Seven years later, Townsend is destroying stages worldwide with his eponymous Project and his increasingly ambitious endeavors. He’s made about 9 billion albums since Ziltoid The Omniscient, but that record still has a warm spot in the hearts of many younger Devin fans. Townsend has been threatening various follow-up projects for years, including a puppet show, internet radio series, and a sequel. And at least for the sequel, the wait is now over in the form of the larger-than-life double album Z2. Unlike the original, Z2 is mostly plot-driven. Narration takes a lead role, while the music itself is often little more than background. Many tracks are much longer than necessary in order to accommodate the fairly convoluted storyline (“War Princess” is particularly guilty of this). Sometimes, as in “Wandering Eye,” perfectly good musical ideas appear briefly, then get discarded to leave room for the characters’ dialogue. I imagine that this music will eventually be used in the Ziltoid TV show or whatever, and that’s great, but few of these tracks can stand on their own merit. The storyline itself is full of Flash Gordon-style sci-fi clichés and plot twists, which is fun if you’re into that sort of thing. Oh, and closing track “Dimension Z” features guest vocals submitted by literally hundreds of Devin Townsend fans, in what was an extremely cool move on his part.
Z2‘s 2nd disc, Sky Blue, feels almost like a collection of bonus tracks. This disc is separate from the Ziltoid storyline, and more song-based — think Epicloud, or the short-lived Devin Townsend Band. There’s a few heavier songs, some electronica-tinged ballads, and a surprisingly high number of Autotuned, club-ready dance tracks. Longtime collaborator Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering) is featured heavily on this disc, and is basically co-lead vocalist with Townsend at this point. As much as these songs seem like throwaways, they do have a bit more staying power than the first disc’s material, by virtue of being, y’know, actual songs.
The original Ziltoid ruled for two reasons. First, the more meandering tracks were anchored by some excellent stand-alone songs (see “Hyperdrive,” “Color Your World,” “The Greys”). Secondly, the whole “alien searching the universe for coffee” plot doubled as an extended metaphor for the music business, family, and the fragile male ego. Z2 doesn’t operate on either of those levels. It’s fun, and there’s some compelling (if half-baked) musical ideas. But for the most part, this is nothing more than a victory lap for Townsend and co.
Z2 could’ve easily been a bigger, more badass version of the original, like Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Instead, it’s the metal equivalent of Die Hard 2: Die Harder — way too long, occasionally boring, and entirely unnecessary for anyone who’s experienced the original. I’m sure the Dev fans will eat this stuff up, regardless what some asshole blog reviewer thinks, and that’s fine. I’m still holding out for the puppet show though.