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

KI (DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT)

Devin Townsend

 

Experimental/Post Metal

3.83 | 239 ratings

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LiquidEternity
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Ki represents a lot of great ideas from Townsend, and a wonderful reinvention of his heavy sound, but at the same time it definitely feels like an incomplete album.

First, let it be known that Ki is not really necessarily supposed to stand entirely on its own. Being the first part of a four album set, it serves as the quiet (okay, let's just leave it as "quieter") introduction to a look at Townsend's process of sorting out his issues. A lot of Devin's fans may find themselves pretty turned off by this release. For starters, Ki is very skimpy on the metal. The music is heavy, yes, but it is slow and churning rather than chaotic and intense like his usual, and at very few points during its run time is there any distortion or double bass drum used. His lineup, with the exception of returning Devin Townsend Band keyboardist Dave Young, is a much more jazz-oriented group. Duris Maxwell has been recording on the drums since the 60s, and Jean Savoie reportedly is a bassist in a Beatles tribute band. Certainly not the usual Townsend lineup. This creates the interesting distinction between Ki and the rest of the man's solo output: room to breathe. There is space and quiet all over Ki, whereas even in his more introspective pieces otherwise (think Terria or Ocean Machine), there were always walls of wild noise to back up his gentle tunes. I think a comparison with Terria is in order, as both albums have a higher percentage of milder tunes, both albums are a bit less pushing for metal sounds throughout, and both albums have lots of beautiful solo guitar interludes.

The album opens with filler. Unfortunate, but such is the way it goes. Thankfully, A Monday is fairly short and in rapid course turns into Coast, the primary "single" from the album. This track introduces the laid-back, mellow nature of most of Ki, and it does so with a particularly well-written and recorded series of vocal melodies. This is followed by the often maligned Disruptr, a bizarre track that in my personal opinion may very well be the heaviest one he's ever recorded. Slow, deep chugging guitars (not distorted though, mind you) rest along a jazzy rhythm and Townsend's half-growled but mild vocals. Of course, moments of distinctly un-mild vocals happen, and the music does step forward from the methodical rhythmic crunching a couple of times--most notably in the song's finale, with a searing bit of vocals and a perfectly placed rhythm that makes the head seriously want to bang. Gato is perhaps a fair bit weaker, as the layout of the music and the placement of the intensity is fairly awkward (strange that Townsend mentions it as probably his favorite from Ki). It does grow on you a bit, but it's somewhat less than average to his usual standards, and the female vocals, though wonderful in other songs, seem a bit forced and unnecessary.

But don't worry. After two more intense pieces (again, relative to the record, not his usual), Townsend finally backs things down for Terminal. I can see how some listeners, especially those seriously into metal, might find this boring, but to me it's the perfect example of a spacey, lush song with absolutely perfect understated vocals. The melody is haunting and at the same time quite catchy. Think of this, perhaps, as a somewhat truncated Death of Music. Prog heads no doubt look towards Heaven Send with hunger, as it is almost nine minutes long, and that makes it great, right? Well, a word of warning: it's more or less a seven minute song where at the end they talk in the studio for a second and then play the finale prechorus and chorus a third time. That's not to say that it isn't a good song. Che's vocals fit perfectly here, and choirs of yelling Townsends should naturally pique the curiosity of many fans of his music. A fantastically weird Vai-esque solo happens during this tune as well, definitely bordering on the bizarre, especially for Devin, who never seems to solo anyways. Ain't Never Gonna Win... sounds like pure filler to my ears. It's a light bit of jazzy jamming, and that I don't mind, but it just sounds like a fragment of studio goofing rather than an actual song.

Winter is another soft song in the vein of Terminal, though all the stops and starts kind of kill the vibe of this track for me. Another slightly average one. Trainfire, however, is not at all average. Another one of the major highlights of this release, Trainfire showcases Townsend in an Elvis sort of fashion, singing goofily over something like a Johnny Cash locomotive riff. Naturally, he drops this every now and then (for a couple of choruses, a piece in the middle where he starts getting avant and bizarre, and the last few minutes). After a short run, the song begins to slow down, dropping off instruments until only female vocals and a bit of musical background remain. Absolutely beautiful section, but unfortunately short. Don't fear, however, as Lady Helen is making its debut next, and the gentle beauty of the conclusion of Trainfire and of Terminal find themselves pretty fairly matched with this softly atmospheric track.

Of course, then wanders in the title track. Anyone who is a fan of Townsend should hear this song, even if they aren't enjoying the rest of Ki. Because this track is not only the highlight of its respective context, but of the last three or so albums he's released. The first half is quite mild, not really building but still layering sweet vocals together into delicate harmonies. The second half is really one motif repeated over and over again, building and being added to until the absolutely explosive ending, complete with massive Drumkit from Hell double bass and choirs of Townsend and arpeggios. Quiet Riot is a cool acoustic piece, almost more folky and straightforward, especially following the song it does. And lastly, the album ends on a bit of skippable filler.

In the end, there are some really fantastic songs on Ki, but the presence of a few duds and a few minutes of filler really clog up the thing and keep it from getting rated any higher. Fans of Devin Townsend already should certainly check Ki out, but newcomers to the scene might want to look towards one of his more consistently enjoyed, such as Terria or Ocean Machine: Biomech.

LiquidEternity | 4/5 |

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