I could ramble on forever about the many faces of Devin Townsend. Filling the bulk of this review with discussion of his introduction to the world via Steve Vai's "Sex And Religion" to the skull-crackery of the STRAPPING YOUNG LAD collection and onto the sheer musical genius exhibited on his body of solo work (lest we forget about the dozens of breadcrumbs left by various other projects) would be a simple task indeed, but why bore you all with something you can just as easily find for yourselves on Wikipedia? Besides, anyone who knows the man's name is probably well aware of the impact he's made over the years. Since "retiring" as a working musician two years ago, Townsend set upon a journey of self-discovery that, as evidenced by "Ki", ended with a re-invention of sorts.
That's not to say that "Hevy Devy" is gone, but he certainly didn't show up for this album. Sorry, SYL fans, you won't find any bombardments of two-ton riffs or spite-laden screams on "Ki", but you will find the familiar markings of a man who has spent the last several years simultaneously mastering the arts of songwriting and experimentation. The first of four releases to be put out under the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT moniker, "Ki" is an exercise in restraint. The album is also among the mellowest collection of songs we've heard from Townsend to date with some of the only 'metal' moments coming from the occasionally climaxing "Diruptr", the plodding "Gato" and "Heaven Send", which comes across as a sort of revised version of the former featuring female vocals (courtesy of Canadian folk artist Che' Dorval) and a bit of lead work that tips a hat to the aforementioned Vai. While these songs may be among the most reminiscent of his DEVIN TOWNSEND BAND material, they are far from being the highlights of this particular disc, but "Ki" is full of them. One of those comes in the soulful and serene "Terminal", which is enchanting, to say the least. Devin's soothing voice floats atop minimalist guitars and layers of ambience in a way that's nearly impossible not to hum along with. A few tracks later, "Winter" delivers a similar effect, yet this one tends to wander a little and rely a bit more on effects and atmosphere than pure songwriting.
To call "Trainfire" one of the more interesting tunes on the record would be an understatement. As if Brian Setzer showed up during the recording of "Infinity", this little ditty goes from a straight-forward boogie to a snarling beast before ending in a relaxing soundscape. Along with the folksy acoustic guitar of "Quiet Riot", we see Townsend exploring a more traditional side of his musical psyche, while still injecting ample amounts of his wild imagination.
Though it's difficult to do, try not to hold "Ki" too closely in comparison with the rest of Devin Townsend's discography as this marks the beginning of a separation from the past. A good album by any standards, it is flawed a bit in that it never really gets off the ground; though the structure of the songs themselves hint that's how Townsend intended things to be. If not, then one has to assume his contained style of songwriting was meant to build anticipation for the next three chapters he's got in store for us, in which case we're in for one hell of a treat in the coming months. But then again, who the hell really knows what this enigmatic artist is thinking.