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Devin Townsend - Ki (Devin Townsend Project) CD (album) cover

KI (DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT)

Devin Townsend

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.84 | 255 ratings

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captainragamuffin
5 stars When I first heard Devin Townsend singing on the Vai project "Sex and Religion" way back in 1993, I knew there was something special about him. And this was based on his singing alone (little did I realise at the time that he'd go on to become a wonderful guitar player in his own right, not to mention an amazing producer and arranger with seemingly boundless musical creativity).

His singing was so unique and I was eager to see how his career would progress from that point. Given the style of music on the Vai record, I was completely surprised by the direction he then took with his first solo outing, which came two years later. This was, of course, under the Strapping Young Lad moniker, and it was the sonic equivalent of giving someone the middle finger. And them some! Later, SYL would become a fully fledged band that was about as musically chaotic and extreme as you could get (without resorting to making just pure noise).

For those that have followed Devin's career, as I have, you would know why SYL was formed and why the curtain came down on that band a few years ago. It represented the red or chaotic side of Devin's personality and he no longer found it possible to maintain that rage or be in a headspace where creating such ferocious music was possible, without being forced. Sure, SYL wasn't Devin's only musical outlet, with several other projects coming out over the years including Ocean Machine, Infinity, Terria, Devlab, The Hummer, Eko and The Devin Townsend Band, all of which were markedly less "red" than SYL. Actually, these projects were all different colours entirely.

With the exception of Devlab, The Hummer and Eko, which were more spacey, ambient, non-organic instrument projects, Devin has always injected a decent amount of heavy (or "Hevy") sounds into his music. It was just never as intense as SYL. What these projects all represented though was the range of musical moods he was capable of creating. He just happened to do the heavy stuff very well.

With the demise of SYL, Devin then created "Ziltoid the Omniscient", a most amusing but incredibly enjoyable concept record. It was almost too ridiculous to be taken seriously, at least conceptually, but musically it contained some beautiful moments such as the emotion-laden final track "The Greys". Devin played virtually all the instruments on the record too but there was never a tour in support of the album. That wasn't surprising though, as Devin had other priorities, namely raising a child and the responsibilities associated with such a life-changing event.

So we went without any new music from Devin for a couple of years, almost as if he'd gone into hiding. In some ways, this is exactly what he did, which I understand was necessary for him to rediscover music and learn to love it again. He'd simply become burnt out by the "process" of making music and being a character of sorts within the metal community...

A couple of months ago, Devin emerged from his own personal wilderness to give us the first taste of his latest creation, "Ki". The word "mellow" immediately came to mind after listening to the 60 seconds of music on offer, but that wasn't to say it was bad. It was just....mellow! Having become so used to Devin making heavy music, it seemed to lack that power. I would wait for the album proper before passing my final verdict though.

Having played the album a number of times now in different settings and environments, the word "mellow" continues to come to mind. However, the beauty of the record has also begun to shine through and it's really unlike anything Devin's ever done. Gone are the regular heavy sounds and "wall of noise" sonic architecture (mostly). Instead we have clean guitars and some of the most restrained vocals he's ever exhibited in his entire career. It almost sounds like a different person here at times.

On a couple of tracks, "Gato", "Heaven Send" and "Trainfire", there is a different person featured actually, by the name of Che Dorval, and her voice is simply stunning! She provides a really soulful voice that compliments Devin's own singing and arrangements perfectly. I believe she's only in her mid-twenties, but you'd think she's much older based on her very mature singing. It's actually one of the highlights of this album.

The album opens fairly sedately with a nice laid back guitar track, "A Monday", which has a dreamy quality about it, as the notes echo with each strum. Unlike the DTB album "Synchestra" which started off mellow before launching into some pretty heavy sounds, this one stays fairly restrained. As Devin has pointed out in recent interviews though, restraint is the whole point of this record. And this is exemplified perfectly in the tracks, "Coast", "Disruptr", "Gato" and "Heaven Send."

These tracks commence calmly enough, with a mellow groove and easy-going pace. However, they all exhibit a couple of Devin's trademark sounds, with either layers of voices in the background (including the chaotic, angry voices he does so well) or instrumentation gradually building up and building up... before suddenly ending. You get drawn into the magnetic pull, only to be let go of just as you were becoming comfortable with it. It's one giant musical tease, and if Ki was a woman, she'd drive any heterosexual male crazy.

Devin's new band is a rather curious collection of players of various ages, none of whom he's worked with before except for the keyboardist, Dave Young (who was part of the Devin Townsend Band). Devin found the bass player, Jean, in the local music store where he's a department manager and the two connected on a personal level. For drums, Devin utilised the seasoned talents of Duris Maxwell, a 62 year old who has played with Heart, Jefferson Starship, Tommy Chong...and he's even jammed with Hendrix! I admit to stealing this info almost directly from Devin's Myspace page, so if it's incorrect, it's not my fault! Hahaha

Anyway, the four musicians combine beautifully to create a tight and controlled record that is also sonically lush, warm and just a pleasure to listen to.

"Terminal" is a beautiful track, evoking memories of "Sister" from Ocean Machine, although it is about four minutes longer and feels a little warmer. It's very easy to get lost with this track and just drift away.

"Lady Helen" is another simply gorgeous track...I'm just lost for words trying to explain how sumptuous and sweet this is. Here is a sample of some of the lyrics, which are extremely moving and sung with heartfelt emotion:

Save the work till the afternoon

It's true...

I'll be there for the baby.

It's true...

It's you.

I'll always side with you.

Some of Devin's typically manic and evil sounding vocals are demonstrated perfectly on "Heaven Send", juxtaposed beautifully against Che's vocal parts. While she sings...

How could Heaven be so frenetic

Oh you've got it, without fanatic hold to body

How your Semitic hold to God it seems so funny...

...Devin is singing the following with nothing but venom:

NOW...WE BECOME!

...FINITE!

...INFINITE!!

It's absolutely stunning to listen to and is one of the reasons I love Devin's work so much. His ability to create such evil or sinister sounds in the most unassuming fashion...it's frankly remarkable. And then he follows this up with another laid back groove with funky bass and guitar, some keyboard swirls, and Duris's solid beat keeping it tight.

The title track contains some typical Devin sounds, most akin to his other non-SYL material, but only after about five minutes of guitar, vocals and keyboard ambience. After this, the song sounds like something from Ziltoid with the artificial drums and vocal layers building up gradually...creating an emotional tension that stirs within. Devin starts to sing over the top like he's Pavarotti and it's all very exciting and tense. You know you've danced this dance before though, but this time you're sure you're going to score at the end. There's no way Ki will leave you hanging again, right? Oh crap, she's done it again.

Once "Ki" ends, the acoustic guitar of "Quiet Riot" begins immediately, and with the vocals and faint keyboard strokes, it sounds like the perfect finale to an Indie film. This could be the end of the album, but we wait in silence for a few moments before "Demon League" begins. It's another guitar driven track, but it's a clean electric sound that echoes amidst the synth layers and Devin's hushed vocals. And then it's over.

With so much unresolved tension, and a decidedly mellow "climax", you'd think that the listener would feel somewhat let down by this record. In truth, this is actually part of its endearing personality and charm. And having listened to Devin explain the reasoning behind the "teasing", it all makes perfect sense to me. He's ably demonstrated the art of musical control and restraint, which is really incredible in a musical world where showing-off has become popular fare, at least in the heavy domain (case in point: Dream Theater on their last few albums).

It's not just the technical chops that he's held himself back from, he's also resisted the temptation to make another record with only heavy music. This is a brave move when you consider that this is really his bread and butter style. It's where he got his name from and it's what he'll forever be associated with. So to be courageous enough to turn away from that and create a record that is a true reflection of where he's at emotionally in his life is totally admirable.

"Ki" also seems to possess a timeless quality as it wasn't conceived to fit in with any popular style or genre. As such, I'm sure it will continue to surprise me and provide me with a lot of pleasure and satisfaction in years to come. Thankyou Devin Townsend for continuing to enrich my life with your beautiful music.

A very commendable 4.5 stars!

captainragamuffin | 5/5 |

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