Review Summary: HevyDevy mellows out. Sort of.
I haven't heard much off of Ziltoid the Omniscient
, but based on the few tracks I have heard, that's probably a good thing. On Ziltoid
, Devin Townsend sounded tired, burnt out and fresh out of ideas. I mean, just look at the album's concept. But whatever the case, it's in the past, because in more ways than one, Ki is the opposite of Ziltoid
; restrained, not excessive; dynamic, not mechanized, and instead of Drumkit from Hell, you've got Duris Maxwell, a 62-year old veteran of the Vancouver blues scene. Most importantly, Ziltoid
probably sucked. Ki
most definitely does not.
It's both easy and obvious to talk about how Ki
sets out to be a quiet record, but doing so would sell the album short. At points Ki
gets quite loud. The distinction is rather one of restraint. Ki
gets loud, but it never gets heavy. It is instead an album of peaks and valleys. It unravels at its own pace and for some, this is a flaw, since its pace is one that is sometimes meandering and perhaps a little overlong. But Townsend insists that Ki
unfolds as such because it is merely the introduction to a series of four records, with the next two promising to develop in a much more dramatic and heavier fashion. Regardless of that, Ki
is a welcomed antithesis to Devin's more notable work. Going into Ki
, it's easy to fall into expectations. I myself had been under the impression that Ki
was a mostly ambient album. That is surely not the case, as evidenced by “Coast”, a dredg-like number featuring a mostly soft spoken Townsend crooning over a groovy, tight-as-sin bassline. “Coast” succeeds on multiple levels: it is both the best song on the album and a larger metaphor for Devin's newfound restraint. The track, which flies by far faster than I'd like, ends on a slightly industrial note, threatening to rev-itself into Strapping Young Lad territory amidst layered, somewhat angry sounding vocals. It doesn't. Instead it fades alongside Devin's loose, bluesy guitar work, which can be found peppering the songs throughout all of Ki
's 66 minute runtime. This contrast between tight and loose (often acted out by Jean Savoie's work on the bass and Townsend's guitar playing), soft and smashing is what carries Ki
. Gone is Townsend's trademark wall of sound production, and Ki
feels more dynamic as a result. “Disruptr” is in many ways executed like a coffee-house metal track, with it's light aesthetic contrasted by chugging and shouting. Yet while it comes close, it's never quite heavy.
What's obvious is that Ki
feels larger than it really is, sometimes to a fault. While it makes a point out of sounding mostly unified (barring the somewhat out of place, Elvis infused “Trainfire”), it definitely takes its time getting the message across. Though it's certainly interesting to note that Coast, Disruptr, Gato, and Heaven Send seem similarly written around a simplistic three or four note pattern, this familiarity could be a little meandering for some. Tracks like “Winter” and “Ki” do occasionally devolve into extended, loose guitar jams, and it's this tendency to get lost within itself that holds Ki
back. Nonetheless, Ki
is a welcome change of pace for Townsend. This is truly the work of a man stripped of his coffee addiction. It takes it's time, and occasionally it does so quite liberally, but for the most it feels like a cohesive album replete with loose musings. Ché Dorval's, who provides the occasional female vocals, adds a very interesting dynamic to the album and on a track like “Gato” she almost single-handedly keeps it interesting, and Townsend's vocals are nothing to scoff at. From the soft spoken crooning on “Coast” and “Terminal” to the operatic wail that closes “Disruptr”and all the way back again, this is without question the best Townsend's voice has ever sounded. Musically speaking, this is just another notch on his already success-studded belt. It's easy to criticize the separation between the album's largely new-age sounding first half and its sometimes acoustic second half, but it's even easier to recognize the artistic step Townsend has taken. This is HevyDevy at his loosest and most dynamic, and for that, Ki
is hard to pass up.