I wanted to review this record for a long time, but this is one of those rare albums that leave you with an amazing first impression and then, continues to impress above and beyond every time you hear it. As usual for Devin Townsend, first listens only scratch the surface. There's always a lot going on below the waves, and you never know how deep you will go once you start diving. So when I heard this, and there was not one loud guitar, no screams and shrieks, not even the sound of Anneke von Giersbergen's high, lilting voice, it gave me pause. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew it was different than anything he has ever done (except for the occasional nod to country and rockabilly he's done before on Ghost and Epiclouder). This time, he partners up with the sultry and smooth voice of Ché Aimee Dorval, whose distinct form of crooning brings an amazing amount of raw emotion to the songs, counterbalancing Townsend's somewhat dark and trippy homage to classic country-western music.
The songs are mood-evoking, from the lonely, late night desert driving of Mountaintop to the gentle soaring and bittersweet lullaby of Flight, to the melancholy heartbreak of Bones. It's impossible to not feel something while listening to this album. The psychedelic ambience throughout lends the record a surreal, alternate-existence vibe. But, for those of us who don't know how diverse Townsend really is, it can be hard to imagine the skulleted madman behind Strapping Young Lad or the top-hatted Ringmaster of The Retinal Circus doing something so uncharacteristically serious, minimalist, and mellow.
Townsend began writing the songs in 2010, but didn't announce it until after Epicloud was released. He raised the money for production and release through crowdfunding and received so many donations, he was able to fund the second Ziltoid record. Speaking of the ideas behind the record, "Townsend described the story as being about a traveler that is lured to a sentient planet, which feeds on the traveler's fear. The traveler finds solace in an old radio and later an old phonograph. Eventually, he confronts his own fear, and his "force of will to not submit to the fear" liberates a woman held inside the planet, which also frees his own soul".
Whoever would have thought that the musical styles would come together to create just this type of atmosphere? Apparently, Townsend and Dorval did, and in the process, created a masterpiece. Yes, this album came out in May of last year, and yet it is one I keep going back to quite often. It took me so long to review it because I just didn't know how. There's so much I get from this that it's hard to put into words.
I guess you're just gonna have to listen for yourself.