Music Review – by Morgan Thistlethwaite
Let’s just put it out there; I’m a bit of a Devin Townsend fan. People who know me know this. I love his musical diversity, his ability to push the limits of the sounds and styles he works with, and the honesty reflected in his work.
Like many, I discovered him through the chaotic metal of his band Strapping Young Lad when I was an angry teenager. Since then I’ve come to know and get slightly obsessed over his greater body of work. From his most recent Devin Townsend Project (DTP) release Transcendence (2016) to his lesser-known works like the ambient Devlab (2004), and his vocal work on Steve Vai’s on Sex & Religion (1993).
Whatever direction his music takes, however chaotic, meditative, emotive or hilarious, it’s always passionate, personal, and stands to represent an expression of his mental state or feelings of that moment.
So if I gush a little bit, I’m not sorry but I will try to keep this review as factual and objective as possible.
According to the album’s liner notes, Ziltoid was an idea that Devin came up with when he was about 8 years old, and had been brewing in his subconscious until he took the time out to actualise the idea and bring the puppet to life (he made a puppet).
My first meeting with Ziltoid was in the days of Myspace. As a precursor to the release of the album, Ziltoid broadcast a handful of two-minute video messages to alert fans of his imminent arrival. It was a fun little experiment from before Youtube and became second nature to internet users.
The album’s musical comedy concept tells the story of Ziltoid, a creature who experiences everything all at once. He’s a little screwy because of this, and he likes his coffee. In this story, Ziltoid visits Earth to demand the perfect cup of coffee lest humanity be annihilated. Of course, his standards are quite high so he gets all Ming The Merciless and an all-out attack on the planet ensues.
It’s hard not to compare Ziltoid the Omniscient with Townsend’s first musical comedy album, Cooked on Phonics (1996). Released under the fictional band name Punky Brüster, it made a statement on the punk music resurgence of the time. The songs were solid (it’s not hard to get punk wrong, even if you infuse it with metal sensibilities) and the narrative held it all together as a mildly-entertaining concept album.
Comparitively, Ziltoid is far more theatrical. Where Punky Brüster may have been constrained by the “cool” of what peers felt to be acceptable, Ziltoid throws all caution to the wind to create a narrative that lies within the songs as much as the sketches that bookend them.
The music is mostly heavy. Tracks like By Your Command and Planet Smasher dominate the sound with a few contemplative moments from tracks such as Solar Winds and The Greys to break up the assault and add contrast to the final package.
This is one of Townsend’s solo efforts in the strongest sense of the word, with all creative input being his, even down to programming the drum parts. He does, however, get some friends in to provide additional voice talent (current DTP members, Brian “Beav” Waddell and Dave Young).
Ziltoid The Omniscient is an over-the-top prog-metal trip that sounds like some guy in his basement playing with toys and entertaining himself (which is exactly what it is and that’s not a bad thing in my books). The story is flimsy but the voices are fun, and if you always thought that Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds would have worked better had it been a little more self-aware and humorous, this one’s for you.