DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT – Z2
- by Andrea Chirulescu
- Posted on 17-11-2014
I recently conducted a phone interview with Devin and due the wonders of modern technology it didn’t get properly saved so it just got lost. And now that I finally received my copy of Z2 (plus it is available on various streaming services), I can’t get some of that chat out of my head each time I hear the album. So I decided to try to write something like an album review, combined with the memories of the dialogue.
One of the first thing that always comes to mind is that Devin admitted that the biggest challenge was that he didn’t give up on finishing the album. I do not have a very creative mind, so I wasn’t sure what he actually meant at that time. But the journey through the album explains it quite easily – it must have been a neverending struggle in finding the right tiny sound that would be the perfect passage between one second and another without disrupting the whole feeling of the song, but rather by enhancing it. The album is a neverending source of such passages and fantastic ways in which the songs seem to differ a bit with every listen. I don’t even think I notice much of the melodies themselves at this point as I always realize what a brilliant idea was to add that repetition there or that drum roll there or that small chorus or that fart sound and so on. I never cease to wonder how a brain can put all these in order, but this must be the result of pure passion and dedication. If you can fight with yourself and the life problems and put together an album like this , with financing from the fans, yes, I’d pretty much call it passion.
‘Sky Blue’ is the name of the first half of the Z2 release and it is ‘signed’ Devin Townsend Project. It’s very Devin’ish if I can call it that. It has the lovely Anneke voice – right from the beginning – and most of the voices one can hear on various Devin albums and projects. A metal(ic) voice, a soft voice, an opera like voice, some growling. Something for everyone. I recall Devin telling me that he loves most when he sing with the clean and melodic voice – and I was about to say you can notice this during his shows, but on a second thought, he is having such a great time on stage that it isn’t that obvious. The first song, Rejoice, is a good intro song to invite you into the Alien world, but I doubt it’s anything else than our own world and how much of a stranger one gets to feel in it. As a parenthesis, since I mentioned aliens, I just read this article few days ago and I think that it might be a good lecture, or actually a walkthrough, showing how Devin has started and moved along his musical path and it might explain some of the oddities on the new Ziltoid release. Or it might not. A nice lecture nevertheless – http://exclaim.ca/Features/Timeline/devin_townsend-alien_among_us
‘Fallout’ is the ‘Hyperdrive’ of this album and the first time I got really struck by the obvious evolution of the music composition and arrangement, while the core of the music makes it an easy to recognise Devin song. I like the elegance of the chorus – quite catchy – and the softness at the end of the song when you are being asked ‘If you could say anything you wanted, what would you say?’ But there’s not much time to give it a deep thought as you go on wondering if your player might have switched to one of the ‘Ki’ or ‘Ghost’ songs, yet again, with a fresh touch, but keeping the display of lovely guitar skills. The song, especially the dreamy chorus, is simply soothing and beautiful, probably just like the midnight sun itself. The dream continues with ‘A new reign’, but expect to be awaken in a brutal manner by a very Strapping Young Lad’ish scream in the middle of the song, and then the choruses are somehow gaining in intensity.
"Universal Flame" is a very catchy song that might get the audience jumping and dancing and it’s a perfect combination of Devin – Anneke dialogue, with both having individual parts and simultaneous chorus contributions. Plus a madly screamed part that, once again, would totally be a concert highlight if ever chosen to play live and it would really rock with the guitar solo that follows after. Bonus, there’s an epic choir at the end – the Universal choir if I’m not mistaken. I remember Devin putting out two videos and asked the fans to record themselves singing the chorus parts and sending the recordings to him. He got few thousands replies. And he promised to use them all. So in the interview he tried to tell me what an easy job this was…NOT. I mean, mixing and synchronising and still keeping some logic in thousands of sound samples at the same point in your song. And actually in two songs (one more coming later). He loved the idea. He hated himself for having the idea. But he loved the result, yet the amount of work behind these few seconds…it’s something beyond words.
‘Warrior’ is a reminder that you were asked about what you’d want to say and asks again if you are actually afraid to say that. Then we arrive to the title song of the album, ‘Sky Blue’ brings a new kind of emotion and pop-electronic beats and elements – echos, synths and maybe more to notice with each new listen. A modern side of Devin I’d say. And then there’s another one of the catchiest tunes on the album – Silent Militia. Maybe the heaviest song on the album, almost messy in the way that it combines the heavy screams with Anneke’s lovely singing, but actually the combination is really catchy. I find myself moving my head/body each time that tunes starts, although the lyrics behind it don’t really seem to be the most uplifting ones. But I will digest them later. After the heavy episode, we are back to calmness and relaxation on the rhythms of ‘Rain City’. I am not sure I like the placement of this song as I somewhat expected the album to increase in intensity, so currently this is the biggest minus I found. But when you’re thinking of all the styles put together on this album and the fact that Devin might have had a lot of left overs from everything to Epicloud to Inifinity, one might understand that they had to be placed somewhere. The end of the song always makes me think that up next is "The Bridge" from Casualties of cool album. Another release from this year…and there you have it. ‘Rain City’ might as well just have been some bits from that album too.
But instead of ‘Casualties of Cool’, it goes on with a very soft and sad song called ‘Forever’ which might easily bring few tears if your mood happens to be down. It might be about immortality but it might as well be about loss. Whatever meanings it might hide, it’s beautiful (except the small horror part before the love declaration). And then the epicness is unleashed one more in ‘Before we die’. That chorus, it gives me chills. Both because of the lyrics and because it’s so amazing to think how many voices it actually contains. I’d seriously love to hear a ‘best of’ compilation of those recordings. Plus the guitar solo between choruses is of great inspiration there. The song has a ‘soft spot’ at the end, when Anneke is singing about a departed friend/dear one, and then there’s a long kinda silent (but not fully silent) period, as an intro for the outro (?) song, ‘The Ones We Love’. This one has a sort of christmas carol feeling to it, but reading the words in the album booklet actually sort of explains the past few songs and the sad passages – ‘The album is dedicated to the friends and family whom we lost during the making of this album’. Yet, we are told to keep trying and to stay strong, since there’s rarely any better choice.
So that’s it for the first part. it is an intense emotional journey, with an obvious Devin watermark from first to last second, with joy and sadness. And with an inspirational message to live before we die, since I believe this is the main lesson we should learn when anyone dear to us passes away. They’d surely want us to keep on living and make the best out of it. Would be lovely if everyone understood the meaning of it, but unfortunatelly, most of the time it requires that you go through a similar experience before you get the idea. But this is beyond reviewing the album, so let’s not dwell into this philosophical realm.
What I didn’t understand was why would this be an album that might be so confusing for the audience. There were plenty of tweets and updates from Devin prior to the release date, in which he more or less said that he created a monster and some people might hate it. One of the tweets I remember best is when he was in Helsinki, prior to a ‘Casualties of cool’ show and he was listening to Z2 and asking himself something like ‘OMG, What have I done?’. So, until now, the album didn’t sound like the crazy madness I was preparing for. I fully understand now it was a struggle and a battle fueled by sad live events, yet, not something worthy of those words. But few minutes into the second part of the release – aka Dark Matters – and man, wow. Now we’re talking madness. On top of that one has to realise that Devin has also worked on putting together Ziltoid animations to be released around the same time as the album. So it’s not only writing music (most of it as far as I understood), singing, playing guitar, working with your band mates to arrange it and so on. But also thinking about dialogues, images, jokes and whatever else is needed for those Ziltoid TV episodes. I still haven’t seen them all, but it didn’t look like a couple of hours work.
Anyways, back to the album. Before the music, I must say I also loved the artwork. An evil Ziltoid in the center, with the burning Earth in one hand and the coffee mug in the other one and the fluffy, fuzzy planet destroyer at his feet. The essence of the album. The photos insite the booklet are made in a such a cool SCI Fi fashion and I am glad to finally having had seen a poozer. Way to ugly for its cute voice but I am not the creator. Yet they look dumb enough to be cute in the end. Then each song has a different font for its title and there’s a rainbow of colors in the lyrics, trying to somehow explain who says what. My personal favoruite is the poozer meeps though.
We have the same characters as on the first Ziltoid release including captain Spectacular (nicknamed Poopypants), Collective computer and ehm, not sure who else was on the first one. But Ziltoid is back on Earth, this time with a Poozer stolen from Princess Blattaria’s planet Titan. He is worshipped at God level on Earth, yet, when he tries to show them to Poozer, well, poop, since it’s already gone though the wormhole and back to his mum to complain. So the princess launches the attack on Earth, Ziltoid wants to betray humankind, yet the Planet Destroyer doesn’t work as intended. But when the princess kills Captain Spectacular, who reveals a bit secret to Ziltoid, the destroyer uses its own feelings and saves the Earth. That’s the very very short version of the story. I tried not to spoil it.
Musically, well, there’s another story. Actually, besides music itself, there’s a lot of voices involved – a story teller who quickly takes us between songs and skips the boring passages that might not have made for a cool song. There’s a voice for everyone and the most two evil ones are Ziltoid’s and Princess Blattaria’s. It’s all like a children novel with somehow adult content. Or well, limited audience at least. And then there’s a lot of epic music. I don’t think it’s easy to separate the music of this album. I mean, you can never go and sing about the War princess and the March of the poozers without starting with the theatrical Z2 song. The first song actually sets you in a sort of musical mood, but certainly not the boring kind. There’s a rollercoaster of sounds in this song, a song that’s like an ode to Ziltoid and an intro to the Ziltoid show at the same time, ending with an excited children voice asking his mum if he is really here.
‘From Sleep Awake’, when the Intergalactic sensation, Ziltoid the Omniscient, is introduced to the humans, is simply a brilliant song. With Anneke’s always beautiful voice arranged together with whatever was in Devin’s head to create the chorus and the background sounds for her…it just flows as it should. And I must admit that no matter how insane the amount of different sounds and elements are inserted per second and even if at first listen I probably also said ‘What the hell did you do man?’…now I am simply in love with each song from the ‘Dark Matters’. They flow so nicely, all those additions that I’m yet to explore and discover are a suitable part of the whole. I don’t think any of the farts, the meeps, the screams or the drum beats can be taken away without destroying everything. And as a bonus for metal fans, there’s plenty of metal elements that might not be so present on the first part of the release. ‘Ziltoidian the Empire’ introduces the poozer. I think I laughed really hard the first time I heard this part. The meeps are so adorable. Devin’s singing is reaching new epicness during this song, but it gets interrupted by a bit of narration and the fart and then everything just goes bananas. No idea how to describe the non-words singing towards the end and it’s also hard to explain how much this song fits with ‘By Your Command’ from the first Ziltoid album.
I don’t know how Devin ends up picking voices for his albums. I was sold from second one to the heavenly Che Aimee Dorval from ‘Casualties of Cool’. And I am fascinated by how evil Dominique Lenore Persi sounds as the ‘War princess’. Her evilness, together with the tribal like background in the song is really building up the war atmosphere and prepared for the upcoming conflict and attack upon Earth. The song feels like a revival of Strapping Young Lad with a modern production and more female vocals, but the same intensity and rage. ‘Deathray’ is the next step in the story and it’s maybe one of the future crowd attractions. It has guitar solo, screams (again a SYL feeling) and everything else needed for some serious headbanging. Back to the musical ‘tone’, the march of the poozers is well, so musical. A lot of theatricality in the invasion of these creatures and as I’m typing this, I’m even considering checking if there are any tickets left for any Z2 shows. I think I need to see this production live.
‘Wandering Eye’ is a tad odd when it comes to music, but it has a lot of dialogue explaining how Ziltoid signs the contract with the humans and how he then goes to the toilet. ‘Earth’ simply starts with a guitar solo meant to make your mind wander all along our beautiful planet and think of what it has to offer. And after the peaceful meditation you are reminded that an evil alien is about to destroy it. The chorus at the end constantly sings ‘Coming to Earth’ and it’s one of the pieces that’s almost impossible to remove from the back of my mind after hearing it. But luckily the other beautiful guitar solo at the end helps.
‘Zitloid Goes Home’ is intense and epic, pretty much like the whole album so far. The grand chorus at the end triggers your imagination and the limit might be in the amount of Sci Fi movies you’ve watched so far. I believe this is the only song without any dialogue on it and as much as I love the stories, I enjoy the ‘break’ offered by the song. Mainly because the song itself flows so nicely and it somehow reminds you of the more peaceful first part of the release (Sky Blue). On the other hand, ‘Through the Wormhole’ is only dialogue, but with pretty classical and musicals inspired background music. Unfortunately, the ‘Dimension Z’ song is the last one on the album. The guitar used on it kinda makes you think that the high note played by it seems to repeat all along the album. I think I need to listen to it few more times to realise if it’s true or not. And once again, the words chosen for the end song are to remind us of the tough situations in life and that we need to surrender in order to live. Many thanks for this reminder.
On the bright side, the last words of the story teller are ‘…to be continued’. I think I could hear few more hours of this. I would like to follow Ziltoid through the entire galaxy, if possible.
I just realise how much I wrote. I almost never write reviews, so I guess I don’t really know where to stop. But I came to admire Devin a lot among the years, after seeing him live so many times and always finding him to be so genuine both on stage and in the music he records on his albums. So I guess I wanted to payback with a personal opinion on his latest work. Especially now that my chat with him makes sense and that I am pissed I cannot share THAT chat with you. In which he explained the madness needed to put together this Ziltoid and the strength to go on despite all the obstacles on the way. I can even hear some of those ‘screams’ and ‘rages’ in the songs. But the final feeling is a big smile on my face and a lot of joy. Whether it is the Poozer’s meeps or the feeling of not surrendering…you try and see.
Thank you if you have stayed with me so far. Hope you enjoyed the lecture. If not, just enjoy the album. It’s much better than my words.