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It is interesting how difficult one would find it to actually get into this album and take it seriously. Every time the flow of the music grabs me and forces me to pay attention for fear of missing one of Devin’s subtle accentuations, he chimes in with a “You have not convinced mighty Ziltoid…” or “Phooey! Indeed… phooey!!!” But nevermind that. This is a puppet show soundtrack, kind of like Diabolical Masquerade’s “Death’s Design” except this album seems to have been formulated under a state of mind of Devin now having a child to entertain. Something tells me Townsend used to be a huge fan of Thunderbirds, but anyway. “Ziltoid the Omniscient” is an incredibly refreshing album in that we now have evidence of Devin truly not needing anyone other than himself to generate an album of significant quality comparative to everything else he’s ever done.
I like this album for two main reasons. Firstly, this album serves as a big middle finger pointed right in the face of Strapping Young Lad and Century Media. I seriously hope SYL disbands, I mean, Devin and his crew had everything together on “City” and then not only started going downhill on their self-titled, but smashed canonically into rock bottom as soon as the intro was over. Man that was disappointing. The rest of the SYL discography had only a handful of good songs sparsely distributed throughout, which accurately demonstrates that Devin is an album writer, not a song writer. Somebody should have told him that one should never sacrifice raw punky, thrash riffs for bullshit “core” stylings. So now with the Ahmish Rumble in shambles, Ziltoid comes in to play. Its epic, its clever, its fucking funny, its anthemic, its diverse… its everything that dumbass SYL fanboys hate, and if SYL fanboys hate it, so does Century. All of that being said, I must interject now with another charming aspect of Ziltoid: there are only two tracks on the album that could be considered SYL material. The first being the opener that is too funny not to like, and the other, “Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!” This particular song is interesting because with the synthesized drum blastbeats, Devin’s high-pitched screaching and the theme, this song almost, almost, ALMOST sounds like Gigantic Brain. I say almost because, among other things, Giganitc Brain has better riffs. People probably won’t like this GB namedrop, but hey, “Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!” really made me feel like aliens were invading.
The second reason why I like this album is that similar to much good cinema, literature and conceptual music, the ending puts everything in perfect perspective, and leaves a lingering interest by substantiating why the album was written. It isn’t a mystery or anything, those who actually understand Townsend’s music will be able to put two and two together. The final track, which isn’t even a song, unveils how Devin establishes himself as Joe Everyman (he did this on “Terria” too), and further illuminates that the epic story, the characters, the enormous wealth of music and layered synthetics were all one vivid daydream designed to distract him from how shitty and redundant his job is; a coffee vendor! Canada is owned by Tim Horton’s, so it really doesn’t surprise me that the whole point behind “Ziltoid the Omniscient” is simply that there is no direct enlightenment or sumation, its about a guy who hates his job. And when all is said and done, serving coffee to a bunch of snobby, caffine-deficient pricks all day really makes a guy wish someone would just come along and give the earth the good old fuckstabdeath for an incredibly inane reason.
Now, let’s take a gander at the specific musical content for a second. We have everything that makes Townsend a distinct musician present. He’s gone back to writing long songs, ranging from 8 to 9 minutes in duration, while building up shorter songs to bridge gaps in the album and the plot. The majority of Ziltoid ranges from mid-paced to slow, and is immeasurably dense with atmosphere throughout. The previous point is the reason why I personally don’t consider “Planet Smasher” SYL material, its too ripe with ambience (it even reaches a cadence of layered singing vocals) and the lyrics are far too specific in their story telling. That’s another downside to SYL, they’ve always had shitty lyrics. Which is escpecially annoying seeing as how just one Dark Angel song places Gene Hoglan on a taller lyricism pedistal than Townsend. And that brings us to Gene, man what a drummer. The guy was drumming for Dark Angel in ’86 when some believe thrash was perfected. Why not just use him? He’s the Atomic Fucking Clock!!! No drum machine in the whole world could substitute for him. I give props to “Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!” for reminding me of Gigantic Brain, but using Gene would have not only saved Devin a lot of time and stress, but the album would have sounded much better too.
So yeah, this is one big, fat, green, extraterrestrial monster of an album, but it definitely has its flaws. Though I will admit “By Your Command” and “Solar Winds” are my new favorite songs by Townsend, you die-hard fans can rest assured that the holy trinity of Ocean Machine, Infinity and City still stake the claim for Devin’s best and most awe-inspiring work.