Casualties of Cool – Casualties of Cool (Self Released)

Sunday, 25th May 2014
Rating: 10/10

For the Dev-obsessed, the Casualties of Cool project has been a long time coming.  He had teased it as “haunted Johnny Cash songs” but that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface and may dissuade those fearful of the ‘country’ tag.  As a bit of fair warning though, this does not even begin to approach the metal spectrum, but does veer towards Ghost and Ki territory in spirit.  Let’s face it, anyone who listens to Devin Townsend knows to expect the unexpected by now anyways.

Casualties of Cool seamlessly blends blues, lounge, country, and ambient into a darkly emotive, but ultimately (as with much of his recent material) redemptive and hopeful offering that only Devin Townsend can provide.  Even the sci-fi theme of Casualties seems to eschew a straight-up country/blues tag.  The short synopsis is a man that is drifting through space and lured to a planet by the sound of a woman’s voice.  That voice is ultimately the planet itself, functioning through an old radio, which feeds on its victim’s fear.  The man eventually finds a phonograph from the actual woman, and faces his fears as he attempts to build a bridge to escape.  Lyrically interesting, but more interesting yet is how the audio that conveys it does capture the surreal sense of the proceedings.

The hybridization of musical genres at play allow for a dazzling display of emotions throughout Casualties.  Some of the more upbeat numbers like “The Code” or “Daddy” usher more of the Johnny Cash vibe, along with “Forgive Me” (wisely chosen to be the first heard piece from the album as it represents the overall feel quite well).  “Moon” shifts things further into jazz with the inclusion of some saxophone from Shining’s Jorgen Munkeby, which carries over into the dark ambience of “Pier.”  “Ether” and “Mountaintop,” along with many of the songs, strike a delicate balance between sorrowful and dark, with glimpses of hope to entice the listener.  Towards the end of the story, things begin to feel more hopeful, and the music takes a turn at the more melodic with “The Bridge.”  This track feels the most “Devin-like,” especially in regards to Epicloud, with an uplifting choir and triumphant background to Devin’s vocals reaching towards a powerful climax.

It would be remiss not to mention the shining star of Casualties, the voice of Che Aimee Dorval.  She worked well on Ki, but her performance here is extraordinary.  As the lead vocalist, she exudes sorrow and beauty.  “Flight” is nothing short of majestic, quite possibly one of the strongest ballad-esque songs Townsend has penned and Dorval’s vocals bring it to soaring heights.  “Bones” and “The Field” also serve as testaments to Dorval’s exquisite take on the material.

Casualties of Cool is best captured as a whole.  A sprawling journey from spacey darkness to redemption that blurs multiple genre lines is best served with your full attention.  It probably won’t be a ‘love at first listen’ type of album for most either, but more depth and power will be unveiled with each subsequent play through.  Ultimately, its one more example of how Devin Townsend can start with whatever formula he wants and the end result is of masterpiece proportions.  Close your eyes and let Casualties of Cool gently lift you off into space.

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