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Presents: Ziltoid the Omniscient

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  • Something inside me says people reviewing this album will focus more on the concept rather than the music presented on this disc, so I’ll leave it up to them. All I will say is that Devin Townsend Presents Ziltoid the Omniscient is a sci-fi tale about a guitar-playing alien who pays a visit to planet Earth. To further investigate the plot, all you need to do is buy the album and read the booklet, which includes all lyrics except for “Hyperdrive”, and it also features passages that are not sung/spoken in the songs — then you should have a fairly solid idea on what the story is about.

    For starters, Ziltoid is a solo album in the truest sense. Devin Townsend wrote all songs, recorded, mixed, and engineered everything by himself. He also played all instruments, except the drums which he programmed on the Drumkit From Hell software that Meshuggah’s Fredrik Thordendal sent him. Granted the drumming does not sound as organic as, say, Terria, the somewhat industrial beats, juxtaposed with tons of samples, give off an alien-like quality to the songs, which definitely fits the concept of this album. This is also what distinguishes Ziltoid from the earlier Devin Townsend records musically. Other than that, traces of both Synchestra and Accelerated Evolution, the two previous albums, can be detected in some of the songs here. A good dose of aggressiveness and openness of either album turn into pivotal points in the course of the album, depending on the mood intended to portray.

    Those who consider Ocean Machine Devin Townsend’s unrivaled masterpiece will be pleasantly surprised by tracks like “Hyperdrive”, which is defined by clean harmonies, liquidy guitar phrases, and the droning, meditative atmosphere. Also, “Color Your World”, at nearly ten minutes, establishes a context in which Devin deftly packs both the harmonic brilliance of Terria and the peaceful, unique aural experience of Ocean Machine. The classically influenced midsection transitions into the Biomech aesthetic so seamlessly that you feel like you’re listening to both masterpieces in a single composition. Speaking of seamless transitions, the spoken-like death growls on “Planet Smasher” turn into Devin’s trademark confident clean singing in the blink of an eye as well.

    “By Your Command” and “Ziltoida Attaxx!!!” both contain Devin’s theatrical, less intensified SYL type of growling fused with hilarious lyrical content, and his classic epic arrangements defined by rising synth modulations and furious double bass drum battery. The latter even features an unexpected guitar solo atop a dissonant rhythmic cluster. To balance things out, Devin offers his deepest clean singing to date — which eerily evokes Dan Swano at his most expressive — on another mammoth number, “Solar Winds”, poised to become many a fan’s favourite off of this record, along with “The Greys”, a modern take on the sounds of his first solo album. Halfway through the song, heavier guitar accents come in rolling whilst the classical touch of Terria’s symphonic quality crops up. This is music with immense impact. Period.

    Being a rock-opera kind of thing, there is plenty of narrated sections on most of the tunes, which can be annoying at first. However, after repeated listens, these voice-overs will fade into the background, much like the spoken stuff in the intro of Terria’s “Earth Day”. Also, the Ocean Machine-like material, which boasts profound ambient passages filled with tidal waves of churning guitar riffage, utilizes Devin’s vocals as an extra dimension to the music, rather than a vocalist simply adding his nth melody to an already challenging and well crafted composition. “N9″, for instance, is one of these songs. Aside from the heavier Strapping Young Lad-inspired guitar attacks and smashing rhythms, the piece is carried by wonderfully arranged, sweeping melodies distilled into dissonant passages of Middle Eastern textures. Amidst all of this are Devin’s otherworldly vocal lines interwoven into the layers. It’s simply beautiful.

    The first and last tracks serve more as an intro and outro to the album, and track eight, “Omnidimensional Creator”, at less than a minute, is more of a precursor to the grandiose “Color Your World”. Overall, Ziltoid is a cosmos of sound, which deliberately functions as a genre-crosser whilst retaining Devin Townsend’s truly unique songwriting vision.

    Considering that Devin has put both the DTB and SYL on hold and stated that he will solely focus on his solo career, hopefully he will put out more albums that continue to shock and please his loyal fan base.

    Posted on February 9, 2010