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Released: May 22, 2009
Genre: Alternative Rock
Label: InsideOut Records
Number Of Tracks: 13 (with 3 bonus tracks available)
Taking a huge leap away from Strapping Young Lad, the Devin Townsend Projects new CD Ki creates intensity with relatively clean guitars.
UG Team, on june 03, 2009 2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: 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. // 7
Lyrics: 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. // 8
Overall Impression: 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. // 8
travislausch, on june 03, 2009 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: Unlike the majority of Devin's past work, the sound on this album is much lighter, makes far less use of compression and overdubbing, and seems to be more like a fair comparison with Pink Floyd and modern prog bands like Riverside and Porcupine Tree. The first thing most people will notice when listening to this album is that most of the guitars on the album are clean, and that Devy avoids use of distortion wherever necessary. This definitely leads to some beautiful moments, like on the second track of the album, "Coast", or on the studio jam "Ain't Never Gonna Win...". Acoustic guitars get some use on this album as well. Devin still carries some of his trademarks, however, as evidenced in songs like "Trainfire" and the highlight title track, "Ki". The clean guitars make the heavier sections of the album stand out even that much more. The album's instrumentation is ably handled by Townsend himself, along with previous Devin Townsend Band collaborator Dave Young on keyboard, Jean Savoie on bass guitar, and Heart alumni Duris Maxwell. Duris' performance is worthy of a separate mention here, as his drum lines have a certain grooviness never before heard on a Devin Townsend album. He's most definitely not a metal drummer, but he can lay down one hell of a groove. The album is a bit more chilled out, musically, than anything Devy has released to date, but there are still moments of intense heaviness, like "Heaven Send" and "Disruptr", epic moments like "Ki" and "Coast", and campy, tongue-in-cheek moments like "Trainfire". The whole album has a flow which can be best described as "orgasmic". A lot of songs tend to flow together and have a lot of peaks and valleys, as well as a lot of great moments with release of tension. The title track, for instance, has an almost lullaby-like quality for the first half, until a nearly Celtic folk-like guitar arpeggio part serves the second half with a huge buildup of guitar tracks, drums, Devin's trademark "choir of Devys" vocals, and continues until it all just stops, like it's pulling the carpet out from under you. A lot of songs on the album are like this. So sound-wise, it's not what you'd expect from a Devy album, but know deep in your heart that if Devy ever released a soft album, this is exactly what it would sound like. It ain't his best album to date, but it's his most interesting and fresh release in ages. // 9
Lyrics: Lyrically, Devy's always got some really obscure lyrics. With lines like "The fallout from the California glow/Toronto's frozen over/this every man should know/I've forgotten now" from "Coast", or "How in the world we gonna make everything alright?/How in the world we gonna make everything on time?/Train burning, all night burning.../Trainfire..." from "Trainfire", one can only speculate at the meanings of some of the lyrics on this album. But this is the first album Devin wrote entirely sober, so I'm sure that has to factor into the message of the album somehow. The lyrics do tend to match the lyrics quite well, reinforcing the chilled-out feel of the album. Vocally, Devin is still top-notch, but he doesn't use as much overdubbing this time, and usually relies on a more honest approach of just having one or two tracks of vocals with little to no compression or reverb. It certainly opens up your ears to the fact that Devin is actually a good honest singer. Not that we didn't know that before, but this is just reinforcing that. The lyrics are deep, but cryptic, so I assume people will be looking for hidden meanings in this record for a while. A great effort that will leave us scratching our heads for a bit. // 9
Overall Impression: Compared to previous Devin Townsend albums, it's almost impossible to call this "better" or "worse" than any other album. It's like a completely different entity, and it's best to take it for what it is. And what it is, is a great prog/ambient album. This is a great album to put on when you need to meditate, chill out, relax, etc. Some of the best ambient prog you'll hear, and almost post-rockish in some ways. The standout tracks on this album are definitely "Coast", "Trainfire", "Heaven Send" and "Ki". There's nothing wrong with the other tracks, though, and this album is sure to please almost any fan of Pink Floyd, Riverside, Porcupine Tree, or any other old-school prog fan. It's a bit of a separate album from Devy's usual stuff though, so I may not recommend it to someone wanting to get into Devy (instead, I'd probably recommend "Synchestra" or SYL's "The New Black"). But I definitely think this is a worthy addition to a collection for any Devy fan. Definitely worthy of at least a 9/10. A 10/10 is even deserved, but this album may bruise a few expectations of another heavy Devy album, so a 9/10 is more realistic. Definitely going to make my list of top albums of '09. // 9
con job, on september 14, 2009 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: "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. // 10
Lyrics: 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. // 9
Overall Impression: 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. // 10