HardReviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Ki (InsideOut)

Wow, Hevy Dev has been through a lot lately, elliptically referring to ridding himself of myriad addictions and, in parcel, embarking on a new musical path after the implosion of Strapping. Ki is the first of a four record series, for which Devin will assemble different sets of musicians, for... God knows what, after this! So what is Ki? Well, you could compare it most directly with mellow Porcupine Tree, Dev singing very much like Steven Wilson (or Alan Parsons! Or Gary Wright!) over luded-out Chroma Key/Floyd jams played by a 62-year-old drummer and two other non-metal guys Dev tapped on the shoulder to be his soldiers. 'Heaven Send' threatens metal, but the whole idea here is quiet, bubbling under anger, or at least fulmination, quiet Tool also coming to mind, even Alice in Chains in their Sap and Jar Of Flies... abdication of power. There's a lot of bass strummery (like a Tony Levin solo record), and clean electric guitar strummery, giving the album an odd identity - even in the Elvis jive of 'Trainfire', or the Bruce Cockburn folk of 'Quiet Riot'. The title track is probably the coolest, proggiest thing here, but repeated listens, in fact, reveal all sorts of things going on just under the surface, on a record that initially, to me, felt under-arranged, frustratingly unplugged. Actually, it just hit me... these vocals are most like Steve Hackett, who weirdly is also on InsideOut, making fantastic albums these day, I might add. In any event, mellowest thing Dev's ever done, by far, but (very) thankfully, it's pretty much all songs and not straight trippin'.
Rating 8

Dare To Dream (Cyclone)

Kind of a drag, but Saga has now lost their vocalist and their drummer, skinsman Steve Negus pointedly saying that he had written nearly an album's worth of material for the last Saga album and it was all rejected. Can't see why, because Dare To Dream proves Steve capable of writing stormy, percolating prog pop tracks well within the arcane Saga vein. Not sure he's gotten an ideal drum sound/production/mix on this solo record (the Pasha/Proffer/Quiet Riot/Kick Axe snare is most annoying), but everybody else sounds good, with Steve himself contributing on both guitars and keys. For a singer, Steve tapped an old friend from Northern Ontario, Al Langlade, who does a versatile, dramatic job, hitting the highs as well as providing bluesy grit. Much lush acoustic music is also included, but the whole record rides an intriguing vibe of melancholy, perhaps underscored by the death of guitarist Mark Severn, in a car accident two weeks after laying down his tracks. Bloody 'ell, I get back to that drum sound though - he may have been going for a Bonham ambience, but it chafes against the smooth mellifluous melding of the rest of the very rhythmic playing. Also a metalhead's warning: this vibes and tones like Saga, but in the main, like mellow Saga, edged with the funkiness - or at least the lope - you might expect from a drummer's solo album.
Rating 7

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