Sunday, November 23, 2014

Black Sabbath - Forbidden (1995)

Released in 1995, "Forbidden" was long considered to be the very last album by Black Sabbath the world would ever see. And frankly, after hearing the album, I understand why people would think that. Not only did the band break up short after the release of this album, the music on here is some of the worst by Sabbath. Hell, even the members have bad mouthed the albums in various interviews, explaining that several factors led to what happened, everything from bad band chemistry to weird decisions from the record company.

And it starts off in the wrong foot with "The Illusion of Power", a slow, dark song that includes a spoken word part by Ice-T. Do not get me wrong, there are tons of rappers out there that are WAY worse than him, but just his presence in this album is both unnecessary and weird. And it does not get better when you discover that his band mate from Body Count, Ernie "Ernie C" Cunnigan, was the producer of "Forbidden". Body Count may be a heavy metal band, but the bridge between Black Sabbath and Body Count is way too big for them to clash, even if it only comes down to production. It is safe to say that Ernie C did not make Sabbath justice
with his work.

I do hear some intentions of good material in the album, which would mean that the band had something good going initially, but it got worse somewhere along the progress. I still think that the material is weaker than most of the material the band has released during the 90's, so even if the production was good, the end result would still be a album that could not match albums like "Headless Cross" or "Tyr". I also think the overall performance is worse than what it usually is.

But as previously stated, there are some golden moments in this records. The ballad "I Won't Cry For You" is one of my all time favourite Black Sabbath ballads, mostly because of the overall mood in the song, but also for the wonderful solo Iommi is playing. The title track has a good, sinister feel to it while "Get A Grip" is more straight on and more hard hitting. "Rusty Angels" is also a fine track with a good tempo and a interesting structure.

I am glad that this album was not the last for Black Sabbath, because "Forbidden" does not make the band justice. Bad production and vague ideas made this album what it is, and there is not many fans of the band that enjoys it. This album had potential to be a fine piece that would fit well together with the other Sabbath releases during the Harford era, but that potential got lost somewhere, possibly under a rug in the studio. So let us all forget that this existed and focus instead on the more successful albums in the career of Black Sabbath.

Songs worthy of recognition: I Wont Cry For You, Get A Grip, Rusty Angels

Rating: 4,5/10 Kisses of death

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In This Moment - Black Widow (2014)

If I ever would make a top 5 of the hottest chicks in metal, then In This Moment singer Maria Brink would have a safe spot in that list. I mean just look at the cover for the band's fifth album "Black Widow", and gaze over her 3 meter long leg. You have to be gay to not get turned on by that. Unfortunately, there are some things with Maria and her band that just bugs me. The band has evolved from being a good metalcore band that utilizes Maria's voice to the max to being more of an alternative group that relies on shock and pain, both in the music and on the listener.

The red string that goes through this album is that most of the songs are about inner insecurities, struggles and how to overcome them. Even the album title is a metaphor for a woman that gets infected with different traumas and experiences, which eventually molds her to become a poised and powerful creature. And that is indeed the biggest strength with this band, the lyrical themes are heavy and striking, and it also helps that Maria's painful voice is building up the tension in the music. I still think there are tons of female singers that are better than Maria, but she definitely knows how to utilize her voice to set the mood.

As far as the music goes, it is pretty much the same as it was on the predecessor, the 2012 album "Blood". It is some kind of Marilyn Manson vibe all over this album that is blended with a couple of Evanescence ballads, making it a pretty decent blend of both shockful and beautiful music. But the music tends to be a hit or miss for me. Some songs are very infectious, sticking like glue and leaving a good impression on you, while others are pure poison to your ears. It is unpleasant to hear a album that have such an uneven set list.

On the plus side we have the title track that has some real good riff work and despite the weird, old time infomercial about the infamous black widow, it holds a good flow throughout the track. The first single "Sick Like Me" is another favourite since it is the only song in the album that successfully brings the beauty and the beast together in a fantastic symbiosis. Also a shout out to the aggressive "Big Bad Wolf" and the best ballad in the album, "Sexual Hallucination" (which includes a guest appearance from the Shinedown singer Brent Smith).

While on the negative side of things we find "Dirty Pretty" that could be the equivalent to a really bad and saggy burlesque show. Sounds sexy at first, but it goes downhill after the first verse. "Bloody Creature Poster Girl" is a choppy craftsmanship that is just dull, and "Bones" is just bland. One more thing, it is not okay to showboat and pronounce yourself as the "Sex Metal Barbie" of metal Maria. You are hot, but you do not have to brag so much about it.

"Black Widow" is not as deadly as the spider with the same name, but it does have some punch to it. In This Moment is still far to uneven to call them self a world class band, but their music sells, and it is not hard to see why. Most of the music here is infectious and interesting, and with Maria's strong presence, the band has an identity that they can rely on. The haters can hate all they want, this band will still be in the spotlight for some time.

Songs worthy of recognition: Sick Like Me, Big Bad Wolf, Sexual Hallucination

Rating: 6,5/10 Black Widows

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Outtrigger - The Last of Us (2014)

In the beginning of 2014, metal core band Outtrigger took Sweden by storm when they entered the competition Melodifestivalen, which acted as the qualification to the famous Eurovision Song Contest, with their song "Echo". And together with a nice stage performance that included cages, a straight jacket, and a Hannibal Lecter mask, the band was very close to reach the final in the competition, but was eliminated in the segment that is called Andra Chansen (Second Chance). Almost a year has gone since their participation, and now they are ready to reveal their debut album, entitled "The Last of Us".

And you probably guessed it already, "Echo" is indeed in this album, just like a couple of other songs the band has previously released in EPs, demos and singles. There is not much in difference in between the old and new versions of the older songs (except for better production of course). However, the track "Awaken Me" is another story, since the band made an acoustic version for this album. It definitely works as an acoustic song and it is one of my favourites in this album, but the heaviness that the original had was better than most of the heaviness in "The Last of Us".

But I see why the band made "Awaken Me" acoustic. Without it, there would be close to no variety in this album. Almost all of the songs in "The Last of Us" have the same, simple, boring structure, making the album very monotonous. Such a shame since the band seems to know how to handle their instruments, and the singer, and co-founder of the band, Simon Peyron has a nice voice (although, his growling is weak. Fortunately, it is not used too much in the album).

So you really have to dig deep to find any favourites in the album. "Echo" is definitely a winner thanks to its sing along friendly chorus and "Awaken Me" stands out since it is the only acoustic song in the album, but it gets tougher after that. "World of Fire" has some nice intensity, opener "Superman Is Dead" has a good melody to it and there are some feeling to the title track. But once again, thanks to the overall monotonous sound, "The Last of Us" is just a big lump of the same thing, making it hard to swallow. There is some quality to it, but no one wants to listen to the same thing again and again.

Outtrigger certainly has talent, and with some elbow grease, they could become a very interesting band. But "The Last of Us" leaves a lot  for one to wish for since it contains most of the same thing. It is fine in one song, two songs, maybe even four songs. But a full album of it is too much. So my advice for the guys from Helsingborg, Sweden is that they take their time and improve their song writing, especially on the verses and the structures. They know how to create a catchy chorus, so if they gather enough experience, they could have enough tools to create fantastic music. For now though, it does not quite cut it against the big dogs. "The Last of Us" is a fine debut, but it is just not as good as the video game with the same name.

Songs worthy of recognition: Echo, World of Fire, Awaken Me

Rating: 6/10 Dead Supermen

Friday, November 14, 2014

Black Sabbath - Cross Purposes (1994)

The reunion of the "Mob Rules" line up was short and sweet for Black Sabbath, because after the tour that followed the release of "Dehumanizer", Ronnie James Dio and Vinnie Appice left the band, and was replaced by another new old singer (Tony Martin Harford) and a former Rainbow drummer (Bobby Rondinelli). Since Harford was back, I sort of hoped that the band would go back to what they had build up during the time he was the front man.

And sure enough, "Cross Purposes" does have a lot in common with the other records in the Harford era ("The Eternal Idol", "Headless Cross", "Tyr"). It is a dark album that does have its share of 80's rock music, but enough good riffing and brute force to make it feel like a Sabbath record. So yeah, you could say that "Cross Purposes" is just like its ancestors. I could definitely see songs like "I Witness", "Cross of Thorns" and "Immaculate Deception" in any of the other Harford records.

What I find strange over this album is that it seems like the band has several grunge influences in this record. Take the track "Virtual Death" for example, where Harford sounds exactly like the Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley and the main riff is just as slow and gloomy as a grunge riff should be. One of my favourite things with Black Sabbath is that they are not afraid to take the music to new, strange places, but the band have had some miss fires over the years. This is just one of them.

The overall set list is good, but nothing mind blowing. Only a few songs, like the hard rocking "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" and the groovy "Evil Eye" (whom includes a guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen), sticks nicely to your mind. There is one song however that just sweeps in and crushes the opposition. "Cardinal Sin" is a classic Sabbath song that starts off dark and slow, but evolves the further it goes. The tempo steps up, the intensity rises, and you just cannot do anything else besides just rocking out. Could be the best song Sabbath has done during this era

There is no denying that the quality is mighty fine in this album. Not as good as it was on "Tyr" or "Headless Cross", but still pretty darn nice. "Cross Purposes" does have a couple of songs that derails into some weird territory, making it the worst out of the Black Sabbath albums that includes Tony Martin Harford. It is still an enjoyable album that should not be over looked, a album that stands good in the Sabbath discography.

Songs worthy of recognition: Cardinal Sin, Cross of Thorns, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

Rating: 7/10 Psychophobias

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Machine Head - Bloodstone & Diamonds (2014)

Without over exaggerating, I think that the Oakland quartet Machine Head has evolved into the strongest thrash band that was formed after the 80's. They have always been a great band with a high low point, but it was not until the 2003 release "Through The Ashes of Empires" that the band really excelled and became one of the leading bands in the new way of American heavy metal. Their two latest albums, "The Blackening" from 2007 and "Unto The Locust" from 2011, are some of my all time favourite records from the 21st century, so I definitely had some expectations for the band's 8th studio release.

The album is called "Bloodstone & Diamonds" and is the first album the band has not released on Roadrunner Records, instead it is the German giants Nuclear Blast that has enlisted the band, adding another big name to their already massive roster. And why shouldn't they? Machine Head is one of the bigger thrash bands out there today, and they really show it once again in their new album. "Bloodstone & Diamonds" is another great effort of thrash metal with a lot of long songs, almost making the music progressive. It is a natural follow up to "Unto The Locust", but this album has a lot more variation to it, a ingredient that I missed on their last effort. The long, groovy thrash songs are mixed up with a couple of slower and darker songs, like the excellent "Sail Into The Black", making the album more versatile.

The album also have some resemblance to "The Blackening". For example, the riff structure in "Killers & Kings" is close to similar to that in "Beautiful Mourning", which just makes it feel like a lazy copy. None the less, "Killers & Kings" is still a fine song if you just bypass the facts. But the heaviest song on "Bloodstone & Diamonds" is "Night of Long Knives" whom do have a slightly weird groove, but a flawless chorus and a sweet solo. Another favourite is the fast paced, almost punk like "Game Over" that takes the award for being the most adrenaline filled track in the album, even if it have a slower, more melodic part, just like any other song in this album.

And it is those melodic parts that ties the album together. Rob Flynn and his men shows a great deal of maturity in their song writing process, and it feels good that the band is continuing on evolving their sound and themselves. Flynn still sings with a lot of density, but he is showing what he can do with a larger range for his vocals, which is great. And a thing like putting in violins in their music would probably not have come into the band's minds 10 years ago, but is here shown in the track "Now We Die" and it helps to improve the intro and chorus.

I do not think that "Bloodstone & Diamonds" is a new future classic made by the band, but it does its job in securing the band's status. This album do miss that perfect blow that just leaves you breathless, but it does contain 11 good, consistent songs (not including the unnecessary track "Imaginal Cells") that together creates a solid and strong album. A good competitor for best thrash album of the year.

Songs worthy of recognition: Night of Long Knives, Now We Die, Sail Into The Black

Rating: 8,5/10 Killers & Kings

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel (2014)

In 2012 came an album that almost knocked me out of my chair. A album that had an amazing mix of death metal, jazz and classical music. That album was "Portal of I" and is the debut record of the Australian band Ne Obliviscaris. It is an impressive debut that felt unbelievably original and well constructed. However, I felt that the band still had some way to go, especially since there were a lot of space in "Portal of I" that was badly utilized, and the fact that the
violins took up so much room. It was still one of my favourite debut albums from 2012 and it even made my top 20, so you understand that I had a lot of hopes up for their sophomore album.

And here it is, the follow up to "Portal of I", entitled "Citadel". And just like its predecessor, it is a beautiful album that is not for the impatient kind. Because even if it only contains 6 songs, the total playtime of the album is around 48 minutes, where 3 of the songs are 9+ minutes. I find it a little strange that they have 3 short songs and 3 mastodons, but then again, the shorter songs mostly acts like an intro or outro to one of the longer ones. But if we need to be extra petty, "Citadel" is actually only 3 songs long. The song "Painters of The Tempest" is split into three parts, and "Devour Me, Colossus" consists of 2 parts. However, I will look past that since each individual part has a name of its own.

Just like with almost all of the songs in "Portal of I", the longer songs in "Citadel" are very difficult to listen to. It is hard to remember the whole song, which almost forces you to listen again and again, just so you can separate them from each other. This is not surprising since the style of Ne Obliviscaris is so vast and progressive, and it is ultimately rewarding if you hang on and endure the sessions. I definitely think that the band has evolved their song writing skills, and made a lot better use of the allotted space than what they did on "Portal of I". I am relieved that the long, close to silent middle sections are gone and replaced by actual music. I did not expect that the violins still was such a big part of their music, but even those are better utilized here, helping to enhance the music instead of just stealing the show. Also, the production feels much more polished in "Citadel", but that comes as no surprise since the band got picked up by the excellent record company Season of Mist.

Frankly, I enjoy all of the three longer songs in "Citadel" even if they all have a tendency to go longer than what is necessary. All of them have a good sense of taste when it comes to dividing the heavy and the beautiful together so they take equal amount of space. Out of the three, "Pyrrhic" is without a doubt the heaviest track, and the only track that is a stand alone song. It starts of with a furious tempo and eventually mellows out, only to finish off strong with a dark and beautiful cooperation between the violins and the harsh vocals delivered by Marc "Xenoyr" Campbell. While Marc is doing a great job on "Pyrrhic", the clean vocalist Tim Charles shows his best skills on "Triptych Lux", the longest track on "Citadel" with a play time of 16 and a half minutes. Finally, we have "Blackholes", a song that does not stand out, but is still a very fine tune that fits well with the rest of the tracks in "Citadel"

The only critique I have against "Citadel" and Ne Obliviscaris in general is that it takes time for the music to grow on you. It is very easy to hear that the music is beautiful and well crafted, but since the songs are so long and progressive, it is very difficult to keep it in your brain, especially since all of the longer songs have all of the same things in them. Some heavy stuff, some harsh and clean vocals, a sort of break in the middle, violins and long, instrumental parts. So the band is succeeding in making the same thing over and over again despite the usage of ever evolving song structures. But if you do take the time, and listen through the entire album enough times, you will be rewarded sooner or later.

"Citadel" is a step forward for the band and another proof of the immense talent that this band possesses. The music is very original and highly interesting. The band still has some way to go, especially in making the music more memorable, but it is still early in their career, and they are playing a kind of metal that does need experience to fully master. None the less, "Citadel" is a great listening experience and one of the best progressive metal albums this year. Check it out now!

Songs worthy of recognition: Pyrrhic, Triptych Lux, Blackholes

Rating: 8,5/10 Wyrmholes

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Psychostick - IV: Revenge of The Vengeance (2014)

Sometimes metal can be boring. About 99% of the bands are so extremely serious that it seems like they have lost, or never had any sense of humour at all. That is why I can appreciate a band like Psychostick, who has devoted their entire musical career with writing metal music that also makes you laugh. Some people may find their style stupid and juvenile, which I actually also do to, but they do it with such style that makes it hard to dislike them. I mean, doesn't everybody like to be stupid once in a while, just to let loose? Just me? Oh well.

No matter how strange it may sound, "IV: Revenge of The Vengeance" is the band's fourth studio effort, created in their own studio and funded by their Indiegogo campaign they had a year ago. And if you have not heard of who these guys are, I suggest that you search for their channel on Youtube, then you will get how these guys work. It is just four guys that wears funny hats (except for the drummer), acts real silly, and are obsessed with beer, taco, and Bruce Campbell. But the most important of all, it is four guys that are having tons of fun, and it is so reflective in the music. Everything from the skits to the instrumentation feels alive.

It is also easy to pick a favourite song in a Psychostick album. The tracks that makes you laugh the most is often the one that you enjoy the most. I for one got a good chuckle out of "Loathe Thy Neighbor" where the singer Rawrb (yes, that is his name) complains over grumpy grannies, annoying hicks, and other annoying neighbours. Damn, Psychostick is good at writing songs about hating something or someone. I also love the paranoia in "Quack Kills", the fantastic (and sort of creepy) celebration to the actor Bruce Campbell, the fast paced "Obey The Beard" and the satire over the death core sound in "So. Heavy.".

But behind the funny lyrics lies a sound that is often very groovy, and has a certain amount of heaviness that is nice, but not impressive. I would say that the sound leans a lot towards the typical American hard rock sound that we have heard from tons of other bands like Papa Roach and AFI, but it still feels original enough for the band to not be associated with those bands, even if the similarities are there sometimes. The track "Blue Screen" could easily have been written in the late 90's or early 00's and is pretty unoriginal. However, the fact that it acts like a love song towards a computer just makes me love the song, and it also works as a satire for these kinds of songs.

But Psychostick does not hit it right in all of the songs in "IV: Revenge of The Vengeance". The song "NSFW" is literally a song where the only thing happening is that the band is trying to go for the world record in saying the word fuck as many times as possible in one song. I never thought that word would lose its meaning, but it certainly did after only one listen through that song. I also find the cover of the Kenny Loggins song "Danger Zone" decent, but seeing what they did to the Dope song "Bodies" in their last album, "Space Vampires Vs. Zombie Dinosaurs In 3D", I expected more from the band instead of some alternation at the end. Also, is it really necessary to incorporate a bloopers outtake at the end of the album just because you are a humour band?

Then we have the skits that are evenly spread out throughout the album. They are all moderately funny, but none of them are really amazing. The two skits that features Billy Manspeaker from the band Green Jellÿ, "New To The Neighborhood" and "Trick or Treat", does not have a very long life span, while "H-flat" works fine as an intro to "So. Heavy". The most impressive skit is definitely "Dimensional Time Portal", in which a dimensional time portal is opened up during a Psychostick show and makes the panties of the female population to glow, causing them to lose all interest for sexual activity. And the only thing that can save Earth is metal, which is shown in the following track, "The Power of Metal Compels You". A insane concept that is just typical Psychostick.

Sometimes, stupid metal can be pretty good, and this is one of those occasions. Psychostick succeeds in their mission of tingling my laughing nerve and does it with a sound that is groovy and pretty cool. I definitely prefer "IV: Revenge of The Vengeance" over 90% of the sitcoms that are released now a days because it entertains me, and you notice that the band members have really put their heart and soul in the material. So yeah, it is stupid, it is juvenile, and it is a high risk that your IQ will drop by a couple of points when you listen to this album, but I would rather be a happy fool than a sad genius. So sit down, open up a beer, take a bite out of your taco, and enjoy the stupidity.

Songs worthy of recognition: Blue Screen, Obey The Beard, Lothe Thy Neighbor, Bruce Campbell

Rating: 7,5/10 Dogs that likes socks

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lordi - Scare Force One (2014)

The goofy monster masters are once again back, and you know what that means. Another album filled with monster and horror references, accompanied by average song writing. I really do appreciate the band's commitment and passion, but behind all the masks and outfits hides a bunch of Finns that is desperately trying to relive their glory days, if they even had any to begin with.

Enter "Scare Force One", album number 7 for the band, and it is another batch of songs that try to be catchy in both riffs and chorus, while showing as few musical improvements as possible. But the most annoying part of the songs in "Scare Force One" is the lyrics. Sure, there is some humour in the lyrics, and when the band does it right it is very entertaining, but there is not a lot in this album that will even make you chuckle. Songs about getting as drunk as Frankenstein and slicing whores, is that really the best you can come up with? The whole album is as funny as a knock knock joke, which means that the band already lost its biggest attraction in this album.

The second thing that often makes me come back to Lordi is the attitude the band some times show, and there is certainly some in this album. The most is in the track "Monster Is My Name" where the band is more or less bragging about being a monster. And when the track opens up with the phrase "who the hell do you think you are you fuck face", you know shit is about to happen. Other wise, there is not much attitude in this album, but instead it is the catchiness that takes over. It is either a unusual riff that catches your attention (like the opening riff to "Nailed By The Hammer of Frankenstein"), a unique sound you rarely hear in a metal album (like the carnival noise in Hell Sent In The Clowns), or it is the chorus of a song that makes it memorable (like the one in the title track). So it is fairly easy to remember most of the stuff in "Scare Force One", but the quality is not good enough for one to care.

The only surprising thing with "Scare Force One" is the track "The United Rocking Dead", a slow song that contains a surprisingly good, Judas Priest like verse, and a pretty epic chorus that really gets a hold of the listener. It is these kind of tracks that keeps my hope up for this band. They can create music if they really try, but instead they go for quantity and more catchy tunes. I am sure though that if the band would have put more time on making the album instead of spitting it out as soon as possible, they could create something memorable. Then again, maybe I expect too much from a bunch of monsters.

The band should focus on improving their sound instead of settling down with what they already know, because it is getting more and more boring to withstand a new Lordi album. "Scare Force One" is far from a plain wreck thanks to some catchy melodies, but it is extremely far from a master piece, especially since the band since to run out of ideas to sing about. So please Lordi, take your time when you are writing new songs for your next album, and make sure that those songs show off your best sides. And if I see another new release next year by you, it will be me who does the haunting. And trust me, you would not want that to happen.

Songs worthy of recognition: The United Rocking Dead, Scare Force One, Hell Sent In The Clowns

Rating: 5,5/10 Cadaver Lovers

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Devin Townsend Project - Z² (2014) Part 2: Dark Matters

Disc 2 of "Z²" is the official follow up to the fantastic 2007 release "Ziltoid The Omniscient". For those of you who do not remember, that album was a concept album about a green, lizard like alien that started to invade Earth when he was served some fetid coffee, but was stopped when it came out that he was a nerd, and a puppet. In the end, it was all a dream from the mind of a sleepy barista (sorry for the spoiler), so it was easy to assume that we would not see Ziltoid any more, at least not in another album. But here we are now, 7 years after the release of the original, seeing Ziltoid being brought back to life with a new album, a TV show, a radio show, a coming comic book and a huge concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London next year. Who would have seen that coming? Well, maybe the omnidimensional creator.

So what is the story in "Dark Matters"? The story begins where Ziltoid is given a mission by the Ziltoidian Collective to investigate planet Earth to see if it could be the future home for the Ziltoidian race. He is also set to gather more data about a stimulant that the humans consume, but does not know of its hidden powers. And that stimulant is, of course, coffee. To do so, he has become a celebrity to the humans through music and being an alien. After all, he is a 4th dimensional guitar hero. Ziltoid has also made a visit to the planet Titan, where he has come across a race known as the Poozers, small creatures that are children to Blataria, the War Princess (played by Stolen Babies singer Dominique Lenore Persi). After hearing that one of her children were stolen by Ziltoid, she decides to gather her Poozer army, and invade Earth herself and take all of the coffee. Not the story I expected, but it is still interesting, and definitely more well thought out than the story line on the first Ziltoid record.

Now, there are two versions of "Dark Matters" that is available. One CD with dialogues, and one without. Frankly, I prefer the so called raw version because the dialogues are taking up too much space, acting like it is the main show instead of the music. One reason to why the original Ziltoid was so successful is that there was minimal dialogue, and the little dialogue that existed was in between the tracks. In other words, it was the music that was the focal point, which is not the case in "Dark Matters". Even if they take up lots of unnecessary space, the dialogues are telling the story pretty well. I especially like the narrator Bill Courage who gives the album a classic "War of The Worlds" touch. Other voice actors in this album are former wrestler and current Fozzy vocalist Chris Jericho as Captain Spectacular, Mark Cimino as a Poozer, and Chris Devitt as the Planet Smasher, also known as Herman.

"Dark Matters" has a lot of influences from previous Devin Townsend efforts, which does not surprise me one bit. What really surprise me though is that there is not many similarities between this album and the original Ziltoid. The original had that special sound that really fits the alien space theme, while this album feels like "Epicloud" in an astronaut suit. And most of the heavy stuff has more resemblance to "Deconstruction" than "Ziltoid The Omniscient" (there is also some SYL moments in this album). So for those of you who expected a new "Solar Winds", "Color Your World", or "Hyperdrive", you might get dissapointed. The only track that makes you think back to the original Ziltoid record is "Deathray", a song that represents the invasion of Earth. Musically speaking, it may no have much in common with the track "Ziltoidia Attaxx!!!", but the lyrics in the songs are about the same thing, except that it is the Poozers that attack in "Deathray". It is groovy as hell and is one of few songs that has a normal song structure, and it certainly has grown since I first heard it. Definitely one of the better songs in this album, despite its weird lyrics.

There are several other highlights in this album that one must check out. The heavy "Ziltoid Goes Home" blends the classic "City" groove from the SYL age with epic choirs. I did not know that Devin still had it in him to write that kind of music, and I love it. "Ziltoidian Empire" impresses with an irresistible groove that is both weird and humorous, especially when you follow the story line. I can see before me the small Poozer flying through space with the "hede-hede-ya-ah hede-yah" in the background. We also get an amazing performance from Persi in the track "War Princess". I definitely see why Devin chose her to play this role since her vocals fits so well with the War Princess's personality. I also love the apocalyptic "March of The Poozers", the later half of "Earth" and the epic "Dimension Z", the only one out of the three tracks in "Z²" that uses the Universal Choir in the right way.

I can honestly say that "Dark Matters" is the follow up album that Ziltoid deserves. The funny story line has a couple of things that fans of the first Ziltoid record will recognize, but enough new stuff to make it feel new and fresh. The music could have been better structured, but something tells me that this album was not as close to the heart of Devin as "Sky Blue" was. It feels kind of forced, like Devin was pressured to come up with this to please his fans. You do not need to do that Devin, we will still love you as much as the Poozers love the War Princess. Just do what feels good to you, and let the music do the talking.

The final question though is if this is the end of Ziltoid The Omniscient? I am sure that this is the last new musical material we will see him in, but evil aliens always has a way to come back in one way or another. We just have to wait and see, and enjoy the little things around us, like coffee, the sun, and of course, this album.

Songs worthy of recognition: Ziltoid Goes Home, Ziltoidian Empire, March of The Poozers, Dimension Z

Summarization

All in all, "Z²" does not quite live up to my inhumanly high expectations, but that does not mean that Devin bit off more than he could chew. Both albums are great creations and I like the fact that they are so different from each other, like two polar opposites. I simply cannot pick a favourite out of the two because they excel in different ways. "Sky Blue" feels more down to Earth and closer to what Devin wants to do, while "Dark Matters" impress with the funny and interesting concept. Together they create a fantastic double album that is just another proof of Devin's vast musical mind. The man never seems to run out of ideas. The project is not at its final destination yet, but the highlight is now behind us, and all we can do is just enjoy the ride and remember the wonderful music. Next stop, the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Ziltoid musical. Prepare your finest coffee.

Rating: 8,5/10 Earths

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Devin Townsend Project - Z² (2014) Part 1: Sky Blue

It feels pretty unreal that it has finally happened. After months of waiting and tons of other media that has led up to this moment, Devin Townsend is finally ready to reveal his biggest album project yet. The double album entitled "Z²" has been super hyped ever since it was announced, and I think it is thanks to the fact that the fans really love the green, coffee drinking alien Ziltoid The Omniscient. I can guarantee that the Casualties of Cool crowd funding campaign became so successful because that the left overs was going to be spent in this double album. I do think the funders were interested in how this Casualties of Cool project would turn out, but just the pure thought of a follow up to the critically acclaimed "Ziltoid The Omniscient" just made my, and probably several other's, mouth so moist. However, I do not think many fans expected this album to be a double sandwich, a album that represents a combat between the DTP and Ziltoid.

Since this album is so huge, I want to do the review like this. This first part will focus on the first album, entitled "Sky Blue", which is the DTP part of "Z²", and then I will release a second part tomorrow focusing on the official follow up album to "Ziltoid The Omniscient", entitled "Dark Matters". I will also summarize "Z²" in the second part and give it a proper rating, instead of rating the two albums separately and give "Z²" the middle value of those two ratings. So let's get to it shall we?

Sky Blue


So first out is the DTP part of the double album, and for those who are well aware of what Devin has previously done in this project will recognize the sound instantly. The sound in "Sky Blue" has several similarities with mostly "Epicloud", but also earlier Devin albums like "Terria" and "Synchestra" have their fair share in "Sky Blue". In other words, it is joyful, almost pop like metal Devin is giving us with a lot of choir. We also get to hear Devin's favourite female partner once again, former The Gathering singer Anneke Van Giersbergen, which just feels right since her soft vocals fits so well with this type of music.

Knowing what to come, it feels good that Devin opens up "Z²" with a album that has its feet on Earth. "Sky Blue" has an overall spiritual feeling that has a high memorability factor and contains a virus that gives you the urge to sing along. And it also feels like this is the type of music Devin wants to write, not because it has become a successful sound, but for the reason that he is in the point of his life where he does not want to go bat shit crazy anymore, he just wants to make himself and people around him happy, which is really reflective in the music.

Let us get into one of the highlights in "Sky Blue", the song "Before We Die". It is not the highlight because it is a beautiful song with an amazing epic chorus, it is a highlight since it is one out of three songs in "Z²" that utilizes the Universal Choir project where fans could send in their sound file of them singing a specific part of a song, and then Devin would bake it in to make a humongous and epic choir to spice up "Z²". I really think it is a fantastic idea by Devin, but unfortunately, It is only fully utilized in the "Dark Matters" track "Dimension Z", which is disappointing. Not saying that the choir goes by unnoticed in both "Before We Die" and "Z²", but it does not stand out as much as in "Dimension Z".

The album's strong point is in the middle where four fantastic songs are gathered together like a big joyful lump. "Universal Flame", "Warrior", "Sky Blue" and "Silent Militia" are all great pieces that are among the best tracks in the album, together with "Fallout" and "Before We Die", and they impress with different strength. The title track is a grand piece without sounding big, which really makes the duet between Devin and Anneke sound so much better. "Silent Militia" is probably the angriest song in the album, but it gets you pumped up and is a perfect song to just scream out the words. "Universal Flame" is incredibly catchy, almost at the edge of being repetitive, but the cool persona of Devin stops it from being annoying. Finally, "Warrior" is the song where Anneke gets the most room for her talent, and she uses that room perfectly in this epic track.

Most of the tracks that I have not mentioned are more or less the same thing. Slow songs that are very close to the ambient style that Devin has nudged so many times before, and they are a good edition to the album so the down to Earth feeling really sinks in, but none of the songs are really memorable at all, so it is easy to look past them. I have never been a fan of ambient music and this addition to "Sky Blue" does lower its quality, especially since some of it is totally unnecessary. For example, the last three minutes of "Before We Die" is more or less silence, which is pretty annoying, and the final track in the album, "The Ones Who Love", are just a dumb way to end the album. A total of 5 minutes of material that could have been utilized in a more efficient way.

The first half of "Z²" is a wonderful and spiritual experience, and it will certainly make lots of Devin's fans happy (especially those who recently discovered the Canadian). This "Terria" / "Epicloud" hybrid is interesting and a good gateway to how Devin is as a person now a days. "Sky Blue" is definitely necessary in this double album, because you could lose your sanity if you just got into "Dark Matters" without any spiritual warm up. The easy part is now over, let us all jump into hyperdrive and once again make a visit to Ziltoid The Omniscient.

Songs worthy of recognition: Fallout, Sky Blue, Silent Militia, Before We Die