Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient (2007)
Quite possibly the most epic piece of music to be written about a barista. Ziltoid the Omniscient was my first exposure to Devin Townsend, and as it occupies a place of what (for him) is middling intensity – not nearly as straight up aggressive as Strapping Young Lad, much more so than the rest of his solo work, and generally a lot more theatrical and melodramatic than normal. In case the cover didn’t clue you in, it also emphasizes the humorous aspects of his music. Like Deconstruction some years after it, this qualifies as a musical, albeit a more focused and narrative-oriented one.
Ziltoid the Omniscient also has the honor of being more of a one man show than even the rest of Devin’s discography. While he had a few people helping him out with mastering, he handled the entirety of composition, performance, recording, etc. It remains one of Devin’s more diverse works, moving between the ‘narrative’ songs I implied in the intro (lengthy stuff), straight up pop rock songs like “Hyperdrive”, and a few skits for good measure. The variety of musical styles combined with the continuous narrative does make for an interesting juxtaposition, and luckily for us listeners, Devin is able to keep everything coherent and interesting despite the constant changes in style.
With all this in mind, this is still pretty standard fare for Devin Townsend, although because it draws upon so many of the techniques he’s used in the past… actually, that doesn’t make it any less so. Because this is a musical, the vocals deserve special mention – Devin portrays a multitude of characters, each with a distinct voice – from Ziltoid’s theatrics to Herman’s deep growl, creating an effect of multiple vocalists even though there’s just one. It’s… obviously rather versatile. The album’s heavy synthesizer presence also comes to mind – while it’s generally leveled as a background element, it provides a constant presence and arsenal of sounds to a degree that I think at the time of release was unsurpassed in DT’s discography. Given how much layering Devin Townsend’s styles rely on, it’s hard to judge, but it definitely fits Ziltoid more than SYL (Hint: I am not a big fan of 2004’s Alien).
In retrospect, trying to compare this album to the rest of Devin Townsend’s discography may have been a bit of a writing mistake. Ziltoid really does have a bit of a “the same, yet different” feel to it that satisfies fans of Devin Townsend (like yours truly) but makes finding the words for a comparison harder than it ought to be. Then again, I have written a bit on his other albums, so you might very well be able to use those in tandem with this review to get more information if you need it.
Highlights: “By Your Command”, “Solar Winds”, “Planet Smasher”