Devin Townsend - Z2 (2014)

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You have an opinion on Devin Townsend. That is to say, if you have heard a Devin Townsend fueled album, be it solo or Strapping Young Lad, you have an opinion. If you've seen him in a live setting, you probably have an even stronger opinion. Having watched Devin Townsend almost tear down Irving Plaza in New York City on the Epicloud tour, knocking whole cinder blocks out of the walls, and leaving massive craters in the floor, my opinion had been molded. Equal parts depraved indifference and beautifully construction, there is something about the music that Townsend makes that makes you question his mental state. It's eccentric, to be kind, and often borders on the absurd. With Z2, we find ourselves with a mixed bag of tricks, both sublime and cartoonish, furthering both the standards f the last few discs, and the story of Townsend's most desire character, Ziltoid The Omniscient. Two discs, two separate concepts, both part of the same baffling whole.

The first disc, Sky Blue, is an extension of Epicloud, complete with some of the soaring melodies Townsend so effortlessly crafts. The key, both here and later, is the vocal contribution of Anneke van Giersbergen, whose voice is as close to heaven as many of us will ever hope to get. The combination of their unique voices is about as perfectly contrasting as they could be. Rejoice, an album opener that could incite a riot or a mosh pit, is only the tip of this universal iceberg. Scattered over the length of the disc are songs that could be labeled as inspiring in the day to day sense, as well as inspiring in the quest each of us long abandoned to become an astronaut and float silently through space. Universal Flame and Sky Blue both echo with electronic power and beautiful simplicity, while still booming enough to fit onto an album by the wild man of modern metal. But the closing pair of songs, Before We Die and The Ones Who Love will haunt you in the best possible way as you move beyond this disc. Ghostly, airy, and chilling, they represent the shifting of gears from melodic to chaotic.

With all that said, it is the second disc that will make this double album a true contender come years end. The story, furthering the exploits of the Universal Sensation, Ziltoid The Omniscient, is devilishly funny, albeit crude. His transformation from God to scapegoat to hero is documented not only in the spoken word segments and skits that accompany each track, but in the music itself. Enlisting the help of a choir 2000 members strong, Townsend creates a sound that could fill a stadium just as easily as it could a local bar. From the title track, the stage setting Z2, to From Sleep Awake, the towering melodies inspire a sense of awe, something that surely even Townsend himself could not have fully imagined. With each movement, there is a direct link between the mood of the story and the mood of the attached track. The voices of the choir soar when Ziltoid is held up as a God to Earth, and drums blast with pulsing clarity during battle scenes. It helps to create an image in your mind as you listen that is as vivid as it would be on a theater screen. In particular, Deathray and March Of The Poozers resonate visually as they do sonically.

Never short on a lyrical hook, Townsend uses the narrator's words as secondary lyrics, with the primary coming from the collective ensemble. Dominique Lenore Persi, who plays the War Princess, does an excellent job in crafting her character through nothing more than her voice. It speaks to the strength of the writing, yes, but also to the conviction to which each player gives their performance. It would be easy to dismiss that aspect, chalking it up to being a silly throwaway. But it isn't done with any irony or flippant delivery. And as a result, it becomes a part of the album in ways that exceed just Ziltoid. There are no misses, musically, to be found. Though there will be moments that the story may seem silly - and it is - it never overstays it's welcome. In fact, despite a third disc that extracts the dialogue in favor of a pure musical performance of the Ziltoid disc, it almost seems worthwhile to keep it whole. And whether you follow or care about Ziltoid, his adventure, or how the story ends, the final track, Dimension Z, stakes it's claim as the song that would most likely induce a full crowd chorus in a live setting.

Call Devin Townsend what you will; eccentric, maniacal, even crazy. He might just be all of those things. But over the 30 albums he has had a hand in over his long and productive career, it'd be hard to argue that his bizarre demeanor and stage presence haven't factored in to the way the man writes and performs. Z2 likely isn't going to be a revelation for fans, or a game changer for those who oppose this unstoppable force, but it is a listen that would be impossible to call wasted. He gives you both sides of the man, both sides of his brain in one slick package. There will, no doubt, be a division amongst fans as to which side of the coin they prefer. I won't burden you with which dis has spent more time in rotation since landing on this very crowded desk. But it must be stressed that they are, despite what we may say, or what others may indicate, a companion piece. They do not exist in a vacuum, separate from each other. And together, they form a dynamic piece of metal the likes of which neither Earth or Titan would have been prepared for.

10/10

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