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I had very high hopes for this album. Its got a stab of humour and it's Devin Townsend, who is probably the funniest man in metal without being a dick and to me is a certified genius. This latest opus though is worryingly middle of the road in most ways. This album, a concept work based around a puppet show he's devised whereby an alien named Ziltoid (the omniscient) arrives at earth and demands coffee to... well that's not immediately clear on the album, although on his Myspace Ziltoid states he uses it to bend time.
The first problem is that here is a brilliant idea for a story. A seemingly endless supply of ideas for amusing dialogue and jokes on the album like on the Punky Brewster album 'Cooked on Phonics', and Devin said that 'Ziltoid...' would be in a similar style, mixed with SYL. 'Cooked on Phonics' is a hilarious album, parodying pop-punk, death metal and the fickle nature of mainstream music business. This album is weak on the humour side. Worryingly weak. For a man of Devin's immagination and wit this is very moderate indeed. There are some good bits that make you laugh the first time you hear them but that's it. The story itself is very difficult to follow and throws in characters with hardly any explanation. You're not even sure if the earth is destroyed following track 3, and someone pops up called 'Captain Spectacular' who then promptly disappears again. The 'planet smasher', who appears on the track of the same name, is equally difficult to hear in the song and at this point in the story it's not even clear where in the Universe this stuff is taking place.
Putting the story to one side, the music itself is fair but the words I would use are again the same; 'average', 'mediocre', 'middle of the road', basically think the recent SYL album 'The New Black' and remove the edgey bits and you have what this album roughly resembles. Dev is a musician who I, rightly or wrongly, as well as a fair number of people, have high expectations of and it does mean that I'm a difficult guy to please when it comes to anything he makes. His music in the past has been marked by nearly insane levels of creativity, immagination, ingenuity, variety and extremnity. Nothing he has done can be said to be done half way or down the middle, and I have found his music to be at his best when it's the most extreme. No, that doesn't mean that I think this album should be heavy as hell from start to finish. It does mean that I like his work because it's done with maximum fuckyeah-itude. If he's gonna do a peaceful ambient album ('Synchestra', 'the Hummer') he'll take it to the ultimate conclusion. If he wants to do an album mentally crumbling apart and sounds like the universe going into supernova ('Alien') or just plain celestial bonkers ('Infinity') likewise he will excel.
This album though is the only one of his that is sounding like something I didn't think I'd ever say of a Devin Townsend album; mild. The album starts off fun with 'ZTO' and "Ziltoidia Attakks!!!' which is bouncy and thankfully not too long like 'color your world' (that should be spelt 'colour' but let the Americans slaughter english if they need to) and songs like 'by your command' which are in excess of 8 mins. Despite this meant to be being a humourous album the majority of tracks are quite sober and before long you get a gentle lengthy introspective track like 'Solar Winds'. 'Solar Winds' is probably the best track on the album to use as a yardstick for most of the record, which is a benevolent, gentle sort of sound, with some slight 'spacey' atmospherics thrown in. It is cool. It is groovy. But it's not amazing, not by a long shot.
The guitar tone is too thin, the dialogue is difficult to hear, and the drums have an unpleasant rubbery-like sound about them which overpowers the guitar parts. There's good use of effects but I can't help feeling that it should sound some how thicker as a sound overall.
Personally I think I'm being a bastard, but I want Dev to be the bi-polar crazy man because that's when he makes his best and most dizzying music. It seems he's calming down following the birth of his new son and the mental exhaustion that must have followed the creation of 'Alien' (for which he stayed off his medication). Unfortunately it seems that we may end up with calmer, milder more sane albums as a result, and whilst I'm pleased for him because bi-polar is a crap condition to be afflicted with, I can't help but wonder if it's going to make his music sound tamer.
'Ziltoid the Omnisicent' should be approached as light hearted fun. It's not hilarious like Punky Brewster, nor is it breath-taking or his best work like Ocean Machine. It is, however, pleasant and fun with undemanding easy-going music for a lazy afternoon. It's laid back, philosophical in atmosphere and is implied at the album's conclusion to be the day dream of an employee working in a coffee shop; that should tell you something. Don't listen to this expecting wonders or astounding hilarity. Just listen, relax and think of coffee...although personally I'm a tea man.