Devin Townsend has done everything, it seems. He’s explored wide varieties of sounds through his various projects and eclectic records. He’s made albums with roots in blues, electronic dance music, technical metal and even new-age soundscapes, which have all been under the moniker of the Devin Townsend Project. The next thing on the list was the long-awaited follow up to his 2007 concept album, Ziltoid the Omniscient, aptly titled Z2. We got more than we ever could have hoped for when he announced that it would be a double album, with the first disc being Sky Blue and the second disc being Dark Matters, which was the sequel to Ziltoid. The man gives and gives and gives and never seems to run out. What he has done here is construct an album that not only stands up on it’s own as an excellent release but also pulls from his previous releases while simultaneously pushing sounds that previously played minor roles into a much larger spotlight.
Devin has heavily flirted with electronic elements when making previous albums, but instead of flirting with them this time around, he makes those elements the one constant that runs through the entirety of Sky Blue. There’s even a track in the latter half of the album called ‘Silent Militia’ that gets downright industrial as well as being a bit reminiscent of Addicted. Other than that track, the electronics don’t often steal the spotlight, but instead accentuate the parts that have already been established in the songs. Whether it be a bright organ behind Devin’s crooning or a series of notes that match up with a drum pattern, the electronics act as companions that add layers of depth and meaning to already deep and meaningful bits of music, much like icing on a cake.
Some of the catchy choruses and arena rock vibe carried over from Epicloud, but somehow they were made even larger here. Songs like ‘Universal Flame’ and ‘Before We Die’ feel like some of the largest pieces that Devin has ever recorded, mostly due to their chantable choruses and huge riffing. The latter is assisted by The Universal Choir, which was a project in which Devin had fans record certain vocal parts for songs so he could make it appear as if the whole world was singing along with him. This worked out unbelievably well and makes the track feel absurdly massive when the chorus hits. He also pulls from his new age album Ghost, with soundscapes that appear on tracks near the end of the album, such as ‘Rain City’ and the aforementioned ‘Before We Die’. These serve as rounding elements for the album, making it a lot more than just a nonstop, high energy ride.
Some aspects of Sky Blue‘s sound may have been pulled and tweaked from previous projects, but there are definitely tracks that couldn’t be on any other Devin Townsend album. Tracks like ‘Warrior’, ‘Sky Blue’ and ‘Forever’ all seemed to be crafted with this particular record in mind. ‘Warrior’ is one of the best DTP tracks in recent memory and that’s really saying something. It has a deceptively simple cymbal groove over the chorus that just pushes the track to an unprecedented level of head nodding nirvana. This track also utilizes the lovely Anneke van Giersbergen as the leading lady. Many tracks on the album have her singing for a majority of the time, but this track showed Devin stepping back to let her shine as brightly as possible, with stellar results.
When a well established musician tries to add new sounds or pull from previous records, it can sometimes end in disaster. It can seem like a stab at reclaiming former glory or trying to appeal to an untapped market. Sky Blue does neither of those things. It pulls from records that are rooted in strong emotion and excellent sounds to produce a product that matches up and possibly even surpasses it’s predecessors in those respects. Devin didn’t just give us a disc of new material, he gave us some of his best material yet.
Devin Townsend Project’s Sky Blue gets…