Released: 2009, Inside Out
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Whether fronting Strapping Young Lad or releasing his own eclectic solo material, Devin Townsend has yet to make the same album twice in fifteen years. Considering how prolific he is as a recording artist, that is quite an achievement. The only other artist that comes to mind who consistently challenges his fans and keeps them guessing what that next release will sound like is Neil Young, whose forays into big band, country, grunge and film scores has left as many people thrilled as it has left frustrated. Townsend, whose ambient, punk, metal, progressive and electronica projects have garnered just as much scorn as praise, has taken another detour with his latest project simply entitled, KI.
Released under The Devin Townsend Project name and utilizing a new rhythm section (Jean Savoie on bass and 62-year old drummer Duris Maxwell), KI is the first release in a four-part series Townsend has announced will be the most challenging and all-encompassing of his career. In a nutshell, KI is certainly Townsend’s most experimental and varied release to date. The tone of the record is dark but accessible and Savoie and Maxwell form an unbelievably tight rhythm section that acts as the backbone to every track. Comparisons to Townsend’s past works are pointless as there are moments on KI that will immediately draw parallels to TERRIA, SYNCHESTRA and even OCEAN MACHINE (no coffee-swilling alien puppets this time around, though) but one thing this record never becomes is boring. It does take a few spins to really sink in, though, so even the most devout followers of Townsend’s storied career may be in for a rough ride.
Most of the music on KI is subdued and reflective in nature, far from the angry speed of Strapping Young Lad. Instead, Townsend’s lush, multi-layered production burrows deep into the psyche of the listener, taking many twists and turns along the way. There is an inherent groove on tracks like “Disruptr” and “Ain’t Never Gonna Win…” that defies description, while the funky bassline of “Gato” and “Coast” is so powerful and catchy that it immediately sticks. Townsend’s own spacey guitar tones lend a dreamy, ethereal feeling to “Terminal” and “Winter” that, if heard through good earphones, will transcend the listener to a another world. Likewise, “Ki” (with Townsend briefly attempting a vocal style that can best be described as an operatic aria) and “Demon League” are so beautifully minimalistic and restrained that one cannot help but get caught up in the gorgeous production and arrangement. Stick around for the old-time boogie of “Trainfire,” where Townsend apparently channels the ghost of Roy Orbison in his crooned vocals, and listeners will really be raising an eyebrow. Utilizing session vocalist Che Dorval on several tracks, the male/female vocal dynamic adds a clear richness to “Gato” and “Heaven Send” that veers into jazz territory. In true Townsend fashion, “Quiet Riot” borrows a key verse from that band’s “Cum On Feel The Noize” to tickle the listener’s funny bone.
KI serves as an excellent opening chapter in this latest Devin Townsend tome because the variety of sounds and styles intrigues the listener and piques their interest in the follow-up volumes. Townsend has already said that each subsequent release in the series will feature a different band lineup suited to the respective music style, so you know Dev is going to really take his fans on a ride with this. For his part, Townsend has crafted yet another fascinating record in his canon. KI is the ultimate artistic expression, in that, it erases genre boundaries, ignores any commercial flair and leaves the listener with as many answers as does questions surrounding the artists’ creative psyche. A triumph on all fronts.
KILLER KUTS: “Disruptr,” “Terminal,” “Heaven Send,” “Winter,” “Ki,” “Quiet Riot,” “Demon League”