Maniac. Nu-prog wizard. Crackers bald Canadian with a fondness for puppets.
All valid views surrounding the world of Devin Townsend, in which extreme menace meets new-age bliss, in which coffee-guzzling extraterrestrial Ziltoid The Omniscient is socially accepted, and where out-of-this-world soundscapes collide with self-aware, ‘of this world’ humour.
Townsend incites some bafflement but also immense adoration. Ambitious on record and extraordinarily vibrant onstage, he’s walking proof that proper creative, daring nutjobs still walk among us. Supported by a now-familiar DT cast (including Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals), the premise of this eagerly anticipated odyssey is twofold. One disc, Sky Blue, follows 2012’s Epicloud, shining up its soaring, new-age sounds and biting metallic snaps. It’s the ‘Devin Townsend Project record’, essentially. The second disc, Dark Matters, is ‘the Ziltoid record’ – Ziltoid comes to Earth, still after coffee, a guy called Captain Spectacular gets involved, small creatures called Poozers join in, hilarity ensues.
If Townsend’s first alien foray (2007’s Ziltoid The Omniscient) was the Dr Who Dalek circa 1963, Dark Matters is the all-circuits-firing 21st century upgrade. It’s such a strange, daft story, conveyed so grandiosely – a fully matured, gleaming War Of The Worlds meets _West Side
Story_ adventure. It employs multiple orchestras and a 2000-strong ‘fan choir’ – whereby Devin-lovers could upload themselves singing different parts. It’s a tour-de-force of lavishly orchestrated insanity, taking you from bewilderment to awe (harmonised, shoegazey chants of Ziltoid Goes Home are suddenly rather lovely) on to good, silly laughter.Denouement number Through The Wormhole descends into giddy soap-opera abandon, peaking when a now-grieving Ziltoid starts singing Memory (yes, the one from Cats).
For Z2 to really satisfy, however, it needs that first disc. To that end, Sky Blue plunges straight into the quality tunes with Rejoice – spacey layers of ethereal vocals and synths thriving with demonic roars and propulsive rock guitar.
Smooth, heady electronics prevail subsequently, excitement piqued by the avant-grooviness of Silent Militia. Like its Ziltoidian counterpart, Sky Blue develops the atmospheric, cinematic tendencies that Townsend’s cultivated over the last few years, while channelling (though not mimicking) the ferocity of his extreme metal days with Strapping Young Lad.
Bigger, battier, stronger, more erect, this is Townsend’s magnum opus to date.