So, this is the intense and chaotic progressive metal album that comprises one fourth of the original concept of the Devin Townsend Project (which has since progressed into six albums with "Epicloud" and also "Sky Blue" from the "Zed Squared" double disc). Having all five of Strapping Young Lad's albums (Devin's other band from 1995 to 2006), I was expecting something really similar because the reviews I had read suggested so. Devin said in an interview that this is where he wanted to take Strapping Young Lad, and in another interview he said in response to a question about reforming SYL that "This is the kind of metal I want to do now".
Considering all this, I found my expectations were not met. Instead, I was faced with a mountain of creative music that I realized was going to take some time to explore and become familiar with. There is only one track here that I feel is similar to SYL's music, "Poltergeist" (an interesting title as the simultaneously released sister album is entitled "Ghost"). The rest of the album covers a surprising range of music, though still in the metal mould, from "Praise the Lowered" with lots of mellow and dark electronica to the 16-minute plus "The Mighty Masturbator" with various metal shades as well as a club music section, to the wild theatrical ride of the title track.
Fans of Devin will know that he has often worked with female vocalists (at least five that I can think of) because he writes music with a certain vocal quality or sound in mind that only woman can provide. He once said that he doesn't need to work with male vocalists because he can do most of what he needs himself. On this album, however, he wanted to make a real metal statement and called in quite a host of male guest vocalists. At first, I found the guests are not so easy to pick out. Devin is an accomplished screamer, growler, shouter, and sneerer, as well as singer, howler, whisperer, and crooner. After several listens, I was better able to identify the guest vocal performances, particularly Oderus Urungus on the title track, Ihsahn on "Juular", and Paul Masvidal and Joe Duplantier on "Sumeria". Some have complained that the guest vocalists weren't used to their full capacity; however, I only feel the Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth has taken the most time to pick out considering his vocal talents.
The album alternates between shorter songs ranging between 3:29 and 6:37, and longer ones ranging between 9:27 and 16:38. My general impression of the album is that it is a precursor to the "Zed Squared" disc, "Ziltoid Dark Matters" because it includes an orchestra and choir and in parts sounds like a metal musical. It is loosely a story about a man seeking the secrets of the universe and finds himself in Hell before the Devil who offers him a cheeseburger which contains all he seeks to know. But he can't eat the burger as he's a "vege-ma- tarian" and so his quest ends in vain. I believe the message here is that we can't expect to solve life's mysteries as long as we cling to a single ideal. The limitations we impose upon ourselves through restricted belief systems will forever blind us to the truth.
The music is generally dark, brooding at times, full of rage at others, and very intense. At other times though, there are some slower moments, some of which are rather beautiful. The height of the theatrics lie in three songs: "Juular", "The Mighty Masturbator" and "Deconstruction". "Juular" features a choir singing back up and if you've seen the video with the train riding through a hellish landscape, you'll understand how the choir's vocal contribution suits the image of a train. When Ihsahn sings the chorus, the choir and music may inspire images of a very dark scene in a Tim Burton movie.
"The Mighty Masturbator", in spite of its humorous title, is mostly quite serious, though the part about saving the world features some goofy spoken dialogue. Ziltoid himself makes a guest appearance here, first in voice only and later announcing that he is indeed Ziltoid the Omniscient. There's this crazy club music section where Greg Puciato sings "We praise God. He lives inside of us," and later "We praise ourselves," and finally, "We praise Satan". I find this part really cool to listen to and the meaning of the three statements together could be interpreted rather deeply and philosophically. The song concludes with a carnival atmosphere and Ziltoid introducing some freak show characters like the four-face boy, the man with seventeen testicles, and the Mankee Brothers who provide flatulence free of charge.
The wackiest, zaniest song on the album is the title track. Beginning with two scientists discussing the brain while using a toilet (Devin's toilet humour fetish in full force here), the song seems to jump from theme to theme, mostly including wild, over-the-top guitar soloing, machinegun fire drumming, a choir (who sing "All beef patties, pickles onions on a sesame seed bun" in one part), and some crazy dialogue provided by Devin and Oderus (and I'm sure a third party). Fredrik Thordendal of Messhuga contributes a crazy guitar solo, too. This song really allows Devin to indulge in his elementary school boy humour with plenty of farts, toilet sounds, misplaced emphasis in the word happiness (hapPENIS), and some nose clearing and bizarre vocal sounds. It is the craziest song I have ever heard that still pretends to be serious.
I can't say there's anything I don't like about this album. True it will not impress everyone. People who prefer their metal a bit simpler or more serious can also spend their money elsewhere. But this is one very imaginative album and one that slowly grows. Recommended for the adventurous.