offer an almost operatic sense of power, indulging the listener in a near classical experience whilst still grasping firmly onto a progressive sense of power. Likewise, Midnight Sun offers up a guitar solo akin to that found on Deep Peace, embracing a classical approach to the guitar whilst firmly rooting the sound in a further progressive and rock driven sound – if you really sit back and break the tracks apart it becomes mind-blowing. I guess that’s really the point here, the whole of CD1 (Sky Blue) is quite frankly astonishing – with not a single track sounding out of place or less well put together than the previous one. I’ve never come across perfection in an album, but speaking honestly and from the heart, even after 6 full listens to this album, I cannot find a single fault anywhere on it – with even the “pop” like elements of Universal Flame, the softened moments of title track, Sky Blue, and the quite simply phenomenally huge sounds of Before We Die, all working together in perfect harmony – despite their very obviously different musical approaches. THIS is his masterpiece, his Mona Lisa, his White Album, his moment of triumph: this is THE album that we’ve been waiting for, and it’s even better than I expected. But what of CD2 (Dark Matters) though? The opening moments of Z2 does not really give a lot away, but what they do make clear is that this is a Ziltoid album, and it’s going to be a hell of a ride. Immediately launching into being with rolling drum work, hammering guitar lines, spoken word and an angelic backing vocal set up that transports you to the feet of Ziltoid himself, introducing the omniscient being properly with a child questioning whether he really is here – before unleashing From Sleep Awake and Ziltoidian Empire to fully get things going. Charting the tale of Ziltoid The Omniscient, the War Princess (and her missing Poozer), the Planet Smasher and Captain Spectacular along with the expected references to coffee, the album acts as a full on opera, leading the listener through the tale, with each track adding further to the story and keeping you intrigued as to what is going to happen next. Whether it be the hauntingly beautiful War Princess, the more familiarly heavy Deathray, or the equally expected comedic moments of March Of The Poozers, one again Devin has managed to craft something that doesn’t just tell a story, it paints a picture and entertains from start to finish. Musically diverse and packed with story lines to keep the listener informed of what’s going on, it’s a clever balance between spoken word and progressively styled musical accompaniment. Regardless of the story (which I’m not about to ruin here – but it’s a good one!), Dark Matters is another triumph in all senses, with tracks like Earth and Dimension Z demonstrating the serious level of musical understanding that Devin has, and others such as Through The Wormhole revealing his equally as balanced sense of humour.  It’s almost sad then when Dimension Z signals the end of the album, bringing to a close something spectacular, something epic, and something which, given how the final closing moments leave us, will hopefully be returned to, to be concluded sometime soon in the future. Having been aware of Devin Townsend since the Strapping Young Lad days, and having seen him perform with SYL and The Devin Townsend Project, I can speak from experience when I say that this man is an artist, and one who appreciates every single person who takes the time to listen to what he does (you only need watch him at shows speaking to fans or getting them on stage, or look at some of the things he did to raise money for his Casualties of Cool release such as Happy Birthday messages and the like), and here, this comes through in his music. This album is 100% dedicated to the fans, 100% a demonstration of what Devin Townsend loves doing, and 100% a musical realisation of one hell of an idea – an idea that simply put, you can’t afford not to listen to. Highly recommended doesn\’t get close enough:  10/10. Release Date: 27th October 2014 Words: Dave Nicholls