Album Review: “Casualties of Cool” by Devin Townsend

And so it goes, the window left open.
I find myself drawn to the evening.

If all you knew of my musical taste came from reading this blog, you wouldn’t know much about it except that I love metal. The truth is that my all time favorite musician isn’t necessarily a metalhead (though he’s been that). I’m talking about Devin Townsend, who has too many credits to mention and frankly if you don’t know who he is you need to get your face checked.

I’ve been in love with pretty much everything Devin’s made since he debuted with Steve Vai in the early 90’s, though I just discovered him a few years ago. Every new release he’s made since I started listening has been captivating, and him and Opeth are the only bands/musicians left that make me anticipate each release furiously.

After The Devin Townsend Project’s last album, the aptly titled “Epicloud”, Devin announced his plans to release a new album called “Casualties of Cool”, an effort he would attempt to crowd-source. Though there was some confusion about the name under which the album would be released (you see, Devin’s had too many projects, sometimes working solo, sometimes as The Devin Townsend Band, The Devin Townsend Project, and more), and eventually it was decided that “Casualties of Cool” wouldn’t be a Devin Townsend Project release, like “Ki”, “Addicted!”, “Ghost”, “Deconstruction” and “Epicloud”.

I was able to be part of the group of pledgers who turned the “Casualties of Cool” campaign into some kind of record. The pledge reached 249% of its goal on day one, and today that the thing ended, it stood at 545% (the surplus will be well-used for future albums and charities). I bought the physical album, but I was able to download the mp3s today, and gave it a listen, live-tweeting it all the way through.

One of the things Dev said about it was that it might not be a “first listen” album, and that it’s unlike anything he’s done before. Though I agree with him on that first matter, I have to disagree on the second. Right off the bat, the album displays shades of “Ki” and “Ghost”. This means that with some minor exceptions during the penultimate track, “Casualties of Cool” is on the mellow end of Devin’s musical gamut, which can go from some of the heaviest shit you’ve heard, to some straight-up zen ambient pieces you’d hear in the most expensive spa on Earth.

Not to say Dev is repeating himself with “Casualties of Cool”, as the mix here, with the addition of some very unique synth leads, creepy samples, and bluesy grooves make it a rather unique thing. Still, the guy has covered pretty much the entire musical spectrum—from pop rock, ambient, death metal, progressive, and even classical—and the one constant about Devin’s music, and the reason why I love it so much, is that I’m yet to find a musician that is so sincere. Say what you will about his personal life in the past, but he’s never musically lied to us.

“Casualties” isn’t an exception. It’s being released right in the interim between the rocky, grand “Epicloud” and the probably loopy and heavy “Ziltoid 2” and it displays the current state of Devin Townsend in general. He’s displaying truths learned in the past, looking to the future to release all the feelings and ideas left behind from the composition of his last 5 albums (including the defunct “Ghost 2”, which was turned into a “Disc 2” in this release) in preparation for “Ziltoid 2”.

“Casualties of Cool” is a bit jarring, maybe even hard to listen to. Some passages are sustained by the creepiest synths you can imagine (“Deathscope” is a horror trip), there are long segments of narrative samples and some confusing if effective choices. Hell, through most of “Moon” and “Pier”, the beat is carried by samples of clockwork (literally; it’s clocks ticking). It’s all very atmospheric and disconcerting.

But that’s part of what I liked! “Epicloud” was awesome but rather predictable; other than the awesome gospel choir and sudden moment of fast-paced heaviness, there wasn’t much entirely new. “Casualties” is everything except predictable. Sometimes you’ll get stuff like “The Code”, which is so intricate that I can’t even describe it; sometimes it’s the soaring harmonies and mournful ostinato of “Flight”, my favorite track in the record. When it’s ‘typical’, it’s beautiful; when it isn’t, it’s at the very least interesting.

Most of the leads are sung by Ché Aimee Dorval, who returns from “Ki” to also play acoustic guitars throughout the whole record. Look, I love “Ki” (and the title track might be my all-time favorite Devin song), but I sincerely hadn’t really given much thought to just how gorgeous Che’s voice is. Maybe the melodies written for “Casualties” worked more in her favor, but this was a goddamn revelation for me. Anneke works great for Devin’s energetic stuff, but I cannot imagine her singing what Ché sings here.

The record has some kind of concept, but sadly I couldn’t listen to the lyrics much. In part because of the recording style which is heavy on vocal effects, and Dev’s signature Wall of Sound. The story, as most of Devin’s concept albums, is nucking futs, but the individual lyrics are as always powerful and precise.

I’ve listened to it a few times now and I’m still trying to learn it; I have to keep myself from fast-forwarding through some of the tougher stuff, but the stuff that clicked with me did so very strongly. The mood is hopeful, the music is potent, and the talent at display is as always both inspiring and soul-crushing. As a learning musician, I can only hope to get a fraction of Devin’s understanding for music.

It’s refreshing to see that Devin’s experimenting has gone from “The Hummer” and “Project EKO” to something so much more digestible and entertaining like this. Still, despite having loved the album, I can’t say I’m not extremely excited about seeing what he’s going to do with “Ziltoid 2”.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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  1. I've been scouring the internet for reviews since this album released. I've read at least ten, and yours is the best so far.
    I'm listening to the album right now. It doesn't disappoint.

    1. Hey thanks man, I'm glad you dig the review. What's your favorite track on the record?

      "Flight" blew me away.