Devin Townsend – Z2: Dark Matter (2014) This second offering from the Canadian musical wizard is the long-awaited main course of the two disc set, but to be honest it’s a bit bogged down with all the voice acting. Towards the latter half of the disc, the experience starts getting more musical but you have to go through a lot of skits before it gets to that point. “Z2” serves as a terrific little opener to the piece, bringing back those heavy drums amidst a myriad of almost chant-like vocal spectrums. “From Sleep Awake” continues these, until it actually encompasses Z2: Sky Blue territory. This is about as close to the sister disc as it gets though and some might even feel it’s a little misplaced. It’s a nice piece, with light melodies and Anneke’s vocal touches, but I don’t think it’s very “Ziltoid” insofar as the rest of the album. Though to be fair; the first disc introduced us to “Hyperdrive” which was my favorite track from the disc, though I never felt that it fit with the material. I was blown away when Anneke took over the vocal element on the Addicted! version, which is one of my top favorite songs in the history of mankind. Getting back to the album, “Ziltoidian Empire” brings about a dark march, as it fills with all sorts of spoken word bits and some major prog atmospheres. It doesn’t seem like the kind of track you could enjoy so much with the spoken word clips and would work much better in a theatrical element. The disc is very much a metal musical, which of course was the original intent. And yeah, I clearly hear that Yes influence. “War Princess” is where we start to hear the vocal talents of Stolen Babies frontwoman (damn, she plays the accordion!) Dominque Lenore Persi, who plays the character of the same name. From an acting standpoint, her performance as this character is truly memorable and I believe that if one day the Stolen Babies gig doesn’t work quite out or she wants to do something else on the side, then voice acting may suit her talent. These days, game companies and animation studios are always in need voice actors and I think we’re starting to see here that she would make a perfect fit for either of these. “Deathray” pumps some death metal influence into the mix, as otherworldly soundscapes and laser blasts also appear. It’s definitely one of the heavier tracks on the album and I think people will be more than happy to hear it. But right after that, comes one of the best tracks on the album, “March Of The Poozers.” The groove that emanates from this brings on a sort of circus militarism, which combined with the exquisite vocal work, makes it a definite listening experience. Albeit there is still a bit of toilet humor to be found here, amidst some Muppets references. “Wandering Eye” brings in Fozzy frontman and WWE Superstar Chris Jericho as Captain Spectacular, but it doesn’t really offer so much as a song. It seems more like an interlude that culminates in the massive “Earth” where we hear one of the coolest riff melodies on the disc, right in the very beginning. This is the kind of playing that Devin Townsend is known for and it’s why we’ll keep coming back year after year for another dose of it. The track itself is filled with joy and triumph, as it builds upon neoclassical atmospheres into a sort of cosmic unity that would make Carl Sagan smile. It certainly sounds like a grand entrance, if there ever was one. “Ziltoid Goes Home” thunders into action next, featuring Devin’s soaring vocal lines, which work as a melody in of themselves. Much of the melodic structures and soundscapes utilized on the album revolve around the same spaced-out neoclassical fare, but this doesn’t ever seem to get tiring and is sometimes even subconsciously hypnotic. Some of you might even mistake a few of these passages for the classic Final Fantasy theme, which is really the best way that I can describe these twinkling melodies. “Through The Wormhole” offers a large section of acting performances, showing itself to be a major part of the story. It’s not really necessary after the first listen though, so you’ll probably just wind up skipping it during repeated listens. “Dimension Z” is the last track here, making use of the Universal Choir as it brings a reprise to the album as a whole. This is definitely what a finale sounds like, right before the actors come onto the stage and take a bow. I don’t think it could be listened to as a single piece though, but this really isn’t an album that you can isolate and listen to separately as you could with many of the tracks on Z2: Sky Blue.
Observing the album as a whole, I feel that the disc is a bit cluttered with all of these spoken word sections and it’s really going to irk a few individuals who came for the music and the music alone. Some of those spoken word passages are laid right over the top of interesting musical sections, which make them seem almost unnecessary in retrospect. Additionally, even though the use of guests on the album adds to the flavor of the story, it would have been nice to have heard Dominique Lenore Persi and Chris Jericho actually sing a few bars on the record. Yes, you heard me right – they don’t have vocal lines on the disc at all, aside from their acting performances and that’s a little disappointing. (Apparently this statement is wrong given the fact that Dominique Lenore Persi’s lines are heard well enough in the soundclip-free version of the album and I do apologize.) Especially since each is a vocalist in their own respected acts. What I would really have loved to hear though, is a version of this disc without the story. The reason for this is because these songs can work on their own. The clips and effects could all be removed, making for some intoxicating instrumental passages and passionate vocal work from Devin Townsend. I actually really liked the Ziltoid story that he made up on the fly for the live show a lot more than this, because it felt more human, like Ziltoid returning to Earth and having a wife and kids and dealing with real problems. It got a bit more invested than that as well. But it was really just the warm-up for this, which will definitely work better as an onstage performance. I’m assuming that he’ll also be tackling the Z2: Sky Blue in the live setting as well and it’ll be a far more intimate experience than the comedic stage show offered here. This really isn’t one of Devin Townsend’s memorable moments, but maybe it’s because I’m not really keen on the idea of mixing humor and cartoon style voice-overs with what amounts to very well-thought out landscapes and extraordinary vocalizations. Musically and vocally, Z2: Dark Matters is a damn fine album. It’s just been bogged down with so many story elements that some listeners won’t ever want to listen to it more than once. Thankfully, we have Z2: Sky Blue to fall back on, because that’s definitely Devin Townsend at his absolute best. It’s a fun little album, but I’m just not really sure how memorable it will be in twenty years.
(11 Tracks, 60:00)