The Devin Townsend Project - _Ki_
(Hevydevy Recordings, 2009)
by: Daniel Cairns (
When we last saw Devin Townsend, it's fair to say things were getting on top of him. He'd just split up Strapping Young Lad and the Devin Townsend Band, and he'd made a record about a caffeine addicted alien puppet, that somehow served as an allegory for his career. Obviously exhausted and fed up with having to keep up with heavy fan expectation (the man was releasing at least an album a year, and touring constantly) no one was really surprised when he announced he was having an extended break from making music.However, a Devin Townsend hiatus doesn't seem to be the same as a regular hiatus. Rather than take years and years off as some musicians do (hello Cave In!), he's returned after a mere two years, with a new record called _Ki_. And he's killed the skullet. Seemingly refreshed after his break, sans the addictions that both plagued and inspired his earlier works, he's crafted a difficult, unusual collection of music.It also might just be his best yet.The first thing that strikes the listener about _Ki_ is just how un-Devy it seems. Earlier Townsend records were dense, sweaty, oppressive affairs whether they were under the SYL name or his own, but _Ki_ is a quieter, more reflective piece of work. It's admittedly quite off-putting at first. After all, Devin is renowned for face-fucking the listener with a wall of sound, so to hear him loosely jamming away with a couple of session musicians takes a bit of getting used to.Stick with it though, and you'll find you can't stop listening to it. It's the dictionary definition of a grower. You'll be unsure at first, but after a few more listens it delicately ensnares you with its progressive prettiness and spontaneity. In the best possible way, the record sounds like four happy fellas playing away in their local hostelry. You hear studio prattle between songs, and there's an instinctive quality to the songs that suggest they were born rather than composed -- and Christ almighty I can't believe I used a lame, arty farty description like that.Oh well, I'm halfway down that pretentious route now, so I may as well finish on it. You know the feeling you get after a thunderstorm, when the air feels clean and fresh? That's _Ki_. Most of his records before this felt like being caught in the middle of that thunderstorm. They were violent, dazzling displays of just how formidable a force one pissed off, follically challenged Canadian lunatic could be.But Devin Townsend isn't that pissed off maniac anymore. He's a responsible family man now, and for him to play the heavy metal mad scientist would be disingenuous. He's grown up, and _Ki_ is a reflection of that maturity. However, there are rumblings on the record that suggest the chaos of old is still simmering underneath, as _Ki_ occasionally threatens to crack and unleash hell. It never really does though, which is what makes the album so compelling. It's a sweet, delicate sounding record, but you're left in no doubt that another storm's a-brewing.Right! Pretentious hat off now.Basically, _Ki_ is the tits. More so than his previous solo offerings, it serves as the antithesis of the Strapping Young Lad persona. Whereas that side of Devy was adamant on suffocating the listener with shock and awe violence, the new Devy is confident enough to let his tunes breathe and grow, and as a result _Ki_ will end up one of the albums of the year.Any standout moments? Not really. It works perfectly as a cohesive whole, with nary a duff moment. However, special mention must go to the title track, which builds and builds into the most epic piece of music I have heard in ages, with a cyclical, spine tingling series of arpeggios that pound seven bells into the stratosphere. In fact it's so good, that the two tracks that close the album suffer in comparison. They're perfectly acceptable, but after -that- crescendo, even a twenty minute Mastodon epic about Rosie O' Donnell would sound small fry.Basically, Townsend's well earned sabbatical has worked wonders, and you'll be hard pressed to find a more satisfying progressive record this year. It's addictive, gorgeous and probably the best record he's made that doesn't bear the SYL logo. Just as _City_ was his roaring declaration of war, _Ki_ is his admission that twelve years on, he's making his peace.If the other three records he plans to release in the coming months end up half as good as this, then we'll be the luckiest bunch of bastards on the planet. At least before Ziltoid returns and blows it up.
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