Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Devin Townsend Project - Sky Blue ( Z² Disc One) (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 27/10/2014
Label: HevyDevy Records/InsideOut

“Sky Blue”( Z² Disc One) Tracklisting


01. Rejoice (04:16)
02. Fallout (04:30)
03. Midnight Sun (04:58)
04. A New Reign (04:52)
05. Universal Flame (04:39)
06. Warrior (03:31)
07. Sky Blue (03:52)
08. Silent Militia (04:28)
09. Rain City (07:45)
10. Forever (03:45)
11. Before We Die(08:24)
12. The Ones Who Love (01:32)


Steven Wilson, Mikael Akerfeldt, Devin Townsend...National treasures for the elations of their metalnations, they are.

The word genius shouldn’t be thrown around too lightly, but these cats are just that...At least in the worldof heavy music, each taking their thoughtful fan base on trips confident that they will follow the routesand slake of their lessons.

The obsessive Canuck of that trio, Devin Townsend—fully 30 records into an astonishing career—has now just raised the stakes, bringing us to a conclusion of a journey started 23 years ago, in the form of a new double album incorporating multimedia and a cross section of what he can present as an artist. A searchfor answers and the discovery of fruitful solutions, through the new project carefully called 'Devin
Townsend Presents: Z²'.

The master class in Spector-mad production and composition worthy of Cheap Trick in the ‘70s is essentially a follow-up to 2007’s ‘Ziltoid The Omniscient’—but on the hallowed heavy scale of epic-ness, the new record couldn’t be flung further afield. “With the old ‘Ziltoid’ record,” muses Hevy Devy, “I wanted to make a point that I could do things for $500, you know, with a drum machine and one microphone and a Line6 pod. But now, listening back to that record, in many ways it sounds like a glorified demo. They say every seven years you cycle through a full change, and ‘Z²’ (‘Ziltoid Squared’) is the original idea magnified extensively.”

Magnified indeed. Feasting upon ‘Z²’ is akin to immersing oneself in the arcane creases of the Devin Townsend Project catalogue vis-à-vis layers of bludgeoning heaviness and angelic melodies living under the cathedral of Devin’s more contemplative solo vision. Following on the heels of his crowd funded 'Casualties Of Cool' project, Ziltoid is more in line with a “typical” Devin release: militaristic rhythms and musical puzzles to be solved by the listener, combined with a full second disc of music to follow-up the last DTP
album, ‘Epicloud’.

The two new discs on ‘Z²’ are individually titled 'Sky Blue' (DTP) and 'Dark Matters' (Ziltoid)

DTP are:

Devin Townsend |Vocals, Guitar, Keys, Programming
Ryan Van Poederooyen | Drums
Dave Young | Guitar, Keys
Brian Waddell |Bass
Mike St-Jean | Keyboards, Synths, Programming
Anneke Van Giersbergen | Vocals


Devin Townsend is one of the most ambitious, innovative and exuberant musicians of his generation. For decades now he has never failed to shock his loyal and dedicated followers. Predicting his next move, commercial or otherwise is like learning to swim in iron speedos. But with his formidable reputation comes the burgeoning weight of expectation. Devin fans never seem to pray for an excellent new album like many will do when the likes of Metallica or Guns N’ Roses express a desire to release new music. Devin fans just assume it will be smothered in book-smart song writing and a street-wise, gilt-edged wit. With every new release, the much adored Hevy Devy has redefined musical boundaries, reinvented his musical formula and concocted a plethora of flabbergasting songs in the process. On ‘Sky Blue’ however, there are moments where, amazingly, Devin Townsend appears to be buckling under the weight of such anticipated genius. That's not to say that it's a bad record, but these are the margins, the high standards that Devin has unwillingly dealt himself.

Indeed, we must initially consider the purpose of this first half of Z², the latest momentous leap into the ether of new, unexplored creative territory - of which you feel he must have traversed most parts by now. Alongside his off-kilter, laid back country rock styling in Casualties of Cool, he was reportedly tasked with writing an 'Epicloud 2' by his parent record company, Century Media. Now, ask any creative type in any medium - literature, music, film, dance, upholstery and so forth - and I can guarantee that all will say that, when their creative freedom is limited, so are the results. Perhaps this is why, at times, many tracks on ‘Sky Blue’ just don't seem to grab you. Listening to some of these songs is a little bit like having meaningless sex I suppose; you enjoy it while you’re in the moment, but you don't particularly crave a return visit afterwards. You move on. 

The songs are great, though: Take ‘Midnight Sun’ for instance, which just needs to loose a minute or two from the end. As things stand it simply goes on for much longer than necessary. The poorer songs on ‘Sky Blue’ are still well written, incredibly deft in their production and layered to almost orchestral proportions at points, but when these songs fade out and the next one takes the helm, you forget all about it. A lot of these songs wow you in the moment but lack sufficient staying power to make you return – as I said, meaningless sex. ‘Forever,’ as another example, starts with a luscious vocal melody before meandering into less magical territory, again it just loses your attention. ‘Rain City’ may have excited fans with its seven-plus minutes of playing time, but for the most part it’s droning, dreary and monotonous. At times, I just don’t get this record.  

Thankfully though, amongst it all is a mad genius at work. When that mad genius experiments with the more flamboyant powders and chemicals, the reactions are radioactive. It opens with a bombastic, typically over the top groove-bolstered riff and rapid fire lyrics spat by Townsend on ‘Rejoice.’ Dynamics shift like an on-peak Schumacher changing through gears as he rips around Silverstone, with Anneke Van Giersbergen’s wistful vocals adding a great depth of flavour and variety. It rolls, rather bursts, straight into the enormous and feistily melodious ‘Fallout’. Devin’s scattergun guitar is immense here. On these songs - although at times when listening to this through your less than average sound system the album is too dense, too busy - Devin Townsend and company are quite frankly majestic.  

‘Warrior’ sounds like an instant Devin classic from the off. Syncopated guitars and choral vocals hook you in before a rolling guitar riff, twinned with more inspired van Giersbergen singing bring in a vast, sprawling crescendo.  ‘Silent Militia’ meanwhile supposedly draws inspiration from both the man who can’t spell – will.i.am – and Dead or Alive’s gaytastic hit ‘You Spin me Right Round’ – the latter extremely prelevant in the chorus. The result however is encompassing Deconstruction era Townsend, with that startlingly misplaced humour that still manages to make itself at home in his work. On the surface, it all seems to serious, so abrasive and self-important, but beneath that guise is a child at play – a very intelligent and funny one at that. If other moments embody meaningless sex, this is bedding your high school crush in sadistic, kinky fashion: The kind of which its memory alone will keep you awake at night, gasping for air.  


It’s moments such as these that make ‘Sky Blue’ what it is. It isn’t a record of back-to-back, exceptionally brilliant compositions; not all bullets fired penetrated the targeted ear worm. When the shackles are off however, when Hevy Devy hits a true moment of inspiration it really does take your breath away. ‘Sky Blue’ is in no way a bad record. It will no doubt reach the summits of many ‘end of year lists,’ but for me at least certain moments were lost, the expected – not hoped for – majesty sometimes falling short. 

‘Sky Blue,’ just shy of 60 minutes, isn’t his finest hour but it’s a body of work that asserts him, nay, reaffirms him as one of the most ambitious, innovative and exuberant musicians of his generation. God bless Devin Townsend.  

Words by: Phil Weller

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