Released: 2007, Inside Out
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
It seems that fatherhood has made Devin Townsend a changed man. By all accounts, Strapping Young Lad has been retired and Townsend has admitted he would like to retire to an isolated spot in the woods to create, release and produce music exclusively while avoiding the public spotlight completely. For those who bought into Townsend’s over-the-top SYL persona, it may be hard to imagine the raging, testosterone-fuelled madman they saw on stage relegating himself to such a pastoral existence but off stage and an interviews, it was always clear he eschewed the spotlight and was more comfortable in the studio creating, rather than performing.
Townsend’s latest work, ZILTOID THE OMNISCIENT, is a bizarre concept album which centers on an alien from another dimension whose prime directive is the ultimate cup of coffee. Ziltoid, a nerd at heart, creates a manic musical persona to trick people of the Earth into thinking he is something he is not, only to have his cover blown and exposed for what he is. Sound familiar? The parallels between Ziltoid and Townsend himself are many and Townsend has done an excellent job at creating this metaphoric character of himself. The story is certainly original and it is a lot of fun to read the booklet accompanying the CD, too. Despite its odd premise, ZILTOID THE OMNISCIENT is all a fan would expect from a Devin Townsend album in musical terms. The album draws similarities to Townsend’s past solo endeavors including OCEAN MACHINE and TERRIA as well as the off-the-wall antics of Punky Bruster. Extended progressive passages are mixed with heavy, guitar-driven sections and solidified with Townsend’s trademark rich, multi-layered production. There are no real surprises here but it is an enjoyable and fun ride through the “omniverse” of Townsend’s beguiling mind nonetheless.
Fans of Townsend’s more progressive, melodic work will find plenty to love in tracks like “By Your Command,” “Hyperdrive” and “Color Your World.” Lush, layered vocals and ethereal guitar and keyboard passages enrapture the listener in a serene peacefulness. “Hyperdrive” is an incredibly catchy song with a mid-tempo pacing and a smooth crooning vocal from Townsend. The song could easily fit into TERRIA or ACCELERATED EVOLUTION and is the most straight-forward track on the album. On the other hand, “Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!” and “N9” bounce along on a killer groove, powered by “The Drumkit From Hell” (actually a computer percussion program on loan from Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake), that have moments among the heaviest Townsend has ever recorded. Likewise, “Planet Smasher” would not be out of place on Strapping Young Lad’s ALIEN or THE NEW BLACK. The epic “Color Your World” shifts tempos several times, going from an aggressive SYL-type double-bass barnburner to a slow, dreamy middle section before going full circle with Townsend screaming Ziltoid’s self-realization that “we are all puppets!”
ZILTOID THE OMNISCIENT is a really unique album that is filled with Devin Townsend’s humor and bears all the requisite trademarks of a Townsend project. The songs are at times long and progressive (TERRIA), unflinchingly heavy and complex (Strapping Young Lad) and also subtle and introspective (ACCELERATED EVOLUTION) but wrapped in an overseeing concept that has its tongue firmly planted in cheek (Punky Bruster). It took a few listens to really “get” where he was going with ZILTOID THE OMNISCIENT but if this is what we can expect from Townsend from here on in, his self-imposed exile is welcomed and encouraged.
KILLER KUTS: “By Your Command,” “Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!,” “Hyperdrive,” “N9,” “Planet Smasher,” “Color Your World”