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After relentless touring with bands and tiring of his personal demons, Devin Townsend pulled out of the public eye, and for a while, there were fears that his career- for the most part, would be over? Then, in a true fashion of Devin Townsend, he surprised us all by announcing one of his most ambitious projects yet, his self-titled 'Devin Townsend Project.'
Adopting a totally different style for each of the four albums along with a unique set of musicians for each, the Project's first album 'Ki' comes as a bit of a surprise to anyone who was expecting the extremity of Strapping Young Lad or the experimentation of his solo work. What you get here is a protest against convention, through some of the most chilled out music I've ever listened to.
The music can easily be described as atmospheric, laid-back and some times even psychedelic rock. Due to the fact that the majority of his fanbase was either attracted to him for his metal, or progressive aspects, there will be a lot of people alienated by this release. While there are certainly 'weird' moments of music to behold on 'Ki,' there won't be a whole lot that will leave you scratching your head on first listen.
'Ki' feels like a slingshot that won't be released. There are times when its almost certain that Devin will finally explode in a Strapping sort of way, but at the last moment; the anger is pulled away for total calm. While this can be frustrating at times from the listener's point of view, it is a real commentary on the artist, and his newfound lifestyle of moderation and er, self-preservation. However, while the 'heavy' moments on this album are few and far between; when they come, they sound more brutal than ever in contrast.
In any case, it's great to see Townsend exploring new facets of what he can do. It does not have the longevity of some of his earlier works, nor does it have as many 'mind-blowing' moments, but what does very well is show that Devin Townsend is far from extinguishing his creative abilities, and that there is a lot of great music to be heard from him in the years to come.
Originally, I thought Devin Townsend’s ‘Ki’ album was far too sparse and felt too rushed in comparison to the exciting adventure that ‘Addicted’ takes you on. This album is a subtle affair. It doesn’t set out to be what ‘Addicted’ was. In actual fact, it is the exact opposite of that particular album. Initially I had expected the slower, perhaps more meaningful material of ‘Ki’ to wow me but it was the exciting and fun direction of the aptly entitled ‘Addicted’ which had me jumping for joy like a madman. Almost always I will opt for the more atmospheric, slower piece. I’m a huge fan of slow, rather repetitive music, though this album certainly isn’t repetitive, although it is much slower in comparison to the accelerated evolution of ‘Addicted’. I wasn’t expecting find this particular Devin showcase to sound as impotent as I did. It was limp and frail in comparison to the bombastic and energetic affair of ‘Addicted’, an album which is so vibrant and full of life that I couldn’t put it down for a number of months.
It was like a drug, an injection of highly addictive music that was instantly gratifying in almost every way possible. Although there are definitely cracks in ‘Addicted’, the sheer energy and volume of the piece masked those cracks well. ‘Ki’, on the other hand, is a grower. It was almost detestable at first but, slowly and gradually, it builds in stature and becomes almost as huge as ‘Addicted’, but in very different ways. As far as atmospheric expression goes, ‘Ki’ has it all. In comparison to ‘Addicted’, ‘Ki’ is an almost meandering effort on the part of Devin, a musician who I’m used to seeing showboat and act up. His performances are generally very fun and charismatic, but ‘Ki’ is a lot more thoughtful than that and, as I touched upon earlier, a lot more meaningful because of how slowly it becomes a beautiful album whereas ‘Addicted’ blossomed almost instantly. The difference between the two is monumental. Whilst ‘Addicted’ came across powerfully in the beginning, it slowly loses its attraction like a beautiful woman without a brain. ‘Ki’, being the moderately attractive sister of ‘Addicted’, gradually begins to catch your eye because of its wonderful brain, rather than its overwhelming beauty, though in the end it does become a very beautiful album in its own right.
None of the songs feel as pressing as they did on ‘Addicted’. I mean even the song titles were energetic with their exclamation marks and great zest for life and being the star of the show. ‘Ki’ is a lot more subtle, as aforementioned. Even Devin’s vocal performance isn’t as I expected it to be. He’s a very talented musician and vocalist, turning his hand to many a sound and many a genre. Personally, I wouldn’t call this a metal album. I’d say it’s very atmospheric rock, perhaps I’d go as far to describe it as progressive rock. Much like bands such as The Gathering, Devin is able to shift his sound with consummate ease and professionalism. He also seems to enjoy the occasional bout of jazzy instrumentation, as shown on songs like ‘Heaven Send’, which includes a lush section driven by a divine bass and an electrifying solo - an element which resumes Devin’s showboating, though I understand he is a very humble man. This isn’t a theme which consumes most of the records duration, but it does occasionally come to life again, as on songs like ‘Ain’t Never Gonna Win’, a song with lots of attitude and a strange mix of atmospheres with an urban feel meeting-and-greeting an astral element.
He moves between the metallic sound of ‘Addicted’, to the rock based style of ‘Ki’ with charisma. His vocal performance is a clear indication of his intentions on the album. The progression from the debut to the sophomore is incredible. Songs like ‘Gato’ and ‘Heaven Send’ do include Devin’s well known screams, but he combats this by including a sparse female performance relatively unknown musician and vocalist Ché Dorval, a woman with an incredibly soulful voice. Although sparse, her performance adds a lot of character to the song ‘Gato’, a song which is generally sparse in instrumentation. There are, as with most of the songs on the album, occasion bursts of life with really metallic guitars and hard-hitting drums, but much of the material is slow, ponderous and atmospheric. This is achieved mainly through the use of slower, cleaner instrumentation. ‘Terminal’, a beautiful example, begins with a slow drum beat and a clean guitar which uses effects to enhance the atmosphere of the song. Devin eventually comes in with his almost whispered vocals, showcasing what sounds like a deep melancholy behind the music on this occasion.
A number of the atmospheres are aquatic, perhaps nautical sounding. Lots of spacey vibes are given off by the music on songs like ‘Terminal’, through its use of integral programming. In terms of energy and vibrancy, this album cannot compete with ‘Addicted’. The vocal duet of Anneke, the former The Gathering vocalist, and Devin was also unbeatable for me. They’re two of my favourites and I’ll always have a soft spot for Anneke, though I in no way pine over her like a lot of fans of The Gathering do. I would have appreciated this album a tad more if Ché Dorval had more than just a bit-part role. As on ‘Addicted’, the duet of male-female performances worked incredibly well for Devin and, I feel, it would have worked even better on this piece considering the depth of the atmosphere and the soulful vibes Dorval gives off even in only a short space of time. Her magic is worked well within the time she has to use, but her addition could have been so much greater had she been given more of a starring role. ‘Ki’ certainly isn’t as easily likable, or enjoyable as ‘Addicted’, but is well worth in the end, given much time to settle into its routine.
Trust old Dev to not play by the rulebook. Whether you have ever been a fan of his previous solo works or Strapping Young Lad noone with a smidgen of musical knowledge can question the man's capabilities and his drive to do exactly what he wants. Having folded SYL through a general lack of interest in keeping up the show required to enable the band to carry on successfully, the Canadian maestro has now gone totally insular to release "Ki" - what is described as the first of a four-part 'project' consisting of different sessions musicians to put to music the inner working of the man's peculiar mind. Gone is the 'skullet' of SYL days and in is a sober, almost retrospective style of soft, ambient-like music that encapsulates his desire to move away from the restrictions supposedly placed on him through past endeavours.
Picking the bones out of this one I believe is difficult, and pointless. The approach taken by Devin of hiring musicians with no 'heavy' music experience is an interesting one, and boy does it show. Drummer Duris Maxwell, a 62-year old with a CV including Jefferson Airplane and jams with Hendrix, offers a masterclass of excellent, background drumming. He is pure smooth. Bassist Jean Savoie is equally important in the mix. With Devin's guitar flirting between playing 'sounds' as much as chords and riffs it is often left to Savoie to inject the melody into the songs, and like Maxwell he does it with consummate ease and class. The keys of Dave Young add atmosphere and intrigue when they are used, which I'm pleased to say isn't all the time as usually once the keys start to take over a metal (used in the loosest terms here) record, it is a slippery slope downwards.
This all leaves Mr. Townsend to do the talking. Well, almost all. Ché Dorval, who sounds very similar to Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), adds delightful backing vocals to tracks like "Heaven Send", the album's only track that approaches the 'h' word - where it feels like Devin lets go of some issues, before almost apologetically reverting to the free jazzy groove in "Ain't Never Gonna Win...". And it is this style that dominates throughout. Devin plays his guitar beautifully, more often than not in the bright airy ambient method that is "Ki"'s predominant genre, but that is not to rule out the bluesy solos he releases with sterling professionalism and grace. In "Trainfire" we also get Devin doing a quite delightful impression of Elvis, from the skiffle guitar sound and double bass bottom end to best of all, a crooning Devin bringing to life the King himself.
Yet with all these positive points I'm discussing I still can't decide on the overall quality, and ultimately, mark that unfortunately has to be awarded to an album like "Ki". Plainly long-time Devin fans will love it, and so they should because it continues the tradition of truly unique albums being marked against the name of a tortured genius like Devin Townsend undoubtedly is, but will this make him (m)any new fans? Your average metalhead won't find much to appease their speed-depedent soul, but surely ambient/soft rock/pop fans would appreciate "Ki"? Well I hope so, but seeing as Devin won't be hitting the road to present this music until the fourth installment is released, and I can't foresee any music videos being made the likelihood of it reaching them is sadly low. For what it is, "Ki" offers qualities worth digging for, yet isn't classic material either. You're going to have to make up your mind on this one..
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net
The multi-instrumentalist mastermind Devin Townsend returns after two years of silence since his last release - the wacky Ziltoid the Omniscient - with another fine work of art. Will it live up to people's (no doubt high) expectations? Well, that is a tricky question, since Ki sounds like something recorded by a completely different person (which is somewhat true) when compared to ZTO.
Before I heard the actual album, I read an interview with Townsend, in which he talked about his inspirations for this cd, and back then, I already knew that this is going to be splendid. Why? Because this is a very 'personal' album, and personal albums happen to be fucking awesome to say the least (Skyclad's 'Vintage Whine' comes to mind as one of the best examples). It's personal, because it reflects the changes Devin went through when he decided to drop some nasty habits like drugs. Also, that's why I wrote earlier that it's somewhat true that Ki is made by a different person. This isn't your old, schizophrenic uncle Townsend who tells you about his visions of pink fields filled with rainbows and fluffy bunnies - it's Grandpa Townsend, the war veteran who says what he witnessed when he was stationed on the front: it may be horrifying at times, mellow in other places, but really damn interesting overall. And that's pretty much this album in a nutshell.
It starts off calm with A Monday and Coast, and you'd think they set the overall tone of the album, but then Disruptr kicks in with its grinding riff and you need to reconsider. The rage gets transfered through Gato, but ends in the calm interlude Terminal, yet it returns in Heaven Send and dies off completely there. The next songs are all rage-less.
Allow me to say here, that Townsend is a master of stylization and impressionism. When listening to Coast, you feel like you're sitting there, on a beach, watching a sunset. Terminal has a similar feel to it. Yet when you listen to the 'angry' tracks (Disruptr, Gato, Heaven Send), it feels like you're walking through a desolate, post-apocalyptic city (especially Disruptr. Heaven Send sounds more like the apocalypse has just started). Throughout the album, there are also numerous, very bluesy soloes, where all the instruments except the guitar stay silent, and the guitar itself is not overdriven, which makes you feel like you're floating through boundless space and time if you close your eyes.
Another rather interesting aspect of this album, is that there are more acoustic passages than overdriven ones. Apart from the previously mentioned soloes, Quiet Riot, for example, is done completely on chords.
It's also amazing how varied this album is. Apart from the aforementioned mellow and angry tracks, there's also Ain't Never Gonna Win... which is a great instrumental (just forget about the awful title) and Trainfire, which could be titled 'Elvis has just left the building', because it's made to resemble one of the rock'n'roll anthems of the king. The title track starts with the guitar playing arpeggios, I believe, then proceeds through three-four minutes where barely anything happens and you're rocked to sleep, but the second half is so magnificent and epic, with its rising tension, it almost makes me rise from my seat everytime I listen to it, especially the very end, which could last at least three more minutes. Heck, even Heaven Send starts like a calm song, but then it erupts with uncontrolled fury when Townsend starts yelling 'BURN!!'.
But unfortunately, flaws always happen, yet they aren't numerous. First, the 'angry songs' sound a bit misplaced, when you put them together with all the other mellow tracks throughout the album. Well, that doesn't necessarily mean they're bad, because Disruptr is great, Heaven Send is also OK, only Gato is the 'bad' song here. Somehow, I just don't like it. It sounds... hrm, crude? Yes, it's a good word to describe it. Second flaw I'd point out is the song Lady Helen which I find to be filler - I can remember something from every song except this one. Completely unmemorable. The last flaw is the guest female vocalist. She sings on three songs if I recall correctly - Gato, Heaven Send and Trainfire. In Gato, her voice downright sucks, and in Trainfire it's uninteresting, she only shines a bit in Heaven Send, where she sings in a scale, which is more or less impressive, and she fits to the atmosphere of the song.
Overall, Ki is definitely worth a recommendation. A marvelous work of art and a journal venting off all the emotions of a newborn man - a phoenix rising from the ashes of drugs and booze that is Devin Townsend. Surprisingly, it lasts almost an hour and ten minutes, but it *never* gets boring, which is quite an achievement, and even leaves you longing for more. It's definitely a huge surprise after ZTO, but it's also a pleasant surprise. Now all that needs to be done is to wait for the other three albums that are planned as 'sequels' of Ki and hope they're as good or even better.
HevyDevy or Ziltoid The Omniscient or Devin Townsend (whatever you might call God :D) has quit marijuana and alcohol since his last effort. Needless to say he would write music with the aid of the drink and pot. But since quitting it's been harder for him to do so, hence the prolonged wait for the album to be. Fortunately Townsend has learned how to create once again without the aid of the magic substances, and the result? We have a wonderful album in our hands! Like his other work, the album is versatile and the style, unpredictable. But even more so: Townsend's shift in lifestyle has resulted in a tangential change in the direction of his music.
Before I get into the details I have to mention that Ki is a Japanese concept signifying life-force: Devin Townsend's Ki is spiritual.
This album and the next three to follow are interwoven thematically and Ki sets the stage for the others with each having its own distinct sound.
Although I say each album has its own distinct sound, Ki in itself is very diverse. And though it can be described as being soft for the most part, the mood of this work is as undulated as the moon's surface is smooth.
The album begins subtly enough building into moments of distorted heaviness but then lets go of the rage that Townsend would once have been tempted to dwell on. The other half of this album, is the poetic and musical manifestation of Townsend's new found life of sobriety; Townsend finds himself in this half of the album, as a being of conscience who comes to accept his place in the universe and is willing to make amends for wrongs past.
Even though playing soft music is not new to Townsend (and permit me to stress the obvious) the softness here comes off sounding different from anything else Townsend has ever written, in fact, music like this has never been played before. Townsend has carefully chosen the accompaniment in Ki to translate his ideas into concrete tones: from the jazz/blues stick-work of sexagenarian drummer, Duris Maxwell, to the haunting yet dulcet voice of chanteuse Che Dorval, they each have something new and un-metallish to bring to the table, though the core sound stems from the versatile genius that is Townsend. And what a genius he is! ZTO impresses one with novel vocalization, hitherto unheard. It must also be noted that the keyboards on the album are played by Dave Young, who is a constant favorite of Devin mostly because Young is a keyboardist doesn't "annoy the hell" out of ZTO and is the obvious choice to add the atmospheric depth an album like Ki needs.
Musically, the riffs on the album are just what they are- riffs. But Townsend makes the bold and rewarding move of playing them, for the most part, in clean-tone (I guess we all saw that observation coming.) Nevertheless, the moods they convey can be anything from peaceful to disturbing, from thoughtful to upbeat as the songs Lady Helen, Trainfire, Terminal and Quiet Riot will attest.
As for the production, we have an album that shies away from the wall-of-sound technique that lends itself to Townsend's other atmospheric, grandiose works. Yes, HevyDevy has officially pulled his "hat" out from the Loudness Wars (at least for this record... fingers crossed) Hence you have something that is simple and that isn't overproduced but which still has its atmospheric moments.
In a nut shell, the album straddles a variety of genres namely folk, rock 'n roll, metal, blues, industrial laced with the ubiquitous progressive element. The lyrics are tainted with personal conflict and restlessness and with the progression of the album we see clarity of one's purpose.
To conclude, this beautiful piece of symphony is for everyone; regardless of what music you listen to, as long as you don't harbor any prejudice for the generic classifications which this album falls under, you are bound to enjoy the poignant vicissitudes that pepper this unassuming work which sets to prove nothing but is just what it is; a thing of beauty: A catharsis for your worst day...
And don't take my word for it, throw away your chicken-soup books and pop the CD in on a depressing, rainy day and hear it for yourself. You'll feel much better towards the end of it...