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Sometimes an album kicks your ass from start to finish. For example, Master of Puppets doesn't take much of a break. Just when you think you can rest, Damage, Inc. rides in to finish you off. Ziltoid the Omniscient is not one of those albums. There are peaks and valleys: from sing-songy chanting to Devin's harshest growls, ambient sections that make you forget what you're listening to and the unmistakable tone of Townsend's guitar that brings you back. Like most concept albums, it relies on an appreciation for the subject. If an alien warlord venturing to Earth to secure the universe's finest cup of coffee strikes you as ridiculous, it might be wise to take a pass. Just know you will be missing possibly the most inspired work of Hevy Devy's prolific career.
I remember seeing Devin open for Symphony X when I was in high school. I couldn't decide whether to be impressed by the mind-blowing performance of "Away" or disgusted by his lengthy diatribes on sweaty balls. That combination of ideas has remained his calling card and is on display here. Impeccable musicianship meets a ridiculous intergalactic soap opera.
Ziltoid is my favorite of Townsend's work, and it reminds me every time I listen to it again why I've been following him for almost ten years now. In fact, despite the weird content and complete lack of a coherent musical theme (and I mean that in a good way), this would be the album I'd recommend to someone curious about Mr. Townsend's sound. If you like this album, which contains a sample of pretty much everything from relaxed Devin Townsend Band to the heaviest Strapping Young Lad fare, you will probably become a big fan.
The only minor gripe I've had with this release is that the cornball antics sometimes overwhelm what is truly an impressive collection of music. One track where this does not occur is the hauntingly beautiful "Hyperdrive." Hearing Anneke van Giersbergen sing the shit out of this song on Devin Townsend Project's Addicted recently reminded me of how incredible a song it truly is. Every time the initial welling of distorted guitar meets the simple repeated chord, I know I'm in for a treat. Certain songs stick with you for one reason or another; I've always gone back to "Disposable Heroes," "Black Sabbath," and basically the entirety of Rust In Peace, and "Hyperdrive" broke into that tier. I credit Townsend's unique vision, as this is a track I could only imagine hearing from him.
Another standout: "Solar Winds." It serves as a microcosm of the entire album, succinctly combining the reports of one of Ziltoid's lieutenants (with a comically alien voice) and some of Townsend's trademark guitar work. This is a song you can return to and listen to on its own every so often, for a reminder of what a fantastic album Ziltoid surely is.