Monday, 12 September 2011

Review Time - Devin Townsend Project: Ki & Addicted

Devin Townsend has been busy with his 4 part project these last 2 years, and while I was orinially planning to review them all at once, that plan quickly fell apart, because by God am I lazy. So here's part 1, come back in... uh, a while, for part 2. Onward!


Ki is the most unpredictable album Dev has ever put out. With his tenure in Strapping Young Lad, he threw a curveball with every album by doing almost completely different types of metal. His solo projects have been no less diverse, from the wall of sound atmospheric alterna-rock of Ocean Machine to spacey prog of Terria, but nothing has set itself apart quite as much as Ki. After listening to the album dozens of time, I still struggle to even put a genre label on it. First things first, the production is clean and minimalistic, a million miles away from his usual style of multi track layering. The guitars are clean, with very little use of distortion at all, and none of the crunch he usually displays. The music itself is best described as jazzy, mainly because of the drums, but it balances melodic tension with slow release, to extended jam sessions, with Dev's crooning vocals being the anchor point.

Disruptr typifies the weirdness of the album. The guitars are drop tuned, and he makes judicious use of a low snarl, but all its aggression simmers just below the surface. Though it does build to a climax, it sounds utterly unlike metal a usual genre label could describe. It takes the attitude of metal, and applies it in a really unique way, by reigning it in, keeping things clean and as tense as possible. I can honestly say I've never heard anything like it. Elsewhere, the music varies from a funky jam (Ain't never gonna win), to  quiet introspection (Lady Helen), and even rockabilly mixed with jazz tones (Trainfire). It's a testament to Townsend just how well he can make all these styles fit alongside each other completely naturally, even more so when most of this is new ground for him. It's baffling.

The album is a slow burn, and really requires a lot of repeat listens to truly appreciate. Whereas an album usually takes me 4 or 5 listens to really get into, this took me a year. But boy did I get into it. Oddballs like Disruptr start as oddities and end up better with every listen, and Lady Helen is simply beautiful, no other words to describe it. The title track is a slow build, with a brilliant crescendo of guitar arpeggios and falsetto vocals over double bass drums. It's strange, but it works brilliantly, and it serves as the climax of the entire album. The proceeding two tracks, Quiet Riot, and Demon League are the come down, bringing it back to mellow to close the album.

Of all the albums in the project, I would find Ki the most difficult to recommend. It takes a lot of patience to get into a lot of the songs, and the loose, jammy style won't be for everyone, but for those willing to put in the time, it pays dividends. An excellent start.

Recommended Tracks
Lady Helen, Ki, Trainfire


Addicted is very aptly titled. Right from the get go, it's full on pop melodies, funky beats and crunchy guitars. The title track starts things off in groove-metal territory, before quickly pulling out a killer chorus, and it only gets better from there. Universe in a Ball ups the ante with an even tighter groove, and some of the best drums ever put to tape, and by the time the third track Bend it like Bender rolls around it's already over. Devin Townsend has won at music, forever.

Whereas the wall of sound was dropped from Ki, here it's back in full force. Layers of synths, effects laden guitars guitars and vocal harmonies provide a rich sonic sound-scape. Most unexpectedly, Anneke van Giersbergen (formerly of The Gathering) does about half the vocal work, but it's a perfect fit; her voice is strong and clear, and suits the more upbeat melodies really well. It's a complimentary double act, and the two add to each other well, but in terms of harmony, but also variety. She takes lead vocals for an alternate version of Hyperdrive from Dev's Ziltoid album, and along with some improved production and instrumentation, it's probably even better than the original.

The style of the songs do vary quite a bit too; from the crunchy melodic-metal of Supercrush to the almost pop stylings of Ih-ah, each song has its own distinct flavour. The diversity of the album is a great strength; there's absolutely no sense of song fatigue at all, and the album is compelling from start to finish. If it seems like I'm struggling to find fault, it's because there really isn't much to complain about. The album clocks in at around 45 minutes, and is neither too brief, nor overstays its welcome. Any time I've listened to it, I've never been compelled to skip even a single track.

Addicted ranks up there with Ocean Machine as one of Dev's all time best albums. Whereas Ocean Machine was a more contemplative, introspective affair, by contrast Addicted is confident, loud, and utterly focused. Both completely different, and yet strikingly similar in their masterful use of melody, harmony and overall wall of sound atmosphere, Dev has made a true masterpiece. Again. Get this fo' shizzle.

Recommended Tracks
Bend it Like Bender, Awake, Universe in a Ball, Hyperdrive

The bearded one hasn't written about himself in the third person in quite a while.

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