Sound — 10
"I can make chaos like you've never heard, but for starters, please get comfortable." A fitting statement to introduce the first album of a planned quartet from the musical mastermind, Devin Townsend. Intended as a fresh start due to the artist's new-found sobriety, Ki is essentially Townsend finding his musical feet once more, without the assistance of narcotics or alcohol. It also serves of the purpose of, as the introduction says, being a prelude to the other three records of the quartet. What is striking immediately about this album is how "comfortable" it actually feels, at least on the surface. Townsend's trademark "wall-of-sound" production technique has been done away with, and the usual heaviness is replaced with a very contained and introspective sound. Little to no distortion is to be found on the album, a colossal departure from Townsend's usual style, but fans need not fear. Scratch the surface of the calm, almost simplistic songs and there's a whole other, deeper side to this music, that can affect the person just as much as harder hitting earlier material with DTB, possibly even more so. Even the anger is not entirely missing on this record, but it is dealt with in a much more conservative and less obvious way. It is a remarkable feat for an artist, who regularly lets his anger loose on his records, to be able to produce songs such as Disruptr and Heaven Send (Gato is really the only song where it can be said that he truly lets go). In both cases, the songs build to a point of unbearable tension that cries out for a sonic barrage of distorted, crunching guitar and crash cymbals, but this never comes. Townsend dangles a climax in front of his listeners, and indeed himself, and snatches it away at the last moment. The effect is quite astonishing, especially when these tension points are in the midst of contrastingly quiet and subdued songs such as Winter, Ain't Never Gonna Win.., Terminal and Lady Helen. In these quieter songs we find mixes of chilled out blues riffs and meditative sounds. However, one song stands out on the record that I feel needs a special mention. The title track Ki incorporates pretty much every characteristic I have listed so far and creates an almost flawless song, probably the most harmonically beautiful song on the album. From the contained, low vocal harmonies of the early part of the song, to the hypnotizing arpeggios and wall-of-sound climax(this and the outro to Coast are really the only points that this technique is used), the song easily takes the gong of the most in-depth, complicated and moving songs, on a record filled with many similar tracks.
Lyrics — 9
As usual, Townsend's lyrics are very cryptic in nature, filled with metaphor and what we assume is deep, private meaning. I won't even pretend to be able to decipher most of the songs, but I will advise listeners to take the time to listen to the lyrics to take their own meaning out of them. It could be argued that such introspective lyrics serves to make the album less accessible to listeners, but the words, whether you understand them or not, serve the music very well and really are a part of the atmosphere created. Singing-wise, this is Townsend at his varied best. From the almost whispered vocals of Coast and Heaven Send, the growling in Disruptr, his trademark screaming vocals in Gato to the soaring, opera-like singing in the climax of Ki, he succeeds in creating probably the most broad and diverse record he's ever created. Female vocalist Ch Dorval makes an appearance in three tracks on the album, most notably Heaven Send, and adds a fantastic layer to the songs she appears on.
Overall Impression — 10
When Devin himself claimed, months prior to the release of Ki, that it would contain little to no distorted guitars, it must have raised more than a few eyebrows. For the artist and fans alike, this was pretty much unexplored territory with regard to his music. Could he really pull this off? The answer is a resounding yes. Even stripped down to the bare bones, Devin Townsend's music is nothing short of - for lack of a better word - epic. Songs like Terminal and Winter, two of the most subdued on the album, can send shivers up and down the back just aswell as hard hitting classics like Deadhead. The only real problem with Ki is that it's such an immersive experience, a casual listen is pretty much out of the question. For this reviewer at least, songs from Ki aren't as impressive unless they're being played in the context of the whole album, but for me at least this is no bad thing. It needs to be listened to from beginning to end, the listener needs to be brought on the rollercoaster of different moods that are presented in each track. Do this album a favour. When you buy it, turn on your stereo, get comfortable, play the album through from the opening track until the very end. I can guarantee you'll find it one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.