27th October 2014 – HevyDevy
02. From Sleep Awake
03. Ziltoidian Empire
04. War Princess
06. March of the Poozers
07. Wandering Eye
09. Ziltoid Goes Home
10. Through the Wormhole
11. Dimension Z
It’s easy to assume that everyone knows the score with Ziltoid, but for the avoidance of doubt, Ziltoid (the Omniscient) is the puppet/alien/comic creation/alter ego of Devin Townsend and, in true sequel fashion, Z² sees him returning bigger and badder than before.
There is a certain pleasing symmetry to the timing of Ziltoid’s second coming. His first appearance signaled the end of a protracted period of hyperactivity from Devin, after which he retreated for a couple of years before re-emerging with the Devin Townsend Project. After five years, six DTP albums (including the accompanying Sky Blue disc), a quick acoustic album, Retinal Circus, various box sets, Casualties of Cool and an exhaustive touring schedule, an ambitious performance of Z2 at London’s esteemed Royal Albert hall will hopefully serve as a grand finale to this chapter before Devin takes a well-earned break.
Dark Matters does present a rather unique challenge to an album reviewer: spoilers. Z² is very much a narrative-driven affair, and I don’t really want to give too much away. So we will gingerly step around that for now. All you really need to know for now is that the plot contains everything a long-term Devin fan would expect – aliens, coffee, fart jokes and generous helpings of nerdly ludicrousness.
A direct comparison with the original Ziltoid The Omniscient is inevitable, and quickly shows just how far Devin has come in the seven intervening years. Perhaps spurred on by the runaway success of his crowdfunding campaign for Casualties of Cool, it is obvious that Devin has thrown pretty much everything he has at this recording – and its fairly clear Dark Matters has received more of his attention than Sky Blue. In typical Devin fashion, Z² is a densely layered wall of sound that reaches the same bombastic heights as Deconstruction, tied to the upbeat, almost poppy energy of Epicloud and Addicted.
But the burning question is a simple one: is Dark Matters any good? The answer, however, is more complex. Fundamentally, it rests upon whether the listener finds the unrelenting cheesiness of Ziltoid hilarious or deeply irritating. Even with the promise of a third disc, stripping away the narrative might not be enough to persuade those who are not enamoured by the prospect of an entire album of sci-fi based titting about.
Ziltoid sits in roughly the same place in Devin’s discography as Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back sits in Kevin Smith’s filmography; it is exceptionally silly, self-knowing, self-referential and positively riddled with in-jokes, but Devin’s unique relationship with his fan base means that he is one of vanishingly few musicians who can pull such an overblown and self-indulgent stunt as this and still emerge with his credibility intact. So, why not?
There are still some moments of pure Devin magic lurking within Dark Matters: “March of the Poozers” and its haunted carnival vibe – similar to “Juular” – is a particular highlight. “Ziltoid Goes Home” also carries one of his biggest, most pleasing choruses, complete with a genuinely monumental choral part.
However, at times Devin doesn’t quite get the balance right between lyrics and exposition, and the results are decidedly unsatisfactory. Dark Matters has fairly clearly been written with a strong visual aspect, which is obviously missing here. Not only that, but the more literary-minded listener may well find the repeated use of the “turns out…” device in the narrative infuriating to a table-flipping degree. Sadly, Devin isn’t quite as good a story-teller as he is a songwriter.
It’s impossible to know for sure how well Dark Matters will stand up to repeated listens over a protracted period, but it is probably reasonable to conclude that after those initial listens, the disc will be best enjoyed on a sparing, occasional basis. Of course, for the sub-set of Devin fans lucky enough to secure a ticket for the Albert Hall show, the album should be considered essential listening to ensure maximum enjoyment of that particular evening. Those who can’t be in London in April, however, may want to weigh up whether or not it is actually worth waiting for the inevitable DVD of the show to get the full audio-visual experience.