Z² (aka Ziltoid 2 aka Zed Squared) has been in the works for quite a long time now. Devin Townsend knew that if he was to make a sequel to his 2007 solo album, Ziltoid The Omniscient, he would have to make it bigger, better, and even zanier than before. Since he formed The Devin Townsend Project back in 2009, he has a full band in his arsenal to make this possible. Drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen, bassist Brian "Bev" Waddell, and guitarist/keyboardist Dave Young help fill out the main parts of the band with a guest appearance on Sky Blue by Anneke Van Giersbergen and guest appearances by Chris Jericho (Captain Spectacular), Dominique Lenore Persi (War Princess) and even Anneke on some parts of Dark Matters. Where does Hevy Devy venture on this double album? There's only one way to find out for sure. Indeed....
The first of the two discs is Sky Blue. Sky Blue is the DTP album of the two discs and fans of the albums Addicted, Epicloud, Ki, and Infinity, will definitely not be disappointed. The album starts with Rejoice. It starts off with some light scattered instruments before the band fully kicks in. The song is deeply reminiscent of something off Addicted, but a bit more refined. Rather than more of the standard Rock beats that drives most of Addicted, RVP lays in some double bass throughout the verse. Anneke and Devin share vocal duties on this mid tempo song. It chugs along graciously. If Top 40 Rock radio knew better, this would be a solid Top 10 hit without question. Fallout is the next song and it starts with a very solid riff by Devin with Anneke's vocals slightly in the background before she fully takes over and sings the verse. For anyone that's a fan of what she has done in the past with DTP's work, this is another fantastic representation of what she can do. If you had to compare it to anything, imagine Hyperdrive mixed with The Way Home. A very happy, beautiful track.
Next up is Midnight Sun, which starts off with a nice acoustic guitar intro before kicking in a mellow to mid-paced ballad. Picture the beautiful moments of Terria and Infinity mixed with Where We Belong off Epicloud and that is a great description. Devin lays a very emotionally driven solo in this song that can bring the right person to tears. An amazing track. A New Reign is the next song that starts off very light with Devin and an acoustic guitar, with Anneke just starting to sing before it kicks in. This is another very emotionally driven ballad that can tug at your heart strings. It is a bit faster than Midnight Sun, but still a bit soft and hits home. In typical Devin fashion this song does take a couple twists and turns that you wouldn't expect, like some monster growls right before the song gets pretty heavy in the middle section and climaxes right back to where it started before finishing strong and powerful. Like a lot of Devin songs, this song has a bit of some ambiance at the end of A New Reign before completely taking a 180 and going into Universal Flame. To the typical music listener, Universal Flame is the most fun, poppy song on the album. Even if you are not paying attention to the vocals, the song just fills you with good spirits and makes you wanna take a cosmic journey. Imagine if True North from Epicloud as even more poppy and throw in a little Bend It Like Bender for good measure and you have the most fun, positive feeling song on the entire album. Again there is no real reason why this shouldn't be a Top 10 Rock song, there just isn't.
Next up is Warrior which starts with some "Ahh Ahh Ahh's" before kicking in. This is indeed one of the more technical songs, even if it doesn't exactly sound like it at first. Upon repeated you hear how insane this song is. While a more midtempo number, this is one of the highlights for RVP, with the intricate double bass in the verse to the double cymbal work in the chorus, this is an impression job of playing for the song and showing off your chops at the same time. Anneke does the majority of the vocals on this one and they are stellar. The title track, Sky Blue is a bit of a different direction than we have heard from the DTP to date, a bit more electronic overall and feels like a majestic pop song. Screw Rock radio, this is top of the Pop charts worthy. It's very danceable, features the vocal affects and synths of pop music, Devin and Anneke make this song come to life with the vocals. If there was ever a Metal musician you wanted on Pop radio, it's Devin, this proves it. Silent Militia is the next song up and it starts off with faded vocals before kicking in with snare and guitar before kicking back into heartbeat tempo, chuggy guitar driven goodness. This song feels like it could have been right off of Infinity, if Infinity was made right now. It's the right mix of dance music and heaviness to make it fit on that crazy album known as Infinity. The song ends crazy with double bass before drifting away into the atmosphere.
This leads into Rain City, which starts off as beautiful as Devin can get with a great piano and vocal intro leading into some programmed drums. It has a great Ki feel before getting just a tad heavy. Rain City feels like a song that should have been on Terria, in the best way possible. The song mainly ends right around the 4 minute mark and gradually drifts into the atmosphere with some bells, synths, acoustic guitar and a Ki/Ghost like feel. Forever is the next track up and it starts right off in the Ki world with Devin and piano. This beautiful song continues until near the end of the song where you hear some, well, almost Black Metal sounding faded screams. With a few seconds left of forever slowly but surely rising, it leads into Before We Die, which is the longest song on the album at 8:25. Once again this features some very beautiful and epic moments from everyone in the band. Imagine Save Our Now from Epicloud and Numbered from Addicted with the epic Universal Choir in the chorus. This is simply gorgeous in every way. Once again Devin features a short, but awesome, guitar solo before the mid section of the track. The main part of the song ends with synths, acoustic guitar and Anneke's beautiful vocals. The ending of the full track ends with some dissonant synth sounds while ending the album with The Ones We Love. This is a short outro track featuring some spooky sounds along with Devin and Anneke's vocals. The song slowly fades away leaving you wanting more, but as if Devin already had that planned, there is more...much more.....ATTACK!!!
*This review of Dark Matters will not contain spoilers to the album's story, that is meant to be heard on it's own in full. So don't read about the premise. Buy the album and listen to it and love every second.*
The album that made all the fans of Strapping Young Lad stop questioning whether Devin could still be heavy, Ziltoid The Omniscient, now has arguably one of the very few sequels worth checking out, Dark Matters. The Ziltoid album starts with the double album title track, Z². This starts off slow and brooding, but don't worry, it builds up like the intro music to a movie. The song just builds more and more and doesn't stop the attack once it kicks in. The end of the song in particular features the heaviness that fans of the original album will love. The next song is From Sleep Awake and it is more of a grandiose song, if not the most grandiose song on both albums. Oddly enough, Anneke is featured prominently on this song. The song is majestic and is a great intro Ziltoid and the story starts to begin from here. Ziltoidian Empire is the next track and this is where a lot of the fun begins. The song starts off like a great DTP song, just slightly darker and more double bass, then it just gets nutty. RVP's insane double bass power starts to shine in this song before just going off the deep end on a killer drum fill. After a short story interlude, the music reminiscent of the first Ziltoid album starts to take over, and it gets insane from everyone apart of the album. The nutty odd time signatures start to come into play and the song starts to feel like you are amidst an alien battlefield. The song only gets faster and faster as it ends and gets into SYL territory, yes...Strapping Young Lad (Detox) thrashy, style fun. War Princess is the next song up and like the title suggests, it gets into detail about the character played by Persi. The song starts off quite midempo goodness. The song showcases how amazing of a singer Persi is *If you are not familiar with Stolen Babies, go check them out ASAP!* While being midtempo, the song crushes with it's heaviness, just like Sumeria did on Deconstruction.
The next song is the first official song released from Z² , Deathray. The song has been labeled as a bit polarizing as many imagined that the first song released from Dark Matters would be an over the top crazy odd-tempo orgy, but Deathray is actually one of the most straightforward songs on the album. All you gotta do is think of the film, Mars Attacks, and that should describe the zaniness of this song. It's a solid number and does exactly what needs to happen, set the stage for the story while being a rocking song. While not entirely similar imagine Ziltoidia Attaxx! combined with Vampira from Synchestra and you've got Deathray. March Of The Poozers starts off with a very heavy, Gojira like, march riff. While containing a couple quirks, the song stays pretty much the same level the whole time, a fun heavy mosh song, like you would at a Gojira show. Next up is Wandering Eye. the song starts with kooky keyboards and Devin's vocals. The song eventually starts to pick up and starts to get zany again before showing off more of the story leading into the second longest song on the album, Earth. It starts off a bit triumphant once again but the chaos is about to commence. This song has all the craziness that you were hoping for. While everyone shines on this song, no one shines more on this song than Mr. Ryan Van Poederooyen. If you followed his posts on social media, you know how he was talking about how this album had some of his craziest, hardest and most jaw dropping moments, it's almost entirely on this song. Earth is essentially all the craziest moments on ZTO in a 7 minute song. *I consider RVP one of the best guys I know in metal, both personally and in drumming and I am proud to call him a friend and so very proud of his work here, it proves that he is now an unstoppable drumming machine.*
Ziltoid Comes Home doesn't stop in the relentlessness. This starts off with an absolute bang. It is super fast and thrashy. While it's not really fair to compare this to SYL, it has some SYL moments. The chorus of this song is one of the best moments in the Ziltoid story. So epic feeling and hits perfectly at the right time. The death growls come back in this song just a tad but are also well placed. Again I must say it the chorus, especially the ending chorus is one of the best moments in Ziltoid history, it is so perfect. Absolutely insane, epic feeling, and grandiose. Through The Wormhole is a story segment. That brings the story to a climax *but you'll have to listen to the album for what happens* Dimension Z features the Universal Choir again and sing in perfect harmony and love just like the Whos in Whoville in The Grinch That Stole Christmas and the story ends with a bit of an epilogue at the end that brings the story of Dark Matters to a close.
Z² is exactly what you'd hope for from Devin Townsend. Sky Blue showcases the lighter, poppier, emotionally driven side of Devin while Dark Matters brings all the zaniness, craziness, wackiness, and shear chaos that you'd expect from Ziltoid. In short, Z² is almost like a best of The Devin Townsend Project with all brand new material. Everyone involved is at their absolute prime on these two albums. Anneke again proves that she should be a permanent member of the DTP. Jericho serves his purpose perfectly as Captain Spectacular and Persi, in all honesty, could very well fill in for Anneke anytime at a show and fit in just like Anneke was there (plus, throw in the occasional killer scream). Townsend has been reported that he may be taking an extended break after the Ziltoid musical in 2015 (at least over a year) and honestly, if anyone has earned a break, it is Devin. Let him refuel is batteries, get some more of the world's finest coffee bean and present us with what he will have in store for all of us after this magnificent triumph known as Z².
*Once again, in case you did in fact skip the review, no spoilers for the story of this album. But the album, listen to it and full and enjoy!*
The Devin Townsend Project- Z² (Sky Blue/Dark Matters) available October 28th via HevyDevy Records/Inside Out
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)
That Drummer Guy: Radio DJ, Interviewer, Reviewer, overall...an OK guy.