All Your Coffee Belongs to Us! — A Review of Z2

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Greetings toilet dwellers. ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo here — notorious gear whore and intermittent ToH commenter/contributor. Luckily, I’ve had the privilege of handling the ToH review for Z2, Devin Townsend’s sequel to his 2007 concept album, Ziltoid the Omniscient.  I listened to Ziltoid the Omniscient (which I’ll refer to as “Z1”) in its entirety immediately before listening to Z2, so this review, for the most part, is a comparison between these two albums.

Ziltoid’s first adventure was largely lambasted by the critics back in 2007, yet has managed to become a cult classic in its own respect. In the years since Z1, Devin Townsend has also become one of the most diverse and divisive artists in metal. People tend to either love his post-Strapping Young Lad stuff or hate it, and there’s really not much middle ground. Regardless of how you feel about his music though, the man is undeniably a musical genius.

With that in mind, I’m not going to be appealing to either the Devin haters or the Devin fanboys in this album review. Rather, we’re going to take a stroll down musical memory lane in comparing and contrasting Z1 and Z2, touching on some of the changes in the industry, changes in production choices, and changes in Townsend’s career that make them two very different albums.

Holy shit, the first Ziltoid album was released more than seven years ago?

The fact that it’s already been over seven years since Z1 was released makes me feel really damn old. A lot has changed since 2007. Just think about what the metal musical landscape looked like back then: people were still buying physical CDs, the New Wave of American Heavy Metal/Metalcore was thrumming, and Nu Metal was gasping its last dying breath. Hell, even Myspace was still a thing back in 2007. In the interim, we’ve seen the rise of Spotify and subscription-based streaming media, djent has been a thing for a while now (not something I’m particularly fond of), Metalcore is yesterday’s news, Myspace has become irrelevant, and incredibly, we’re starting to see the first signs of a Nu Metal revival (barf). Long story short, I’m conflicted about whether things are actually better or worse now vis a vis 2007.

At any rate, one of the most important developments in metal, and really the music industry at large since then, is that it has become easier and cheaper for virtually anyone with access to a computer to create decent sounding audio recordings. Through the use of Digital Audio Workstation software, and plugins such as Toontrack’s EZ Drummer, pretty much any ponytailed neckbeard can put out a respectable sounding demo and make it available to the entire world from the comfort of his dorm room and/or his grandmother’s basement.

What makes Z1 notable is that this was exactly the way that Devin recorded the album, just when “Prosumer” computerized music creation tools really began to take off. Long before the AxeFx craze, Townsend recorded the majority of the album essentially at home using exclusively programmed drums from Toontrack’s EZ drummer, and the guitars via Peavey’s amp simulation program ReValver (or whatever it was called back then). In fact, Z1 was written, produced, tracked, and mixed entirely by Townsend on his own, which is a big reason it still has a “personal” feel to it, despite its zaniness (more on this later).

In contrast, armed with a record deal and an actual recording budget, Townsend is back to using real amps and real drums for Z2, and has the entire Devin Townsend Project (DTP) behind him, including contributions from long-time DTP collaborator Anneke van Giersbergen, as well as Dominique Lenore Persi of Stolen Babies fame. Townsend’s “Universal Choir” (which was comprised of vocal contributions recorded by hundreds of fans) as well as a healthy dose of other vocal layering largely dominates the Z2 mix, and pushes Townsend’s signature “wall of sound” production technique to its logical extreme.

While Townsend was only in the nascent stages of sharpening his mixing game without having to rely on sound engineers with Z1, he handles the Z2 mix with aplomb. And trust me, this kind of shit is next to impossible to mix.

When we last left Ziltoid…

Getting back to Ziltoid’s first adventure, Z1 was written and recorded during a big transition in Townsend’s life. The guy had shaved off his trademark skullet, he had just kicked his addictions, he just had a kid, and he was in the wake of breaking up Strapping Young Lad, much to the dismay of a great deal of SYL fans (myself included).

What resulted was an album that no one was quite expecting—a quirky space opera concept album about an alien named Ziltoid in search of the universe’s ultimate cup of coffee. It was an homage to 50s sci-fi, while incorporating elements of Strapping Young Lad and Townsend’s solo work alike.

As Townsend would later acknowledge, the origin of the Ziltoid character was rooted in Townsend’s struggles with the expectations people had of him to continue to write heavy music, coupled with the fact that writing SYL tunes required him to tap into a dark place within himself that he no longer had any interest in revisiting. The solution was to create a faux caricature of that negative energy in the form of a skullet-sporting hand puppet. And while the subject matter of Z1 seemed light hearted on the surface, it was essentially a satire and an allegory for one man’s personal feelings about his place in life and struggles within the musical industry. To this point, after Ziltoid’s grandiose plans of ominversal domination always seem to go awry, he asks the universe what the true nature of his existence is, to which the universe (i.e. the Omnidimensional Creator) replies, “you’re a puppet.”

Over time, the Ziltoid character took on a life of its own, becoming a fan-favorite aspect of DTP shows, and eventually spawning further developments of the Ziltoid character such as Townsend’s ZTV. This growth of the “Cult of Ziltoid” also came alongside Devin’s post-Strapping Young Lad career development, in which Townsend released six DTP albums in the span of only a handful of years, the most recent being this year’s Casualties of Cool.

It should suffice to say that Devin Townsend isn’t the musician he was when he wrote Z1, and he’s grown considerably since then.

Z2

Z2 is really two separate albums, one of which is entirely a Ziltoid album entitled Dark Matters, and the other of which is a DTP album entitled Sky Blue. I imagine there was some strong encouragement by his label to include some DTP material, since I’m not sure whether Dark Matters holds up on its own the way that Z1 did. Taken as a whole though, it’s a pretty epic sonic experience.

 

Dark Matters

Technically this is the second disc on the album, but Imma talk about it first anyway. My short description of the Dark Matters portion of Z2 would be “a metal version of a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, with the plot and dialogue of a Saturday morning cartoon.” If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea (or coffee in Ziltoid’s case), then you’re going to have a hard time with Dark Matters.

Certainly the dialogue that was peppered throughout Z1 has been ramped up in a major way for Z2. Dark Matters seems to incorporate almost thrice the amount of dialogue as Z1, so much so that there’s a bonus CD which includes a commentary-free version of the album. It does seem to clutter the songs when there’s a dialogue break every few minutes, but the underlying point of the album is essentially to be a musical.

The standout barn burners on Dark Matters are “Deathray” and “Ziltoid Goes Home,” the former seeming like a heavier version of the DTP song “Gaia,” while “Ziltoid Goes Home” is a little more on the SYL side. The album culminates with the epically ambient “Dimension Z,” leaving the listener with a “To be continued…” message at the conclusion of Ziltoid’s latest adventure.

In contrast to Z1, Z2 is decidedly a DTP album. Whereas Z1 highlighted Townsend’s uncertainties in the wake of breaking up Strapping Young Lad, Z2 exudes a confidence of an artist who has created his own genre of “pop metal” with DTP in the seven years since Z1, and has demonstrated an ability to write in a wide variety of musical styles.

At the same time, what’s missing from Z2 are the more introspective breaks from the absurdity of the storyline that were prevalent in Z1 in songs like “Hyperdrive” and “The Greys,” which are two of my favorite Devin Townsend jams ever. In fact, I feel like several of the songs on Sky Blue could have been folded into Dark Matters in this way (“Midnight Sun” in particular), but then again, it would have detracted from the “Rodgers & Hammerstein musical” quality which Townsend was clearly gunning for.  While the Z1-era Devin Townsend might have felt as if he was a “puppet” of the industry as mentioned above, clearly Townsend is the one pulling the strings with Z2.

Overall, Dark Matters is a fitting follow up to one of the more interesting concept albums I’ve ever heard. It’s campy, it’s absurd, it’s fun, and it will be interesting to see how Townsend incorporates the Ziltoid character into different artistic mediums such as ZTV in the future.

 

Sky Blue

The first disc on the album, Sky Blue, is essentially an amalgamation of DTP jams, which builds on the “pop metal” sound Townsend explored on the 2012 DTP album, Epicloud.

While the songs seem a bit disconnected from each other, I actually like the jams on Sky Blue better than Epicloud. For me, the first three tracks, “Rejoice,” “Fallout,” and “Midnight Sun,” are standouts on the album. Sky Blue also features that groovy, electronic dance influenced sound prevalent on some of Epicloud‘s jams like “Save Our Now.”

Devin and DTP really seem to be solidifying a sound with Sky Blue, and it’s an advancement in the progression of a cohesive DTP sound that features catchy songs and deft songwriting.  On the whole, it’s something that I’d expect even non-metal fans can get on board with.

 

The TL;DR Summary

While Z2 is not exactly Townsend’s magnum opus, both Dark Matters and Sky Blue represent a significant step forward in the sense that the DTP sound is really coming into its own. Whereas the previous DTP outings since Z1 all seemed like explorations of somewhat independent musical ideas, the overall Z2 sonic experience incorporates elements of all of these albums into a cohesive whole.

My only qualm about Z2 is that the Dark Matters dialogue is a bit over the top at times, and I feel like the same vibe could have been conveyed without having a dialogue break every few minutes. That’s what the bonus CD is for, I suppose.

If you’re a Devin fanboy, then I don’t know why you’re even reading this—you’ve already bought the album anyway. Those of you who are unfamiliar with Townsend’s work might need a little more of an introduction to the idiosyncratic nature of Townsend’s post-Strapping Young Lad music before diving into Z2, but if you’re feeling particularly omniscient, I recommending pouring yourself some coffee and checking it out.

NO FLUSH

Z2 is out now. Get it here!

  • Edward

    I’m breaking my newly minted rule of not commenting before I read the content (cause I need to shower, cause I’m going on a date, srs) to say that other than Strapping Young Lad’s City, I am painfully out of touch and unaware of Devin Townsend’s music. I’m gonna read this review before I bounce though.

    • Beunhaas

      Good luck with the date bro.

    • You charming son of a bitch!

    • Cock ov Steele

      Tell her your toilet friends say hi.

      • “Hi, I’m Edward. The cock of steel sends his greetings from the toilet.”

        • Edward

          I was thinking of telling her that I’d like nothing more than to spend my free time writing articles about black metal and noise for a toilet website.

          • Tyree

            That is a good idea.

          • Edward

            Then she’ll be all like, wait a minute, how old are you again?

            That’s when I run from the restaurant screaming.

          • Tyree

            So… you sell toilets or what?

          • DSBM shriek screaming?!?!

            WWWAAAAAHHHHOOOOOOOOEEEEEIIIIAAUAAHGGGHUGHG

          • The Satan Ov Hell

            Do you mean, like this? http://vocaroo.com/i/s1pCX2t4bGr3

          • Pls get a better microphone

          • The Satan Ov Hell

            I ran that through vocaroo twice for distortion actually. Kvlt lofi, am I right?

          • PrincePoopyPanties

            Or you could run away grunting and crying just for shits and giggles.

          • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

            Women go crazy for that kind of stuff. Do it.

          • Edward

            Fantastic review. For someone (me, as mentioned), who knows practically nothing about the man himself, this is informative both to his character and about an array of his music.

          • it’s a lot to take in, don’t get intimidated.
            if i may make a one-song recommendation to kick it off, it would be “Deadhead” from Accelerated Evolution. it encapsulates everything that makes him Hevy Devy.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_vOX3s9f_w

          • Edward

            Having a single song as an entry point makes it a lot easier, I’m gonna play this flvsher tonight!

          • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo
          • Tyree

            OCEAN MACINE RULES!

        • Cock ov Steele

          “Hi I’m Edward, the cock of steel” insta married right thar.

        • PrincePoopyPanties

          And there went my coffee, piping hot through my nostrils!

          “And Prince Poopypanties says BAWOOSH!!!”

        • CyberneticOrganism

          BOOM. LAID.

        • PrincePoopyPanties
    • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

      You silver-tongued devil, you!

    • a date, eh? does this have anything to do with the great shaving of ’14?
      edit: does the great shaving of ’14 have anything to do with this date?

      • Edward

        … it may. One way or the other.

        • after shaving my head after three years of glorious hair growth, i received more compliments in two days than those entire three years.
          now i want to grow it again just to spite everybody.

          • Tyree
          • Tyree, the MF gif machine!! WHOA, the toilet needs to have a GIF-off sometime, winner chosen by upvotes.

          • Why is Fox Mulder fucking with David Draiman?

          • Tyree

            HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! No answer good sir.

          • Pagliacci is Kvlt

            Wouldn’t we all like to do that to David Draiman?

          • PrincePoopyPanties

            I was wondering if the guy stuck a lollipop in his mouth and said “who loves ya, baby?”

          • CyberneticOrganism

            #DRAIMAN #OOHWAHAHAHAH

    • Mother Shabubu III

      FYI for if/when you’re getting into him, Devin is no longer the guy he was when he made “City”. I don’t mean that as a negative thing, it’s just as a person he’s changed dramatically and so has his musical style.

      PS: For me “Alien” trumps “City” for his best SYL works.

    • Tyree
    • Zapp Brannigan

      I’ve got some good pickup lines in case your date hits some very sensuous rocks.

      • I find the most erotic part of a woman is the boobies.

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Ass man, myself.

      • J.R.

        “Hey girl, is your daddy in prison? Because if I was your daddy I’d be in prison”

    • Paris Hilton

      Don’t forget to impress her with your encyclopedic knowledge of heavy metal and pop culture. We’re all rootin for ya!

    • PrincePoopyPanties

      Don’t forget to show her your comprehensive knowledge of Urban Dictionary. Chicks dig that. And break out a nice romantic movie like Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo, Bucky Larson or Bad Boy Bubby. Or anything of Peter North.

  • I’m not really familiar with DT so this review learned me some stuff. Thank you Mr. *guitar sounds*

    • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

      As far as the non-Strapping Young Lad stuff, I’d check out the following albums: Ocean Machine, Infinity, Accelerated Evolution, and Synchestra, all of which predate the original Ziltoid album.

    • SKRONK!

  • NefariousDude

    One time I was shrooming balls and I put on “universe in a ball”. Shit was ludicrous. That is pretty much the extent of my experience with Devin.

    • we have one more thing in common.
      BTBAM’s Great Misdirect is also great for those special evenings

      • NefariousDude

        One time I almost finished aghartha by sun o))) but my friend bailed out on me

    • Lacertilian

      A Life Once Lost have great covers for those nights.
      Actually, anything by Paul Romano (Workhardened) will tear a hole in your brain on psychs.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Great song, I think Addicted is my favorite of the DTP albums. Beyond that it just went too huge.

  • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

    *Flush this review*
    Flush this album. I am also the middle ground who neither loves nor hates Devins post-SYL output. So Flush your opinions and flush this flushing lifeflusher.
    *FLUSH*

    • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

      I still like you tho

      • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

        Nothing personal. It’s Devin. I like you too.

    • What’s your beef here?

      • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

        Every now and then I feel the need to be mean. Also I think you might have gotten the idea that I think this is the work of a tired man who needs a good nights sleep. If so you had the right idea.

    • I think you forgot a flush

      • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

        *FLUSH*!!!!!!

    • Tyree

      Woah.

  • Mother Shabubu III

    “March of the Poozers” is my current favorite. That and that heavy ass section from “Earth”.

    As far as “Sky Blue” goes, “Silent Militia” is the best track Devin has made in that “Addicted”/”Epicloud” vibe. Simple, catchy, poppy. I liked “Universal Flame” too, but I haven’t totally got into “positive pop” Devin still. Might just be I’m not a fan of Anneke’s vocals for whatever reason.

    I hope he makes another dark folk album soon. “Casualties of Cool” was really something.

    • RustyShackleford

      I agree, I keep going back to Casualties, that whole album has an awesome vibe to it.

  • can’t help but feel like this albums screams —–>

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuQt9N4Dsok

  • I’ve gotten behind on DT. Just haven’t felt like listening to him for a while. I’ll eventually get on the ball and binge his whole discography a couple times, including Casualties of Cool and this, but today is not the day.

    • Xan

      Casualties of Cool is quite good. It is good music to chill the fuck out to.

  • RustyShackleford

    Yep to all of this!

  • YourLogicIsFlushed

    Fantastic review. I’ll give it another spin as soon as I don’t have to use my shitty work headphones.
    I find DT endlessly entertaining and a great musician, but I almost feel like he is hurting himself by releasing as much material as he does. I’d prefer if he took the best material from his dual releases and made albums full of great tracks, rather than two just decent albums.

  • Paris Hilton

    I feel for Ziltoid. I too have traveled endlessly for the ultimate cup of coffee. All I have found is black, bitter swill created from royally pathetic brewing techniques. Only rancid tastes of shit coffee I have found from the mountains of Etheopia to the trendiest San Francisco cafes. There has to be a reason. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz will shine some light on this conspiracy. Gather your battle armour, Third Eagle of the Apocalypse. We ride at dawn!

    Buy Come Alive, Happy Halloween, and go fuck yourselves you sun-dried hippy lifelovers,

    -PARIS HILTON

    • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

      “Go fuck yourself with a sun dried hippy lifelover”
      Affirmative.

      • Tyree

        You sound like me when I’ve been drinking.

        • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

          Don’t I always.

          • Tyree

            Fucking get dead and bite your anus while you are at it.

    • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

      coffee as metaphor for “energy pellets” that are only gained thru submission to agenda 21 slave state—-24/7 motif–in all politically correct media/tv programs/music===

      all other energy fields are forbidden==social engineering “trigger”word—to create submissive population –also code word used by undercover agents like ted nugent,tommy chong—it they are “role playing” in a tv news segment —(act like a gun nut–but display a starbucks cup–to the camera)—then the libtard leaders will under stand that they are actually libtarded

      also they all fuck their own mothers–literally (they are weird cultee fucks)
      —-
      this song is called “love ballad of a libtard”
      —-
      play the pink floyd one at 50% vol—the other one at 100%vol
      at the same time

      http://youtu.be/OwKWLjnyjuo?list=UU-xbMzz3PjlyFk2hudCPTUw

      http://youtu.be/TZ0WJ9Qh5fI

  • JWG

    This might be an odd thing to comment on first, but it must be said that when I see ‘AxeFX’ I still think first that it sounds like bro-deodorant (debroderant?) even in context.

    • Nordling Rites Ov Karhu

      Now I’ll never be able to unsee a debroderant commercial everytimw I come across AxFx

      • JWG

        My sincerest apologies.

        It is oddly fitting that a Bro thing could be infectious though…

    • Paris Hilton

      I think the same thing. The fact that the AxeFx used here was probably sold to Devy from Sergeant D probably doesn’t help the bro factor

      • Between The Buried & Smee

        Did you also learn that from D’s amazing tumblr?

    • CyberneticOrganism
      • ChuggaChuggaDeedleyDoo

        You should smell my latest AxeFx presets I dialed in the other day. Works great on brunettes, but it’s a little hit and miss with blondes.

  • Max

    I’ve just never gotten it and I just never will. Strapping Young Lad, Ocean Machine, Devin Townsend Project, this Ziltoid thing…whatever it is, I just can’t see or hear the appeal. I haven’t listened to a lot of it, but I’ve heard enough to know it doesn’t move me at all.

    Look, he’s got a very dedicated fanbase, and that’s to be sincerely admired – coveted, even. And every time I’ve read an interview with the guy it seems like he knows what he’s doing, by his own logic. Good for him.

    But sorry everybody, he isn’t a “prolific genius”. He’s an indulgent workaholic with a recording contract and that truly fortunate and rare circumstance of having a largely uncritical and extra-devoted fanbase, much like the Grateful Dead’s live audience, or Star Trek fans. It doesn’t mean that the Grateful Dead necessarily put on a more consistently spectacular live show than anybody else touring, nor that Star Trek is particularly good sci-fi compared to (say) 2001 or Doctor Who. It’s just one of those sub-cultural phenomena that occur from time to time and reinforce themselves over decades.

    And the music just leaves me cold. It’s always produced in a really sterile, cloudy, over-compressed way. And the message behind it laughs at metal. Maybe I can’t take a joke unless it’s Spinal Tap (I also don’t care much for Metalpocalypse or whatever it’s called), but something about it really embarrasses me on metal’s behalf. Flatulence? Puppets? Nah, man.

    At any one period in metal history, there’s always at least one popular band that I don’t get into – nothing surprising there. But what’s interesting is that sometimes, that one popular band makes me realize there’s a lot of metal fans out there who may well have gotten into metal for the exact opposite reasons I did. It’s almost like there’s actually two different types of music coincidentally called “metal” that evolved concurrently before anybody realized it might be a better idea to distinguish them with two different names.

    Instead, you’re in a situation where there’s a whole bunch of people who look like you, talk like you, join bands with you, swap records with you and so on until one day it dawns on them and yourself that in terms of musical appreciation, you actually have very little in common with each other at all. For me, Devin Townsend is the high priest of the “other metal” tribe.

    That’s the only way I can explain that I just. Don’t. Get. It.

    • DAAAAAAAAAAYUM!!!

    • RustyShackleford

      I disagree with some of this, but it’s damn well thought out goodsir. So…yep to you! Yep!

      • Max

        Cheers, man. No offence intended to Townshend fans; we’re all entitled to like something. In his case, many, many do passionately. I just thought I’d take the opportunity to get it off my chest. 🙂

    • CyberneticOrganism

      You’ve changed, Muad’Dib. Ease up on the spice.

      • Max

        I temporarily allowed myself to be dominated by the memories of my maternal grandfather, just as my sister did. It won’t happen again!

  • TrickleDownTacoRiff

    I love coffee…I dont drink it, I DO THAT SHIT!

  • D. Lee

    Might just be my affinity towards redheads, but Anneke was my favorite part of Addicted, looking to be that way for Sky Blue as well

  • PrincePoopyPanties

    You are going to be spoiled, then!

    http://i.ytimg.com/vi/o1ARLml7ZYU/hqdefault.jpg

  • PrincePoopyPanties

    Amazing CDs, and hasn’t left my playlist from the get go. Hilarious as hell plot, and it’s the very definition of sonic perfection. This is definitely some of the best Devy’s done in a while, as if he’s made any bad CDs so far.

  • CyberneticOrganism

    Excellent review, Chugga. Just listened to Z2 last night all the way through and felt about the same as you did: brilliant, incredibly ambitious, but at times the mix and the hundreds of layers within it can be overwhelming, it can be hard to tell what’s happening in the song. Sometimes you just kinda wish it it was a bit simpler & more straightforward, but that’s just not the way Dev rolls these days.

  • Jason the DRUG DEALER

    My friends who really like dumb and easy metal don’t like Townsend either.

  • W.

    Unfortunately, Z2 didn’t really do it for me, but I enjoyed this retrospective analysis. Great piece!