Sound — 7
If there is one artist today who has unabashedly shown his eclectic musical nature, it would be Devin Townsend, a.k.a. Strapping Young Lad. There are plenty of metal musicians who venture off into side projects, but usually those tend to be somewhat in line with whatever the vocalist, guitarist, etc. has been playing in years past. After the release of Strapping Young Lad's debut in 1995, however, it didn't take long for multi-instrumentalist to dabble in everything under the sun. As soon as he began to play under his given surname, Townsend began exploring everything from progressive rock to the ambient to your standard alternative metal. With his newest endeavor the Devin Townsend Project, the overall mood is a mellow one, but every once in awhile we get a little remembrance of the Strapping Young Lad Days. A very, very small taste, that is.
Apparently at one time Townsend described his latest project as a hugely complicated, dynamic metal symphony. This eventually led to the idea behind a four-album series, with Ki acting as the kick-off record. He has mentioned that the three albums following the debut would increase in intensity, so you can imagine where that leaves Ki. It's not that the debut is lacking in creativity, but it is extremely subdued. From the quiet, brief instrumental A Monday, to the Death Cab For Cutie-esque Coast, you get the sense that Townsend and fellow his bandmates (drummer Duris Maxwell, bassist Jean Savoie, and keyboardist Dave Young) are certainly looking to see how long they can hold out before letting loose. Coast is exemplary with its generally low-key format, which in the final moments are interrupted by sounds that are akin to impending evil.
Townsend never goes all-out with his metal vocals on Ki, but he doesn't hesitate to inject a growl into the mix every once in awhile. Disruptr features relatively clean guitars and at no times feels metal, which makes the presence of the intermittent evil growls all the more unsettling. Most of the time the Devin Townsend Project stays away from the predictable, i.e. the material you might hear from Strapping Young Lad. The most insanity we receive in any song is in Heaven Send (vocals are delivered by Che Dorval), and as you might expect, that's because the distortion is finally turned on.
The majority of Ki is one mellow ride, however. Terminal is a slower, more introspective tune that takes on a similar feel to A Perfect Circl. You almost think Elvis was resurrected on Trainfire, which features King-like vocals and a delta blues approach to the guitar. The word pensive comes to mind on most of the final tracks, and at times it even seems like the audio mix was purposely made quieter to create the right mood. Given Townsend's experimentation, it wouldn't surprise me.
Lyrics — 8
Townsend usually matches his musical creativity with his lyrical content, with the most interesting aspect usually coming through his vocal phrasing. Some of the lyrics might be bizarre in comparison to some other rock content you come across, but Townsend never ceases to draw you into what he's saying. While Disruptr features lyrics that are appropriate to the growling diabolic style, Winter includes introspective, sensitive lines like How in the world could winter fall apart? The themes don't always make sense, but then again, neither do his musical choices.
Overall Impression — 8
If you're familiar with Devin Townsend's past work particularly Strapping Young Lad and his ambient album The Hummer then you won't be shocked by his latest musical journey. Ki has its moments, but more often than not it puts you into a lull. If you're looking for great relaxation music, Ki will not disappoint. And if you're not satisfied with the results of the Devin Townsend Project's debut record, you can always take heart in knowing that three more with apparently an increased intensity are in the works.