To call Z², the seemingly hundredth collection of original material from musical polymath/heavy metal overachiever Devin Townsend, ambitious is to do it a disservice. Comprised of two completely different albums, Sky Blue and Dark Matters, Townsend (operating under the Devin Townsend Project moniker) has crafted a gonzo batch of progressive hard rock confections that flirt with nearly every genre imaginable, from icy electronica and shoegaze to fantasy metal and art rock, before settling into something that sounds vaguely like a mash-up of ELO, Janelle Monae, Evanescence, and King Crimson. Of the two, the soaring Sky Blue feels the most cohesive, despite lacking the rigid sci-fi narrative of its sister album. Offering a bevy of signature Townsend licks and crafty melodies, as well as the near constant presence of the otherworldly Anneke van Giersbergen, whose distinctive voice lends the whole affair some considerable gravitas, the 12-track set is a pop-driven, anthem-heavy gem with highlights arriving via the triumphant "Rejoice" and "Fallout," the decidedly Enya-esque "Forever," the chilly electro-pop-kissed title cut, and the epic Therion-meets-Avenged Sevenfold closer "Before We Die," all of which manage to skillfully toe the line between style and substance. Billed as a sequel to Townsend's 2007 sci-fi rock opera Ziltoid the Omniscient, Dark Matters is more problematic, as it goes all in, narrative-wise, spending as much time engaging in cartoon-like voice-overs and character development as it does unveiling a near constant stream of immaculately crafted, over-the-top progressive metal architecture with which to move the relatively thin story forward. This is for hardcore fans only. Both albums will undoubtedly please Townsend devotees, as between the two, they cater to both sides of the remarkably talented musician's persona, but when the smoke clears it will be the aptly titled Sky Blue that shines the brightest.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2