The Devin Townsend Project’s Z²: The Planet Smasher Remains Pretty Damn Cool
First, a note to all poopy-pants, farty-faces and general drooly-jaws: feel free to fuck off. Non-fans of Devy, just like non-fans of Neurosis or Sunn O))), remain ever immune to conversion and linger just close enough to sling their loudest shoulder shrugs our way whenever there’s a new album to lampoon. Honestly, it’s hard to fault them. Each of the aforementioned artists toils within a highly personal and idiosyncratic musical language, and each is as unlikely to veer off in ways that help long-time detractors “get it” as such critics are to suddenly accept those musicians’ hermetic excesses. Not into meticulously written bear-hug metal or intergalactic goofiness as justification for (at this point) two hours of music? Then Devin’s most recent decade of work ain’t for you. Move on. (Ha ha ha! As if you could escape mighty Ziltoid! Puny humans!)
For me, reviewing any new Devin Townsend recording as a stand-alone document is a bit premature. I couldn’t fully appreciate Epicloud until I felt the flesh-sublimating thunder of “Grace” burst from the stage; complete enjoyment of the first Ziltoid record required hearing Anneke van Giersbergen’s brilliant approach to “Hyperdrive!” on Addicted and witnessing a club lousy with nerds pumping fists and chanting “We are all puppets!” Part of my consciousness is still lost in the latticework of the cosmos trying to parse the experience of hearing Deconstruction, and that was three years ago. I’ve had considerably less time with this double disc monstrosity. Forgive me if my reaction to either album turns out to be stunted when viewed from the far end of the next few months.
Yes, this release is very definitely two wholly separate albums. The DTP disc, titled Sky Blue, is chock full of immediately recognizable and satisfying-as-a-dozen-Krispy-Kremes jams that cash in on all the great background work laid by the Project’s previous efforts (except maybe Ki, but whatevs, you know, because Casualties of Cool took up that slack and it just dropped, like, five minutes ago). Anyone who spent any time with Addicted knows that the Anneke lady-vox experiment yielded repeatably awesome results, and it all works again here. Unsurprisingly, Devin masters the art of sequencing once again: “Rejoice” breaks the ice with its strange Kid Rock vocal rhythms, then pours into the posi-rock of “Fallout” and the album’s first killer verse-chorus melodi-combo. “Midnight Sun” and “A New Reign” stretch out and bask in the warmth of Devin’s trademark tenor-on-distortion. Having slipped us a pair of early bliss-outs, DTP lights the Leppard-lovin’ dance floor back up with the immediately crush-worthy “Universal Flame” – I’ve basically punched my car a new sunroof by overlistening to this song, the blood-into-champagne fizz of “Warrior” and the dangerous adrenaline lollipop of “Sky Blue”. “Silent Militia” leans is way more militia than silent – it’s like this album’s “Lucky Animals” without, you know, sucking – but it’s the last shot of real attitude on the album. “Rain City” flips the switch on the album’s proggy denouement, and while it should be play just as loudly as all the preceding songs, this section of the album finally allows listeners to sink into DTP’s prodigious sonic cushion. “Forever” loads a “Divine”-style lullaby with a few extra layers (and a processed vocal scream?), “Before We Die” reunites pop structures with Devin’s advanced production sensibilities for a sing-along curtain call, and “The Ones Who Love” evaporates into the endless glittering ether. (Oh GOD, why do I listen to any other music at all, ever? Right, hate firmly lodged in heart, must remember, thank you Dragged Into Sunlight.)
Of course, the whole release is billed as Z², so let’s get to the planet smashing, already! Some of the endearing humor of the original Ziltoid the Omnicient lay in its satire and fourth-wall-breaking, and this new installment rightly leads off with a narration that negates the alien-as-bored-barrista’s-daydream and sets the, um, stage for a more character-driven exploration of… oh, who are we fucking kidding? I’m not describing the plot to you feeble threedians (3D-ians)! I will tell you that the whole affair is less frontloaded with aggression than its predecessor. Otherwise, Dark Matters offers a potent extension of the Ziltoid musical mythology. Song after song revels in startling melodies and complicated percussive grooves just a dozen or two layers from Deconstruction-level madness. Only Devin could wield a chorus as a ragtime rhythm section, as on “March of the Poozers”. The fanged “Deathray” and mech-galloping “Ziltoid Goes Home” might even satisfy those mopey-mouthed Strapping Young Lad torchbearers… though, knowing those assholes, probably not. The only likely disappointment is the realization that, while this Zil-tale leans a bit heavily on exposition, Ziltoid’s own voice is absent from long stretches of the album’s runtime. In the years and live performances since his debut, the googly alien has grown a larger-than-life, spotlight-hogging persona that doesn’t quite get its due. Sure, nebula-seeding guitar heroism abounds, along with all the choral melodies and face-smacking drums you could possibly want. And the Planet Smasher turns out to be pretty damn cool (sonically, anyway). I guess I wish that a little more of the potty-prone attitude of Ziltoid Radio had made its way onto this record. Remember when he spewed “Hap-PENIS” over some hip pop tune or other? Yeah, I miss that.
But second guess Devy? Never. What would be the point? He certainly doesn’t care, or even expect anybody to follow every wacked-out zig he zags in his outrageous rock-show mind. Just recline in the cushiest seat of your space-ready cock-rocket and splooge on out past those planetary balls, through that crusty wormhole and into the heart of a hairy sun. Or moon. Which is actually your heart.
(If you actually made it to this part of the review, then, dude, seriously, get a job. I have one, and I sure as hell didn’t make it this far. I had some lackey at Century Media write the last few paragraphs… can’t you tell?)
Z² comes out October 27 on InsideOut. You can stream the track “Deathray” here and pre-order the album here.