Devin Townsend Project
posted on 6/2009 By:
Let's get one thing out of the way: I'm a total Devin Townsend geek. Roughly a decade ago, Strapping Young Lad's City cracked my skull open and imbedded itself in my frontal lobe, and I've been an active Devin zombie ever since.
That said, not everything the man has birthed has been worthy of slavish fawning and fandom. Any artist this prolific (roughly 16 full-length albums, SYL included, in 15 years) is bound to serve up a fair share of duds: the much-maligned Physicist, the democratic anticlimax that was SYL's self-titled disc, the Inflatable Mallet of Prog to the Face that was Synchestra, the album about a fucking puppet. Glaringly, those last two records are his most recent offerings. A sign of decline? Nah. Just signs that Devy was due. And Ki delivers.
The first in a four album series under the Devin Townsend Project moniker, Ki is easily the most subtle, subdued album of his career, and the result is largely stunning. Understated simplicity is the key to Ki's appeal. Whereas previous albums were built into the trademark Townsend Tower of Sound with layer-upon-layer of mortar n' brick, the architect seems to have scaled things back. Lulling the listener into a peaceful groove seems to be the main intent, as Townsend channels the more sensual tones of Terria--and to a much lesser degree, Infinity--into a unique, bold venture.
"A Monday" and "Coast" open the record gently, the latter track cruising on crisp, cool rails into the midst of your conciousness. The rhythm section that he has employed for Ki (each installment of the Project will feature a different lineup) truly shines here, and goes on to drive the record. Bubbling with a bluesy, blissfully un-metal vibe, they steer heavier, seething tracks like the ultra-groovy "Disruptr" into new waters. That's not to say that the heavier tracks are the disc's selling point (and I use the term "heavier" in relation to the rest of the super-chill material on Ki--we're not talking "Underneath the Waves"-type shit here). "Gato" and "Heaven Send" are almost obnoxious, the latter track devolving into that bleating "BLEARGH! BLEARGH!" brown-out that plagued parts of Alien. No, the best parts of Ki are the introspective, soulful, and soothing songs that comprise the majority of the album. "Terminal" and "Winter" are absolutely stunning; they are as delicate in their delivery as they are crushingly heartrending in their reception. "Trainfire" is a wonderful juxtaposition of Devin's sarcastic swagger and knack for the profound, whereas "Ki" is virtuosic showcase that swells into an experience that would border on spiritual, provided one validates such frivolity.
Ki bursts with coolness because it toes the line between the sublime and the subliminal. The subtleties of this record make it best enjoyed within a headphoned cacoon, but Ki also a prime chill-out device, piloted by a phenomenal rhythm section and a typically powerful vocal performance from Devin himself. Despite some oddites, this is his most enjoyable release in years, and certainly his most symbiotic since Terria. If Ki is any indication, the arc of the Devin Townsend Project will be a stunning, immersive indulgence for fans and neophytes alike.
posted on 6/2009 By:
The sting of disappointment is never a pleasant thing, and anyone who read my review a couple of years back knows I was feeling it like a harpoon through the gullet when Devin Townsend released his comedy metal-opera, Ziltoid The Omniscient, in 2007. Between that album’s misdirection and the dissolution of Strapping Young Lad (who didn’t exactly go out with flying colors either), I’ve been hoping since it was announced that the four-part Devin Townsend Project would restore some of my faith in one of my all-time favorite artists. And I’m pleased, as well as a little relieved, to report that Ki has reassured me that the patented spark that has inspired some classic albums is still in tact.
Billed by Townsend as a kind of intro-piece for the three records to follow, Ki feels like anything but on the first couple of listens. Despite the cool, laid-back demeanor of most of the songs, this record retains every bit of the unpredictable flavor that has made this man’s body of work one of the most distinctive in contemporary hard rock and metal. After a short acoustic curtain-opener in “A Monday,” the beautifully chilled-out “Coast,” sets the stage for the rest of the album’s tone down take on Townsend’s melodic rock style. With simplistic but irresistibly groovy drumming and a soft, relaxing riff pattern, “Coast” manages to be immensely enjoyable despite its unassuming nature, and sets a high standard for the coming tracks. “Disruptr” follows a similar formula but teases the listener by raising the intensity level briefly before toning back down again, a trend which also surfaces in “Gato” and album-centerpiece “Heaven Send.” Considering how brilliantly Townsend pulls off the quieter elements of this disc, I found these segments of borderline-SYL level heaviness to be woefully out of place this time around (particularly the huge death growls on “Heaven Send”), but fortunately these moments are scant and do little to detract from the overall experience. In fact, “Heaven Send,” with its fantastic driving rhythm and female-vocal-driven chorus, is one of Townsend’s most stimulating tracks in recent memory in spite of the questionable heavy parts.
Following this crescendo, the smooth instrumental jam of “Ain’t Never Gonna Win” ushers in the second half of Ki in proper, with things taking a decidedly low-key turn from this point on. “Winter” and “Lady Helen” are both soft, powerful acoustic ballads which place special emphasis on soothing guitar and vocal textures, while “Trainfire” serves as the record’s catchy single, driven by an exceedingly fun shuffle-rhythm and poppy chorus that leads into a surprisingly emotional conclusion with more excellent female vocal contributions. The epic title-track is a brilliant showcase of Devin’s spacey, ethereal approach to the guitar, building tension with soft melodies before things explode into a distinctly Infinity-esque multitracked freak-out, with soaring vocals leading the charge against a bedlam of seemingly random backing melodies before everything coasts back down again. With the album effectively concluded, things taper off with the quaint acoustics of “Quiet Riot” (which pays tribute to the band of the same name by borrowing the melody from “Cum On Feel the Noize”) and the beautiful ambience of “Demon League.”
It's taken me some time to decide where exactly I stand on Ki. At over an hour in length, this album really does feel like something of a roller-coaster ride, and those of you expecting a quiet, undemanding appetizer (as Ki was originally introduced as), may be surprised at how much this record takes out of you. But despite a couple of ill-advised stylistic decisions (namely the heavier moments in the album’s first half as well as its somewhat excessive length), Ki’s mixture of enchanting, head-bobbing grooves with intimate acoustic musings and trademark Devin weirdness makes this album a great addition to Townsend’s esteemed catalog, and one of the more distinctive musical ventures you’re likely to hear this year. If this deep and multi-faceted listening experience really is intended to be the icebreaker for the upcoming Devin Townsend Project releases due in the coming months, I can only imagine what’s in store for us when they finally arrive.
posted on 6/2009 By:
It’s funny when you consider Devin Townsend’s long, perhaps intentionally bizarre career. He’s held the reins on some of the most interesting projects of the past decade, most notably his eponymous band and the abruptly disbanded Strapping Young Lad, not to mention his work as a first-rate producer for musicians from all walks of life. But if I had to pick an album with which I’d most associate Devin Townsend, it would probably be his last record, the strange and polarizing Ziltoid the Omniscient. It was, after all, released during a time of duress for the metal community; Dev had recently pulled the plug on all other active projects, and for all we knew, Dev was done. I was worried for a bit that the last we’d ever hear from Devin Townsend was an album about the subjugation of Earth by an alien race for the production of the best brewed cup of joe in the universe.
Ki is not Ziltoid the Omniscient, nor is it like much else in Devin Townsend’s body of work. It is telling, subtle, and intimate; for the most part, it thrives on singularity, softness, and smoothness, contrary to Strapping’s modus operandi of harsh, heavy, and hypermasculine. It winds itself out slowly, and more thoroughly than most records; you get the feeling from Ki that you’ve heard everything Dev has to say. Something admirable in that, I think.
I think it is unwise to call Ki a metal album. In saying that, I would surmise that a large listenership would be turned off by an album like Ki. It is not unlike pursuing Karl Sanders’ solo projects in the hope of hearing Nile. There are admittedly louder, less restrained moments on Ki, particularly on “Heaven Send,” “Disruptr,” and “Trainfire,” though those moments are so sparse and comprise such a minute portion of the album that saving up your coinage for those, what, three or so minutes of “heavy Devy” would be a complete waste.
The album plays like…well, I’ll give you an example of sorts. Ever driven somewhere for a bit, gotten out of the car and wondered how you got there? That’s kinda how Ki plays out in some sense. It’s hard to retrace your steps when melodies bounce from sure-shot chill anthem “Coast” to shufflin’ Elvis/rockabilly suite “Trainfire” to the joyous summit of the title track in its arpeggio-ing majesty. There are middlin’ tracks that hold early spots in Ki, particularly “Gato” and “Disruptr,” not to mention “Heaven Send” wears its welcome a bit too long. Still, when “Demon League” hits the airwaves, it’s almost like time went by without notice. I still shrug my shoulders and wonder where the album went. I don’t know what to make of something like that.
I’m not going to say Ki is a must-buy. It’s moving in ways that words aren’t meant to express. It stifles my tongue. It chatters my teeth. It’s a calculated album to a staggering degree. Unlike Strapping Young Lad, Ki does not illicit an immediate satiation for me. Many of you won’t like that. Others may covet the ground Devin Townsend walks on following Ki. And maybe this is an album I don’t yet fully understand, despite unprecedented repeated listens. After all, good art is deeper than it lets on.
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