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A greenish humanoid of a wiry, thin physique, body shrouded in a visibly oversized cape, long strands of thick hair flowing from the sides of his otherwise bald, wormlike head. Despite his puny exterior, no doubt of his magnificance, let alone his willpower, is left in one's mind once he see the stern, decided look in his eyes as he looks on into the distance, one finger risen in proclamation of what goes on in his all-knowing mind. He is the ruler of many, the commander and subjugator of much of the ever-growing universe, confident in his untouchability. Yes, this is a paradoxal creature, one that has gained such awesome power through his cunning, influence and persistence. His name is Ziltoid the Omniscient. In his hand he holds a coffee mug.
Instead of taking a break from music to spend time with his newborn child like he announced after the release of Sychnestra with The Devin Townsend Band, everyone's favourite skullet-sporting megalomaniac has been working on another release under his initial solo name, Devin Townsend. This time he decided to bring to life a concept he made up in his childhood. As usual, he presents to us a whole new approach to his special brand of progressive metal. Much like the tragically misunderstood Physicist that most people view as a fall-between, Ziltoid The Omniscient is much heavier than what we're used to hearing from him under his various solo names, especially on ”By Your Command”, ”Ziltoidia Attaxx!” and ”Planet Smasher”. Compared to his previous works, tangents can be drawn between it and Infinity (though here the vocals are much higher in the mix), as the production and the heavy wall-of-sound layering that Devin Townsend is known for is very 'noisy' and loud unlike most of his releases. The themes are quite similiar, both being spacey albums, even though the approach each album takes couldn't be further apart. This makes the overall feeling constantly remind the listener of Infinity. Songs like ”Hyperdrive” and ”Solar Winds”, however are much more reminiscent of the Accelerated Evolution album due to their quite lofty nature, clear and simple guitar riffs and clear, soaring vocals with plenty of hooks. They are, however, a little more atmospheric and drawn out than most songs on that album.
The story of the alien lord Ziltoid begins as he demands Earth to hand over its finest bean to produce the ultimate cup of coffee for him to enjoy. Earth is the only place in the universe that can produce the highest quality of coffee, and Ziltoid needs this black nectar as fuel in order to bend time. The insolent humans however aren't willing to co-operate in a way that would appease Ziltoid, instead providing insufficient coffee and preparing to defend their planet to the last man. Their attempts are futile as the resulting war completely devastates Earth, leaving it in burning rubble. Earth's noble defender and hero, Captain Spectacular along with the remaining humans, decide to avenge the destruction of their home planet by exposing the fact that Ziltoid is a nerd. The plan backfires and the humans are forced to escape via hyperdrive.
The tracks are usually either began or ended with some short narrative dialogue to carry the story forward. I have to admit, when I first heard the first track, ”ZTO”, which is just a small intro that explains the beginnings of the story I thought it was quite awkward and cheesy. I also had the same feeling about the second entirely narrative track, ”Omnisdimensional Creator”. I was most likely not ready to accept a Devin Townsend record that would have such over-the-top humour. Once I got into the story I understood that they are important in the storytelling and the grand scale of things, even if they are not so in the purely musical aspects of the album. Beyond the two mentioned earlier, merely a few tracks (once again: ”By Your Command”, ”Ziltoidia Attaxx!” and ”Planet Smasher”) are really telling the story in their entirety. The rest have spoken parts to aid in storytelling and they mostly support the music very well, for example Captain Spectacular's monologue in ”Solar Winds”, and especially later in the same song Ziltoid's discussion with his underling after the long atmospheric instrumental break. It manages to come by surprise and pull the listener back into the story from that hypnotized state the later half of the song creates. This is what makes the narration important; the actual lyrics do not contain much of the actual storytelling, but are moreso the character's introspection (and thus probably Devin's) and the usual intricate streams-of-thought that we've come to expect on every Townsend release. Without the spoken parts, the story simply would not come through. The way it works now is that the story conveyed by the narration wraps the more serious issues in a protective foam. As such, this album is much more profound than what it initially appears to be, and sort of hides its many facets beneath the fantastical sci-fi themes.
With hyperdrive the humans make their way to the Nebulo 9, only to be ambushed by Ziltoid's forces. An epic battle ensues, but is left undecided with Ziltoid having to go out for extra backup. He then goes on to awake the 6th dimensional planet smasher in order to ”have a bit of fun”, and defeat the foul humans and to bring the conflict to an end in his favour. Alas, he is rejected by the planet smasher, who does not deem him worthy of his allegiance. Left dumbfounded by the two defeats he has suffered in such a short period of time Ziltoid, who thought himself to be an infallible being, developes an identity crisis and goes to see the Omnisdimensional Creator for answers. The Creator happens to be a pothead.
Though classable as progressive metal, this album (like all other Devin Townsend records) shows very few signs of the usual prog rockish technical wankery. To compensate a lot of changes in time signatures are to be found here, as well as complex song structures. The instrumental styles on this album are highly expressive, which is an obvious result of the fact that the album is entirely written, played and produced by Devin Townsend himself. He is much more in touch with how he wants to album to play out, so to speak, than he was on the The Devin Townsend Band records, and even his previous solo works on this name. The guitarwork in general is very reminiscent of the 'dreamy', drawn out passages of the Accelerated Evolution album. There is some traces of his Strapping Young Lad material in ”Ziltoidia Attaxx!” and ”Planet Smasher”, in the sense that they are unmistakably heavier than the rest, though especially the latter has much more ambience present underneath the surface to be mistaken for the Lad. The drumming, even in the absence of Devin's usual henchman Gene Hoglan, is especially heavy and the fact that it is made with Drumkit From Hell isn't too obvious or irritating though some corners have audibly been cut in places, as often is the case when drum machines are used. Synths, as always, are used merely to paint the background and not to draw any attention to themselves. It's probably quite redundant to mention the fact that Devin Townsend is an amazing vocalist at this point, but I suppose it has to be pointed out once again. He sings, screams and growls his way through the album in an inimitable manner and the main attraction (if it weren't for the combined awesomeness of various things) are his vocals. Even the narrated parts sound distinguishable as he changes his tone for each character.
From this point onwards the story becomes a little hazy and hard to get. One thing is clear though, Ziltoid comes to the realization that he is just a puppet. Same thing applies to the music, ”Color Your World” and ”The Greys” very much remind me of the latter half of the Synchestra album, specifically ”Judgement” and ”A Simple Lullaby”, though less repetitive and more like the rest of the stuff on this album. That said they're long, still quite repetitive and kind of directionless and all over the place. ”Color Your World” is easily the worst track on the album, even though it could easily have been saved by cutting the middle part down a little as this song really suffers due to its length. ”The Greys” is much better and serves as a perfect ending track for the album in pretty much every way, only to be brought down a little by the ”Tall Latte” outro which seems a bit too much like an easy way out. Such grandiose storyline could've done better with an ending that met its standards. That said, I won't complain too hard as it works just fine this way too and I guess strenghtens the point I made earlier about the sci-fi story of this album only being allegerorical, and actually carrying a real life lesson for all the people who make the same mistake as Ziltoid: take themselves too seriously and get caught up in the illusion that they're some kind of an infallible being. In that situation, one might just find themselves being exposed as who they really are and get knocked out of balance. Whether I make any sense at all or am even close to the mark with this, there is one important lesson this album teaches for sure.
"You gotta chill man."