Devin Townsend Z2 01It’s easy to forget that at the time of it’s release, Ziltoid The Omniscient was something of a reboot for Devin Townsend‘s career. Having disbanded both his solo group and the long-running Strapping Young Lad in 2007, Townsend decided to return home, get healthy, and focus on family life. Ziltoid was his first release after that self-imposed exile. The record was charmingly low-budget, recorded solely by Townsend and a drum machine, and there was no tour to promote it.

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.

Devin Townsend Z2 02

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.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9  |  Format Reviewed: 192 kbps MP3
Label: InsideOut
Websites: DevinTownsendOfficial | Facebook.com/DevinTownsend
Release Dates: EU: 2014.10.27 | NA: 10.28.2104

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  • DR 9?! That’s pretty impressive for anything Devin Townsend.

    • Ellioman

      Gotta ask, what does the DR: 9 stand for?

      • Dynamic range. It’s a general measurement of how squashed and compressed the mix is.

        • Ellioman

          Aha! Now I’ve learned something new today. Thanks.

          • Your appreciation is appreciated :)

          • Realkman666

            And you will never be the same, mwahahaha…

          • Check out our Angry Metal-Fi articles. You might find them interesting.

      • Check out the Angry Metal-Fi series of articles.

        • Ellioman

          Ahh brilliant! Thanks.

    • Kevin Dillon

      I think every album he’s done with DTP onward has been DR8 and higher. He must a spend a ton of time mixing these albums with how many layers of stuff they have in them.

    • Juular

      He’s very hands on, so even when the average DR of his albums are lower, they still sound good. It’s not just overcompressed for the sake of it, there’s an artistic and sonic reasoning with all of it.

      • Yeah, I feel you. Sometimes a “thicker mix” is needed. Usually not, but sometimes it’s better for the music. There is a point where it’s ridiculous and I don’t personally feel DT ever pushed it that far.

    • Nothing short of miraculous, imo.

  • I’m a big Devin fan, but never got into the original Ziltod and my opinion (at least after the first few listens) is on the other side of the coin. I am loving Z2 so far because it is so larger-than-life (as you perfectly put it) and plot driven. I think there is a metaphor behind Z2 as well, he winds up alone with the War Princess and nothing but coffee. Granted, we don’t know what is going to happen yet (I have my theories0, but as most married folks can attest, the grandest battles can lead to the greatest unions.

    I need to give it more listens, but I was more excited about Sky Blue going in than Z2 because I love Addicted, Deconstruction, Ki and Ghost and was hoping it to be on par but, again, you snipered it and it feels like a collection of bonus tracks that, to me, weren’t quite up to muster for the albums before it. Great review, reading it is going to make me look at these albums from other perspectives.

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      Wow. That’s quite the insight into the plotline there. Well played, sir!

    • Piston Rod

      I also think Z2 is far superior to original Ziltoid. Devin has grown a lot as an artist and storyteller since the original.

  • HippieOfDeath

    I’m so butthurt about this review…

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      Dude, my first name is “fisting.” Of course your butt hurts.

  • Daiana Correa

    I happen to love Devin’s bonus tracks, sometimes even more so than the main material. I hope I find it as good as the hype, but even if I don’t, I’d still probably enjoy it.

  • Eskalator

    Very good, man. I’m so glad that finally someone didn’t praise Townsend more than he deserves. Townsend is a great musician and a down to earth guy, but since a few years ago, he became more of a sellout and lost some of his artistic integrity in my opinion.

    • sssgadget

      I kind of agree with you on that one. Also he produces so many albums and it’s really hard for him not to have some similarities between them. In recent times , Casualties of Cool was really good album. Others not so much.

      • Check out Epicloud. It is an amazing mashing up of just about everything the man has done. And the songs are amazing.

        • Jean-Luc Ricard

          Epicloud ended up near the top of my 2012 end of year list, great stuff.

      • Eskalator

        Totally agreed. Epicloud was a mediocre effort in my opinion, compared to what the man has done in the past off course. Unfortunately the amount of HevyDevy fanboyism we’re seeing these days is off the charts.

      • Matt H

        I found epicloud to be pretty good. The remake of Kingdom is amazing, and his live performances is even better. But Sky Blue wasn’t that good…

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      I don’t know about “sellout,” but he definitely produces lots of music at a ridiculously fast pace, which has led to his sound getting sort of homogenous. I have no problem with Z2, except that it’s just “a bunch more songs,” and doesn’t add anything relevant to his sound or catalog.

      • Jean-Luc Ricard

        Yeah I don’t think sellout is right at all, but a little more self-editing wouldn’t do any harm.

      • Matt Vogt

        I don’t think a reasonable case for ‘sellout’ can be made here, but I think Devin’s output has changed in recent times.

        Early on, he partitioned his music into just two sets: SYL, and less-confronting music (also ambient studio messing, and punky joke music, but let’s just ignore those for my purposes!). Since the beginning of the DTP, however, each album has been even more tightly focused – this one is happy-metal music; this one is space-country; this one is heavy experimentation; this one is… So, we’re not getting the sort of rounded, expansive albums with engrossing arcs that characterised the earlier period.

        It’s a shame, as far as I’m concerned – but then again, we already have Ocean Machine, Terria, Accelerated Evolution. I’m happy to listen to anything new he puts out, even if I don’t expect it to top his greatest previous efforts.

    • Sellout? I don’t think you understand the meaning of the term.

  • Nothing he’s done has been noteworthy since SYL and DTB. Yawn…

    • Jean-Luc Ricard

      Nah. Ki was great, Epicloud was great, Casualties of Cool was great.

    • JL

      Simply not true.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Good to see some balance here
    I dig a lot of what DT does Epicloud is a fantastic record, but this Ziltoid stuff is tedious nonsense I must be getting old.

  • Colin

    Harsh.

    At least you liked Deconstruction.

  • Dion Ka

    I only know Epicloud from Devin and it was excellent. I know what he did before but epicloud got me. I am curious how the whole Z2 will sound!

  • JordanK

    I definitely agree that there are some over-zealous DTP fans out there that love to lump their praises onto mister Townsend without solicitation, but this review seems to be fairly off target with some of its info. You can love or hate the music, that’s up to the individual, but the glaring oversights and misinformation in this review only detract from its credibility. For one, ‘Sky Blue’, is the first disk in the set (pretty important distinction in that it is what the artists are presenting first) and was a (mostly) collaborative effort among the members of DTP. It is 100% a DTP album and has nothing to do with Ziltoid and most certainly does not feel like a clumsy collection of random songs, whether or not you actually like them (did you not notice the segues between just about every track?). After the first listen it is apparent that DTP is just picking up, for better or worse, where Epicloud left off. Also, like every other DTP album there is a plethora of zany vocal effects, but not a single instance of autotune. Maybe a bit nitpicky, but it’s hard to take someone who wants to review music seriously if they can’t even correctly identify the sounds they are hearing. Perhaps the most egregious part of this review is the weight it puts on the original Ziltoid. That album was never meant to be serious, was written by a man that didn’t even know if he wanted to continue making music and, from a production standpoint, is terrible. In my personal opinion there is no more or no less “dialogue” than there is in the first and I definitely hear some relevant stand alones on disc 2 and not just some haphazard musical parts with random dialogue thrown over it…..i mean the youtube video you embedded below your review is a standalone song taken from the ‘Dark Matters’ disk. Anyways, I think if you are going to attempt to play baseball, you have to at least attempt to stay in the ballpark.

    • JL

      Excellent remarks. I’m very fond of the album and I love how he used the “gone where feelings go…” lyric from Bastard in one of the songs (I forget which one but did you notice it?).

    • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

      I’m glad you brought up the “which disc comes first” thing — I had seen it listed both ways, and even Devin Townsend’s social media was inconsistent on that.
      Also, if you can’t hear some kind of tuning assistance on this or any other Devin record from the past 10 years, you might want to get your hearing checked. That wasn’t a dis on him either, as obviously he can sing fine without it–but he’s been known to use it as a production tool.

      • Zadion

        Why do people diss on autotune anyway? Sure, if it’s over used, it becomes irritating, but it IS a production tool and one that creates some very pleasant effects at times in my opinion. Sky Blue being a great example.

        And yes, I do hear some use of autotune, though not excessively.

      • JordanK

        There is a pretty significant distinction between pitch correction, such as melodyne, and modular effects like autotune. Autotune is a very specific effect with a very specific sonciality, just like flange, phase or synth effects and I just think if you are going to review an album you should have a working knowledge of this stuff. To me saying that he didn’t like the autotune on the “dance” songs is on the level of an art reviewer saying they didn’t like Picasso’s blue period because they aren’t a fan of watercolor.

        • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

          More accurately, AutoTune is a brand name. I could’ve said Melodyne, i suppose. Or just said “pitch correction.”
          I’ve been a vocalist in bands for 10 years, and been subjected to most of these programs, so i do know my shit. However, if i use the term Autotune, most of our readers will know the production style i am referring to (and for the record, i never said i didn’t like it).

  • OraclePigWater

    I think the reason for the DR9 is because he knows more people are buying vinyl. I read somewhere he did the same for Casualties of Cool that way for a similar reason.

    • No, that’s not it! I the production of this record was slightly different than other outside reasons (and it turned great IMO).

  • JL

    You’re so far off I don’t even know where to begin. If there is a single musician on the planet who could never be accused of “selling out” it’s Devin Townsend. I would love one single example of Dev selling out in any way, shape or form. He got sober so his music changed. Maybe because it’s less cooky than his earlier stuff you don’t like it as much (I’m actually in the same boat and prefer Infinity to just about anything else he’s ever done, but he was off his rocker while making that album. Not healthy).

    Now, this review sort of exemplifies why reviews like this and those found on this site are of a dangerous type. Not to be rude or disrespectful, because I have discovered some great bands thanks to AMG, but this is the exact type of album that cannot be “reviewed” after a week’s worth of listens. This record, like others on here, seems to have been reviewed much too quickly. All of Devin’s stuff takes times to digest. Many, uninterrupted and repeated listens offer something new and rewarding as the true genius of Devin reveals itself in his unparalleled ability to layer sound upon sound.

    The songs on Dark Matters are amazingly composed. The only flaw, and I agree it’s a semi-big flaw, is the spoken dialogue interfering in some of the songs. But if you remember what Devin set out to create, the dialogue is necessary and he more than achieved his goal.

    I would suggest to begin again. Z2 sets the tone and From Sleep Awake is an emotional and simply beautiful song that propels the rest of the record forward. Concerning Sky Blue, calling it a “collection of bonus tracks” is a joke of a comment, really. The album can stand on its own and be a possible AOTY candidate. Keep in mind, as well, that he put out 3 records this year alone and they’re all pretty much remarkable. This is an amazing feat.

    A revisit this album surely deserves. 2.5 is simply not accurate. Anything under 4.5 is questionable. 4.5-5 is much more proper.

    • We had the promo for a while. We tend to try to listen to music as long as we can before reviewing, but in all honestly, there are very few albums that require more than a week to get a handle on. If such an album exists, I don’t think it’s going to be from Devin.

      • JL

        On the contrary, such albums do exist and they come from musicians exactly like Mr. Townsend. There are tons of little nuances found in the music, especially in the layering, that can only be discovered through using headphones in a quiet room. Fans from the very beginning (like me) can maybe appreciate it more as we are able to hear his sound truly progress and evolve. I think Z2 might not be his best album but it’s probably the defining point of his career. To each his own, but yea, I would suggest listening some more. Even going back to Ocean Machine/Infinity/Physicist and starting from there.

        • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

          If anything, I think this album is pretty much absorbed upon first listen, and doesn’t offer a whole lot of repeat value. It’s like a cartoon version of Devin.

      • one

        Well, the album is out now and has some changes to the promo one.
        Also “Sky Blue” is first CD as “Devin Townsend Project”, while “Ziltoid – Dark Matters” is the second one

      • Most of his albums actually take a while to absorb, ridiculous comment to make really.

    • Matthew Jones

      JL….I agree totally

  • John Strandwitz

    I just heard Z2, and I’m so disappointed I’m almost depressed. I’ve been waiting for this album for years and I feel profoundly let down. Devin Obv phoned this one in. The companion disc is great but Z2 is the laziest recording I’ve heard this year. How about the song about the Planet Smasher? Weren’t kind of expecting a little bit of death metal vocals? Weren’t you expecting the Planet Smasher to come snarling in as he did in the 1st record? A big fat build-up to nothing! There is soooo much choir sing in Z2 I thought I was in church for shit sake! Endless repeating riffs that go no where and choir singing! This album is like masturbating and never being able to ejaculate, for lack of a better analogy!

    Wasn’t this album crowd-funded? The people who chipped in to help make this album must feel pretty used.

  • Zadion

    I actually am not a Devin Townsend fan at all. Epicloud is the only other DT album I’ve heard, and, aside from a couple great tracks, I think that album is pretty mediocre.

    And that’s why I have to say that I *love* Sky Blue – or the first 3/4 of it, at least. It kind of loses me at Rain City, but everything before that is great. It’s what Epicloud should’ve been. It’s heavier, more dynamic, and, more importantly, doesn’t sound so irritatingly happy. The title track in particular is just so… chill but so catchy.

    Don’t have much in the way of opinions for Dark Matters. It’s good, albeit weird, but I like it. Having not heard its predecessor I probably don’t have the appreciation nor contempt for it others might have.

  • RememberGamergate

    I thought you were full of crap when I read this Fisting, but I must admit you were right.

    I love everything Townsend has done up to this point, but this didn’t work for me. Multiple listens made it worse. It felt more like a cheesy Dr. Seuss play than Ziltoid. I actually cancelled my pre-order after hearing it the third time. I missed Casualties of Cool so I pick that up instead.

    If Devin would have dropped the Sky Blue and expanded the Z2 into a double disc with the narrative leading into some great metal songs I probably would have liked it more. I really had hoped that for Z2 Ziltoid would have moved on into management somewhere corporate still daydreaming….but alas it was not to be.

    Also I checked the 192 and the 320 and both are closer to a DR 6. The only thing that raises the entire album to 9 is the talky tracks.

  • FeRGan

    I was looking for vindication and I think i found it on this review. Why does annaqee have to be on all his stuff now? The dialogue bogged me down too… sky blue was epicloud 2 and ” Casualties of Cool was really good album. Others not so much.” LOL COC was the first album from devin that I actually HATED. This might seem harsh, but I just a little sad that I dont get much out of devins new stuff ;( – alot of valid arguments in these comments

  • Eric Larson

    JordanK, I couldn’t have said it any better. Angry Metal Guy needs a reboot. Devin’s evolution album after album never lessens in his growing wisdom of writing, arranging, performing mixing and humility. If Devin was alive in the time of the great composers, they would be bowing to him.

  • Jonas Povl Landt

    Where to start. As much as it troubles me, I have to agree with the grading of the review. I’m a long time DT fan, and I know when his stuff is good (gives me the tingles), and when it’s so-so. Ocean Machine, Terria, Ghost and Casualties of Cool all blew my whistle. These all have that emotional fragility which makes my hairs stand. Deconstruction has the madness and unpredictability that makes me jittery. Addicted, Epicloud and Sky Blue all bore me with their poppiness, and Dark Matters somehow doesn’t feel like a sequel at all.

    Ziltoid the Omniscient had a dreamlike quality to it – a very lonely vibe that made me connect instantly with Devin and his emotional turmoil. Even though it had a wacky exterior, it very much felt just like that: a facade. There was a personal story behind it, a metaphorical dimension, and the facade made it very relatable. We all hide our pain behind laughter and superficiality. Still, the record left us with “Slacker!”. In my understanding, that is the very essense of Ziltoid. That is exactly how Devin must have felt at the time. Not knowing where he was, not knowing where he was going, hanging on to daily rituals (coffee?) to give life meaning. I felt that and it hurt, badly.

    In conclusion: Ziltoid the Omniscient was and still is a beautiful and painful experience to listen to. Z2 is Looney Tunes and Pop FM in the morning.

  • Brett

    I will happily disagree with everyone here. I love Dark Matters so much. I’m not even exaggerating-“Dark Matters” is my favorite Devin Townsend album, and I’ve followed his career since early SYL stuff.

    I think too much has been made about the overall concept, but not enough has been said about the details. But there’s so much to glean from the details… for example, the second half of “Ziltoidian Empire” is riff-oriented magnificence, with totally unique pop-oriented backing vocals interlaced with math-metal riffage. The narrative throughout the album is more focused and consistent, when compared to the original Ziltoid album. Most of the tracks have their own individual character and flavor, with the kind of heavy pop flair that Devin Townsend has built a reputation for.

    Seriously- give Dark Matters” a fair chance. Listen to it at least two times through, it’s quite worth it.

  • loremipsum

    I agree and Im a huge devin fan. There were a couple good songs that will stamd the test of time though. Such as “ziltoid goes home”

  • Psycho Soldier

    I think the problem with Z2 in comparison to ZtO is that ZtO has the excellent climax of “Color Your World”. After that track, you could do whatever you want because you have a complete album, and it’s made even more complete followed up by “The Greys”. Z2, while having some solid to great tracks, never has that same level of climax and ultimately comes out leaving you unsatisfied. After “Earth,” it loses focus and never reaches that same level of conclusion that “Color Your World” and “The Greys” do.

  • This isn’t his best work, but it certainly isn’t the sellout piece of shite a lot of you seem to think it is.

    The man simply overdid it.

    Casualties was released around the same time and is pure magic.

    Sky Blue is also a deeper album than it appears on the surface.

    Let us hope you all have more open minds with his next release, it’ll be worth it I promise :)

  • Sweetdaddy Jupiter Velvet

    holy shit, the fanboys were sucking some mean d**k when this album came out.

    finally getting around to listening to Z² has been bittersweet. i almost wish i never had. the whole of Dark Matters is seemingly cut to shreds, willfully, by narration and dialog, musicality and structure sacrificed at every turn for the sake of whishy washy space opera bullshit. it’s charmless. there’s no magic to it.
    i’m sure DT had good intentions, but picking their scraps out from this pile just wasn’t worth it..