Ambient

Review: Devin Townsend Project – Ghost

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: New-Age/Ambient
Released: June 20, 2011
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Here’s the thing. I am talking about the [pauses] internal workings of Deconstruction. Even in the name implies taking apart something; what I was taking apart was the process. Whether or not that’s engaging for others, again, is up to them. What I’ve found is that through my years of feeling the certain way that I did about myself, or my environment, or things that I thought I could change, I found that being vulnerable was a real fear. By vulnerable, it may mean “Hey, I fear things” or “Hey, I’ve always liked New Age stuff and I’ve got no real desire to have edge in my life.” After the purge that was Deconstruction, it was incredibly liberating for me not to have to impose any of that on people. Yeah, I’ve got a darkness in me, but darkness is not my defining characteristic. It’s when I choose to use it and for what reason. [pauses] Yeah, Ghost is on mute. [laughs]

Taken from an interview in 2011 with Anso DF from MetalSucks, this partially helps to explain why Devin Townsend decided to release the comparatively chaotic Deconstruction, and the light, largely fluffy Ghost, on the same day. Listening to the commentary for this album in particular is illuminating; there is a lot more to this album than flutes and brush-tip sticks. Even though this is the fourth album in the Devin Townsend Project chronology, it was actually recorded before Deconstruction because Devin anticipated that he wouldn’t be able to make this album the same way had he switched the order. He later goes on to list some influences that shaped his process for this album, which in and of itself is an interesting listen.

Let me preface this review by saying that this kind of ambient, Enya-like music (Devin specifically names her as an influence in the commentary) doesn’t really interest me; I won’t go out of my way to look for it. I can pretend to be as a chameleon, but I started this review on the same day that I finished Gojira’s From Mars to Sirius. That kind of stuff really gets me going. This, however, requires me to be in the mood for some easy listening before bed, or perhaps if I simply need a break from the various subgenres of heavy metal and other uptempo music.

Often, this draws comparisons to Ki, and I’m not really sure why. Although that is far less heavy than most of his albums, there are still plenty of metal moments to be had. Ghost’s heaviest moment is a draw between the country-tinged “Blackberry” and the thick ambiance of “Texada.” If we are going to make comparisons to Devin’s music using this album, the most likely description would be a hybrid of Casualties of Cool and The Hummer, an electronic album that I will one day get to if I ever fall into that kind of sleepy, dreary, peaceful feeling.

While there aren’t any songs that stand out the way that “Flight” and “The Bridge” do in Casualties, the two albums are similarly listenable from front-to-back and both are far superior to Ki. The vast majority of Ghost is soothing, and that starts with the two women he brought in for this project, both of whom are complete outsiders to the metal community. Kat Epple, a childhood influence on Devin according to his commentary, handles a wide array of flutes, including some that Devin can’t even remember the names of. Then there’s Katrina Natale, who allegedly works at a coffee shop in Canada (I vaguely remember somebody else in the Devin Townsend omniverse who has a keen interest in coffee…). She lays down the vocals, and she was the right choice for this album; her catalog is rather small and she couldn’t even make it to the By A Thread shows in London for some reason. She might as well be a ghost. But her performance is fantastic and I’m not sure it would have sounded better with anyone else doing the vocals.

Each part of the album has its own niche; the 4-5-6 streak of “Kawaii,” “Ghost,” and “Blackberry” are the three best and most engaging tracks; the former is a surprisingly pleasing acoustic ballad, while the title track is a peaceful duet with a melody inspired by two people playing in a Vancouver park. The closing three tracks, meanwhile, are meditative to the core. “Dark Matters,” which I’m assuming is unrelated to what would eventually be the title of Ziltoid’s second adventure, has shades of “Perspective” in it from the second Casualties disc. The beginning three tracks are good, as well; the opening notes to “Fly” are as memorable as most of Devin’s other openers. As one has come to expect from Devin, the production is masterful. The lyrics, which were largely improvised (Devin said he wrote them on autopilot), loosely follow the album’s intent on positivity and letting go of anxiety. But given its calm vibe, I can only listen to this album after midnight. You know what they say: To everything, there is a season.

Overall: If your yoga instructor isn’t playing this album in class, then that instructor needs to be fired.

Rating: 3.0*

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Review: Devin Townsend Project – Ki

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive Rock/Ambient
Released: May 25, 2009
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Devin Dissection

By: Kris Kotlarik

Look at any album review for this album, and you have about a 90% chance of seeing the word “restrained.” If you look at vjetropev’s semi-infamous review, you’ll see him rip this album, as well as anyone who likes it, to shreds.

He’s not entirely wrong (although his methods of going about it might be) here; the reason why I like Devin so much is because he has almost always been unbridled in releasing whatever crazy idea happens to be in his head at the time. Ocean Machine, City, Alien, Terria, and Accelerated Evolution, all of which have been reviewed on here with high marks, are all evidence of this process. Imagine being a lifelong fan of a band like Dream Theater, which is well-known for using time signatures that probably don’t even actually exist (I’m just kidding here…but seriously), decides that they are burned out with their current process and wants to make an album that is exclusively in 4/4. Some (many) fans probably won’t like it. Ki has the same effect.

However, Devin’s restraint on Ki is still part of his “do what comes to mind” mentality; after over ten years of drug-and-alcohol-induced insanity, Devin gave all that up and wanted to control his anger for one album with the knowledge that anything after that was open season. So yes, I respect Devin’s mindset here. But a lot of the material on this album doesn’t stand out for me.

So I know what you’re probably thinking: “I bet this asshole hates Ghost and Casualties Of Cool, too.” No, those albums are fine. They are both only listenable in the right mood, but feel much more cohesive than this one does. There is so much discombobulation here, often caused by Devin himself, especially in “Heaven Send,” a song in which he engages in dialogue for about fifteen seconds, all well after the song should have actually ended. There is no way that song should be nine minutes long. Other non-starters here include the fluff jams of “Ain’t Never Gonna Win,” “Demon League,” and “Quiet Riot.”

My overall favorite song here is “Disruptr,” which fits the whole “coffee lounge metal” vibe that has been thrown around quite a bit when describing this track. But this track thrives in a live setting, right up there with some of his live staples such as “Deadhead” and “Juular.” It has the right composition to be thoroughly crushing if played in a certain way. As it stands, it’s still a great track.

Other good moments are mostly orchestrated by Che’ Aimee Dorval, who is a collaborator on the Casualties Of Cool project. Her voice is heavenly; there’s no other way to describe it. Her part on the end of “Trainfire,” a rockabilly track with tinges of Elvis and themed around the perils of porn, is brief but great. She also has other small parts throughout the album that are always pleasant. Meanwhile, “Winter” has a pleasing melody that goes on way too long, and the title track is rather dull up until around the 4:00 mark when he busts out a happier version of the arpeggio Ziltoid riffs and bursts into a massive wall of sound.

“Coast” is an all-around solid track that is probably right behind “Disruptr” in terms of ranking. The rest of the tracks here, and this album in general, can best be classified as a moodscape. “Terminal” might be the best example; it’s a lovely track with a relaxing melody, but it’s not what I usually would go for unless I am trying to go to bed. The same can be said for “Lady Helen.”

Overall: Since I am completely on the fence on this album, it should get a corresponding rating.

Rating: 2.5*

Amogh Symphony – Vectorscan

Location: Washington D.C., USA
Genre: Experimental/Avant Garde
Released: September 16, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: National Uprising – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

I am usually wary of albums that feature excessively long album/song titles, regardless of the genre. Fiona Apple is famous for this, and she’s basically the queen of indulgent pop (You hear that, Lady Gaga?). The song titles in this album are so freakishly long that I will not be mentioning them.

I’m also wary of albums that have pointless introductions, and this intro is terrible; nothing more than ambient noise, which only gets worse on various parts of the album, such as the third track. This includes frog noises, deliberate cutoffs, and distorted samples, which serve no purpose. Essentially, this is Devlab but with weak(er) production.

There are actually some good moments on here; the second and fourth tracks show a wide amount of ethnic influences in Amogh Symphony’s music, as well as elements of metal, classical and jazz. The problem is that it’s poorly executed and mixed in an even worse fashion. There’s no coherence at all (the sixth track is all over the place), and the only vocals to speak of seem to come from samples of various female singers from India.

There is beauty to be found in experimental or Avant Garde music, but even the most bizarre Coltrane records still had more coherence than this album. Everything feels thrown together, and the only reason I could think of to listen to this is if…well, see the overall summary.

Overall: This is the equivalent of being trapped in someone else’s trip on ‘shrooms gone awry. In Amsterdam. 

Rating: 1*