Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Devin Townsend - Z2 (2014)
Sky Blue: Side 1 of the immense Z2 is the spiritual successor to "Epicloud." But don't think of this as simply a continuation of that fantastic album (as much as I wouldn't mind an "Epicloud Pt.2"). Rather, it subtly blends elements from "Ocean Machine," "Ki," "Accelerated Evolution," "Terria," and even "Ghost." The result is a more subdued and moody affair compared to the exuberance and reckless abandon of "Epicloud."

Nevertheless, the album starts off with a bang on "Rejoice." Anneke von Giersbergen's ethereal, wordless melody is layered on top of a massive, driving groove. Devy's singing style vaguely reminds me of Chuck Billy from Testament.

The album starts a streak of amazing songs with "Fallout" and "Midnight Sun," the latter strongly reminding me of "Where We Belong" on "Epicloud."

The next song, "A New Reign" is one of the darkest, most melancholic songs Devy's written yet. For some reason the chorus reminds me of The Cure, at least vibe-wise. And the overall atmosphere of the song makes it an intense, emotional thrill-ride. It's a truly brilliant song and possibly my favorite on "Sky Blue."

Skip ahead to "Silent Militia" and you see another side of Devy that hearkens back to his SYL days. It has an infectious, industrial groove that wouldn't sound too out of place on a Rammstein record.

After this, things slow down considerably and we're treated to a very "Terria"-esque treat with "Rain City." It's a very subdued and beautiful track that winds down into a lengthy ambient passage, transitioning seamlessly into the "Ghost"-esque ballad "Forever." Side 1 of Z2 gives us one last rocker with "Before We Die." This track makes excellent use of the Universal Choir with an instantly memorable, anthemic chorus. Like "Rain City," it fades into ambience but not before Anneke delivers some downright unearthly vocals to send you off into the haunting "The Ones Who Love."

"Sky Blue" is possibly Devy's most mature and diverse metal album. It continues in the tradition of "Epicloud" and "Addicted" while refining it and taking it in some new directions. As opposed to the narrative fiction of "Dark Matters," this side gives us insight into Devy's personality and experiences. It's definitely my favorite part of Z2 and, if it were to be counted as a separate album (which it arguably could), is in my top 5 list of Devy albums.


Dark Matters: As the follow-up to "Ziltoid the Omniscient," "Dark Matters" showcases Devy's epic, over-the-top style while continuing the Ziltoid narrative.

To start off, I've honestly never been a big fan of Z1 other than a few tracks. Most of it is tedious, unmemorable, and too wedded to the story to really stand out.

7 years later, Devy has made a record worthy of the Ziltoid name, one whose music shines with or without the narrative (hence the bonus disc).

The serene, Anneke-driven "From Sleep Awake" segues into the "Deconstruction"-esque "Ziltoidian Empire" which sets the tone for the album with wacky choir vocals and an intricate prog section near the end.

And now we get to what I consider to be the most epic song on the album: "War Princess." Featuring the theatrical, sinister vocals of Dominique Lenore Persi from Stolen Babies, this is a bombastic behemoth of a tune that will you have you headbanging like there's no tomorrow. There's not a single second of this track I didn't love. It's probably my favorite on Z2.

"March of the Poozers" is another heavily "Decon"-influenced, circusy song with an infectious, zany chorus. It doesn't quite stick out like "War Princess" but it's quite fun and should translate well in a live setting.

The mostly spoken-word "Wandering Eye" is kind of a filler track that Devy should have either scrapped or incorporated that part of the story into a more musically-oriented track. There is a pretty good riff about a minute in but the potential is wasted as the narrative takes over.

Things pick back up with "Earth" which features one of the catchiest lines on Z2, sung by the incredibly talented Ms. Persi. It does feel a bit too long, but it's still quite enjoyable.

And things REALLY pick back up on "Ziltoid Goes Home" which sounds like a lost SYL track. The verses are very aggressive and thrashy, with Devy's vicious snarls being as powerful as they were back in the early days of his career. The chorus, however, is set in the "Sky Blue"/"Epicloud" style, making for a fascinating contrast.

"Dimension Z" and the Universal Choir round out Z2 with a lighters-in-the-air metal anthem. I won't tell you exactly how the track, and hence the entire album, ends but suffice it to say it'll leave you surprised and smiling.

As I said before, I like "Sky Blue" a lot more than "Dark Matters" but I think a lot of that is due to the narrative. The story is great of course, but it also interrupts the flow of the music in some places, at least for me. That said, I can't wait to listen to the bonus disc.

But as it stands, "Dark Matters" is everything that Z1 and, for that matter, "Deconstruction" should have been. The songs are intricately composed with a lot of moving parts, but are nevertheless highly accessible and engaging.


Overall: This is easily one of Devy's most ambitious, most diverse, and most accomplished albums to date. No matter which Devy album sits closest to your heart (unless it's "The Hummer"), you're gonna find something you enjoy. It's incredible to think that after so many albums, Devy still has so much creativity and so many new musical avenues to explore. While it's not a perfect album, Z2 is still phenomenal, containing many songs that I already consider to be some of the best in Devy's extensive repertoire. I can only imagine how all this will sound live...

Overall score: 9.5/10


Monday, October 6, 2014

Threshold - For the Journey (2014)
Easily one of my most anticipated albums of the year, prog metal band Threshold's new release "For the Journey" has managed to hit it out of the park once again.

2012's "March of Progress" was a resounding success for the band after the death of their previous vocalist and the return of original vocalist Damian Wilson. The album showcased their unparalleled knack for writing fun, heavy, catchy songs that still retain a distinct prog edge (mainly in the form of the keyboards).

"March of Progress" ended up being one of my top releases of 2012 and "For the Journey" nearly matches it. The new album is a bit more varied than MoP though I mean that in the sense that there's more emotionality and moodiness, not an actual change in musical style.

This change in lyrics and atmosphere from the political and social of MoP to the personal and introspective on FtJ can be seen in such dark numbers as "Unforgiven" and "Autumn Red." Similar emotionally charged moments include the gripping chorus to "Siren Sky," the poignant verses of "Lost in Your Memory" and the soaring guitar work of "The Box."

In particular, "The Box" is probably my favorite piece on the album.The solos are incredible and the song manages to be technical, showing off some of the band's most accomplished songwriting to date, yet it's also very accessible.

The only song that drags the album down a bit is "The Mystery Show." It's not bad per se, just rather average and a bit less memorable than the other stellar tracks on "For the Journey."

Overall, this is a excellent follow-up to the band's chef d'-oeuvre "March of Progress," even if it falls a tad short of matching the latter's brilliance. Given all the excellent riffs, sing-along choruses, and tight songwriting, it's unlikely that Threshold fans will feel disappointed.