Devin Townsend: Ziltoid the Omniscient

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Devin Townsend: Ziltoid the Omniscient
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Devin Townsend: Ziltoid the Omniscient
Industrial, Progressive Metal
InsideOut Music
May 21st, 2007
Release length: 53:47
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Back in 2006, Strapping Young Lad had called it a day. After five solid releases, the group disbanded and went their seperate ways. However, that didn’t stop Mr. Townsend from continuing to record material. Devin Townsend has been a solo project from the man of the same name for quite some time now. The first solo release had been issued back in 1998 and titled Infinity. This act, however, is not to be confused with The Devin Townsend Band which is a strictly Progressive group that also wound up disbanding when Strapping Young Lad did and leaving behind only two recordings. With various recordings issued throughout the years, Ziltoid the Omniscient became one that felt more at home with a Strapping Young Lad recording, but with a strong Progressive concept to the music of a space alien. A space alien, on a quest for the world’s greatest coffee.

The story of Ziltoid the Omniscient is told in a time span of nearly fifty four minutes total. The concept is that Ziltoid, an alien ruler from the planet Ziltoidia, has come to Earth for the world’s finest cup of coffee. However, upon tasting it, he is convinced that the earthlings are hiding their finest cup of coffee, and then declares that Ziltoidia is to attack the Earth. However, Earth stands their ground and begins to fight back. The story is told through varying perspectives, of the Earthlings, Ziltoid himself, and Captain Spectacular who is leading the war against the Ziltoidians, as well as is on a quest to out Ziltoid as a nerd which is highlighted in the story thanks to a spotlight on his skills at the Guitar Hero game, as well as including a simple narrative perspective. Traditional dialogue is included during some of the songs, which appears later on in “By Your Command” where Ziltoid talks to the others on his ship. There are times where the dialogue does take a more spacey background singing performance that feels haunting as the voices confirm things to their master, Ziltoid, which is a nice touch.

For the most part, the music of the recording sticks with the general Industrial sound that Strapping Young Lad incorporated into the music, and the general intensity, as well as insanity. However, much of it is to portray the more intense moments of the recording. There also are some more Progressive tracks throughout the album, and not just pushing that style through the musical overtones and atmospheres, as well as some varying Progressive elements to the tracks. “Solar Winds” is the first of these fully Progressive tracks. The song blends together dialogue with clean singing over a very haunting slower ballad-like performance that feels like a mixture of Progressive Rock with Space Rock. A heavier Industrial approach does appear later on in the song, but it doesn’t take away from the haunting and astral sound the song initially started with, as it seems to only reflect the tension between Captain Spectacula and Ziltoid when he realizes the Captain is readying the attack against him. After the short spoken dialogue, the music continues on for quite some time in a similar fashion use to build up the tension during “By Your Command” before the attack on Earth, except it starts off low, and the volume continues to increase as the song reaches it’s climax, and further dialogue is given by the end of the track. This leads to another softer track, though not a ballad by any means, but with very soothing clean vocals through much of the song, and is just an addicting Progressive Metal song with a hint of Industrial, though it doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the general story, but at least retains the general atmosphere of the song. The space and science fiction sound effects through the Industrial input that holds some of the songs together, as well as the general bleeding into another song from the previous track, helps to keep a constant flow to the music and really establish the fact of listening to a musical with the listener.

The album feels very over-the-top in many ways, but it comes off more like the kind of craziness that you’d not only expect from Devin Townsend, but also like one might expect from a modern science fiction film or novel that was meant to be so serious that it couldn’t be taken seriously. Given the lyrics, the music, and the general story line, as well as the twist ending, it becomes clear that it is what the intention was when composing the release. However, that still doesn’t excuse some of the album’s faults. While “By Your Command” and “Solar Winds” come off as a science fiction overload of both over-the-top seriousness and humor, there are times where the material just doesn’t work. “Solar Winds”, as mentioned, does seem out of place in the grand scheme of things. “N9” is a song that just seems to take forever, is far from interesting in any matter, including from an ambient or atmospheric stand point, and really serves no purpose to the album other then to pad it out. “Planet Smasher” isn’t a bad song but generally feels padded out at the start as well, but not in a good tension-building way. This track’s inclusion of gutterals, however, does show a great range from Devin himself, as there is a great range of style incorporated as well as a few falsettos that go in the background outside the clean singing, typical screaming, and even some Daffy Duck-like spoken word dialogues from Ziltoid’s minions that add that extra comedic kick to the release outside some lyrics that, if you pay attention, are clearly aimed at just being a joke, such as the gutteral voice of the dimensional “Planet Smasher” declaring that he hates musical, which essentially is what you’re listening to. The album also doesn’t really seem to end in a manner that completes the story, but rather just seems to end with a twist, which has also just been done to death throughout the years.

There’s a little more to this release, which comes in the form of a bonus disc with audio and video on it. This isn’t necessarily a bonus item in limited edition packaging, and seems to come standard with Ziltoid the Omniscient‘s digipack packaging. The disc includes audio commentary from Ziltoid himself about the bonus material, as well as random spoken word segments on “Don’t Know Why” which, really, aren’t all that interesting honestly. “Travelling Salesman” is another random song that is clearly just Devin screwing around in the studio, and, once again, isn’t necessarily all that enjoyable other then the odd Country music that goes on in the background. There’s also “Guitar Instructional” which is just a metronome going on over a guitar performance of one of the songs to Ziltoid the Omniscient, so unless you play guitar, it’s another rather pointless track. However, the Ziltoid webisodes that appear on this bonus disc are worth checking out, being five videos in total on the disc, and were clearly originally produced to promote the album back in 2007 using the puppet of Ziltoid that appears on the cover artwork with a more comic, old-school science fiction introduction opening to each episode. Finally, there is a thirteen plus minute video of Devin Townsend showing off his guitar and some of the DevLab, and generally showing off, which is interesting but really only worth maybe one playthrough.

For the main album, Ziltoid the Omniscient becomes a zany over-the-top Rock and Metal musical of Industrial and Progressive concepts. The story is well penned, though sometimes the music, and even the dialogue can get a little boring, and there are times where the album does feel padded. The included bonus material is just something offer the loyal fans who bought the album, though for the most part really isn’t anything special at all outside having the Ziltoid webisodes available. Sadly, they are only available on the CD and not on a bonus DVD, so you become limited to how you can watch them. Ziltoid the Omniscient does manage to hit many of the right chords with the music, focusing on the atmosphere and overall intensity or serenity of the music accordingly with the lyrics and what’s going on with the story in general. It’s sad that the album doesn’t ever really come to a close, and the twist ending feels more like a cheap punch-out ending due to time restraints. It’d be nice to have a follow-up album and pick up where this leaves off, or to perhaps further expand the lore of Ziltoid himself, or even Captain Spectacular, but chances are good it’ll never happen. Either way, it’s still a great album that fans of Devin Townsend are going to enjoy, despite their expectations walking into the release.

Disc One:
01. ZTO – 1:17
02. By Your Command – 8:10
03. Ziltoidia Attaxx!!! – 3:43
04. Solar Winds – 9:47
05. Hyperdrive – 3:48
06. N9 – 5:31
07. Planet Smasher – 5:45
08. Omnidimensional Creator – 0:48
09. Color Your World – 9:45
10. The Greys – 4:15
11. Tall Latte – 1:03

Disc Two:
01. Don’t Know You – 7:35
02. Travelling Salesman – 2:14
03. Guitar Instructional – 4:33
04. Ziltoid Webisode Skits (Video)

Overall Score: 8/10
Devin Townsend (band)
Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.