Review Summary: More a contemporary inspiration than a sequel. Hang on to your coffee!
Devin Townsend is an artist of volumes. For most artists, that spells consistency - a set sound with little to no deviation from album to album. For Devin, it's something very different - having delved whole-hearted into everything from the dark matter dense heaviness of City
to his first 2014 release, ambient country album Casualties of Cool
. Devin has always been in a mode of constant experimentation and progression from the word go.
Yet 2012's Epicloud
feels like the exception to this rule of thumb. It was a calculated album that followed the same pop metal formula developed on Addicted
, though it fell a bit flat for lack of hooks. Meanwhile, 2007's Ziltoid the Omniscient
- the most obvious direct link to Z2
- was a highly experimental album in that Devin wrote and recorded the whole album himself (including drums using the "Drumkit from Hell" software package). It's important to mention these two albums because they are the clearest and most direct links to Z2
being where Z2
draws its concept from and Epicloud
and Devin's more recent works being where much of Z2
, though especially Sky Blue
's first disc, draws its tone and direction from.
Again, Devin is an artist of volumes. He has an edge on the competition when it comes to success, but as with all volumes of output, there are some hits and some misses. Where Epicloud
seemed to stagnate, Sky Blue
thrives by taking the same direction of metal heavily influenced by pop and electronica and hitting on catchy, fun tracks like "Sky Blue" and "Before We Die." Perennial DTP contributor Anneke van Giersbergen seems to have had her imprint reduced ever so slightly as well, making her parts feel special rather than common and paying dividends for the flavor and appeal of Z2
as a whole. Really, though, the album just feels a bit more coherent, even with aggressive tracks such as the album's heaviest, "Silent Militia," which touts crisp low-end highlighting Devin's trademark screams without breaking the flow of Sky Blue
The formula isn't exactly perfect, but it is more polished and perfected since Epicloud
. Dramatic and spacey tracks like "Midnight Sun" and "A New Reign," while certainly not bad or boring on their own, can grow a bit tedious in the tandem they're presented in, while their bookends ("Fallout" and "Universal Flame") have that danceable groove that distinguish them as boppy, fun, and immediately stimulating. As with Epicloud
, there's another feeling that much of Sky Blue
as a whole) are meant to be fun for fun's sake, and, hey, if there's a few little bumps in the flow, so what?
Now, while Sky Blue
may be the direct descendant of Epicloud
, it feels a bit untouched by the legacy of Ziltoid
the first. Fret not - it doesn't really get in the way of the music on Sky Blue
and, to be honest, it feels like it keeps a certain weight from hindering what's essentially Dev's take two with the Epicloud
style and crew. Certainly this isn't the case for second disc Dark Matters
, yet it's a bit impressive how much the paradigm has shifted from its 2007 predecessor.
, like Sky Blue
, is nowhere near as heavy as the original Ziltoid the Omniscient
- which is understandable considering Devin's musical evolution from that point to the present day, though it does present a bit of a theming conflict. How could something so impossibly heavy be followed by something with a lighter, more comical air? Sure - both albums are notably silly (Z2
notably features a breed of "poozers" which fly around with fart noises and a continued concept of planetary coffee theft), but Ziltoid
prioritized music over comedy, and it seems to be the other way around on Z2
. There's nothing quite as heart-stirring as "Hyperdrive" or as intimidatingly heavy as "Planet Smasher," which holds the album back musically, though there are rare exceptions, such as the pummeling invasion epic "Deathray," which is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at future shows.
As a comedic musical, on the other hand, it's easy to see that Z2
has the potential to work towards something bigger. The dialog is well-executed, funny, and visually evocative, though it feels like there's a stage show we're missing out on. While the exposition gets in the way of the album's musicality, it makes perfect sense in the theater of context it was intended for, and at the end of the day, that's about all you can ask for.
As an album of music, what can you say? Devin Townsend is an artist of volumes, and his earlier volume this year Casualties of Cool
is the clear contender for album of the year this time around. Sky Blue
has several very strong and catchy tracks rooted in dance pop-inspired metal that will hold up for years to come, while Dark Matters
is a fun, theatrical "War of the Worlds" type of experience that will likely carry more of a niche gathering. Either way, while Z2
isn't the best album in Townsend's collection of works (a tall order), it's certainly a step up from its predecessor and another fun spin on a rare brand of metal.