Release date: May 14, 2014 | HevyDevy | Website | Devin Townsend Facebook | Twitter | Website | Ché Aimee Dorval Facebook | Instagram | Website

Devin Townsend. *uproarious standing ovations*

I genuinely believe I might as well have left it at that, because what the hell am I going to say about the man without risking repetition? His body of work speaks for itself quite eloquently, too. Over 30 years deep into his voyage on the treacherous seas of the music industry, Townsend has amassed an impressive catalogue spanning a surprising wealth of styles, moods, and aesthetics – the most surprising of which would be the ambient doom country of his 2014 project Casualties of Cool, which prominently features vocalist/guitarist Ché Aimee Dorval as his songwriting partner.

Thomas Mendes

Realizing that Casualties of Cool is turning 10 is also realizing that my history with Devin Townsend is turning 10. While I was aware of him and had listened to a few songs prior to 2014, that was the year I took the plunge and became obsessed with all of his work.

That was my freshman year at college, and I have fond and surprisingly vivid memories of taking the bus and listening to his discography on my way to class. Terria, Addicted, Deconstruction… Those were formative times for me, and as such, he was a formative artist for me in a way that I simply can’t imagine my life without his music as a fundamental part of it. So in the months leading up to Casualties, you can imagine I was pretty much ecstatic.

Anyone who follows the man knows that he likes to work alone. While Strapping Young Lad had some writing participation from the rest of the guys, it’s still been Devin’s writing for most of the run. Afterwards, whether he labeled his work as Devin Townsend, The Devin Townsend Band or Devin Townsend Project, it was all 99% Devin. He’s not ‘band material’, in his own words, and the solo approach brings out the best in him.

So it was a bit of a surprise that he would share writing duties for Casualties. Anyone that listened to Ki would already know that Ché Aimee Dorval is a phenomenal vocalist who pairs REALLY well with Dev, so I was terribly excited for it and what a writing collab would sound like.

Time and time again he would hype the record on his social media accounts, going over how excited he was for it, and how much the record was close to his heart at that moment in time. Devin is mostly known as a prog metal artist, so it may have been a shock for some when he announced that this passion project, unrelated to his Devin Townsend Project work, would be kind of a country/folk album. Still, make no mistake – this is Devin at his most pure and his most inspired.

When it came out, I was mesmerized. As someone who was mostly into prog metal, listening to something that was rather distant to that music but was so rich and powerful was life-changing for me. It showed me that really any music can be amazing if it comes straight from the heart as this does. His entire body of work is precious to me, and Casualties of Cool may just be one of the crowning jewels of a one of a kind career. I know that it became one of my favorite albums of all time.

While he has created somewhat similar music before in Ghost, Casualties of Cool is truly special. Of course, Ché makes a big difference, but it goes beyond that too. Each song carries this unique feeling. It’s sometimes haunting, sometimes conforting and it’s always as heartfelt as it gets. Devin’s mellow side really gets to me, and while a lot of fans are in it for the HevyDevy part of things, I personally believe his softer output is quite often his most rich, detailed and raw, and Casualties is the very apex of this side of his music, to my ears.

Looking back, it actually makes sense that he decided not to attach this to the DTP output, not just because of Ché, but because it feels like the other side of his creative output. While most of DTP was happy, bombastic and epic, Casualties is somber, quiet and soothing, and you can tell that exploring this made DTP’s music better and vice versa.

The more straightforward songs in the album are quite amazing – “Forgive Me”, “Daddy” and “Mountaintop” are so approachable that pretty much anyone can jam with them from the get-go. My favorite moments are the slightly more abstract ones, however, like the ethereal grace in “Flight”, the fantastic build-up in “Moon” and the explosions of power in “The Bridge”. It’s a true journey best experienced front to back.

I should also mention that the bonus songs featured in special editions of the album are ace. There is one song in particular, “Perspective”, quite unknown even amongst Devin fanatics, that has become kind of a ritual for me. I don’t listen to it often, but when I do, it’s because I’m at a crossroads at life and I need its particular comfort and the reflection it gives me.

I’m not sure if this is a hot take, but I would say that Casualties of Cool is Devin’s best work in the last decade (and amongst my top 3 albums of the decade overall). As a devoted fan of the man and someone who looks up to him as the true definition of artistry, I am fond of everything he has ever done, each in their own way. But Casualties is something else. I do not know of any other music that makes me feel the way it does, and that’s okay. Even if him and Ché are hard at work writing a second album as we speak, I don’t really expect it to be just like the debut. Maybe it’s a lightning in the bottle kind of thing, or maybe it just follows a different approach. I would have no problem with that at all, because the first Casualties of Cool is so immense and fulfilling at what it does that it can stand on its own.

Celebrating Casualties of Cool feels like celebrating my life. It makes me look back not just to Dev’s journey, but my own. It’s one of the albums that has stayed with me constantly and I know for a fact I’ll take it to my grave. I have nothing but gratitude for having this piece of art in my life and I can only hope more people can live through its magic too.

Jean Pierre Pallais

Casualties of Cool and Ghost are my two absolute favorites pieces of work that have Devin Townsend’s name attached to it. Even with all his prog metal indulgences and over-indulgences, something about these two records in particular being more on the ambient side of things resonate with me on a level I can’t quite describe with words. Seeing the news earlier this year that Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval have reunited and are currently in the process of putting together Casualties of Cool: Part Deux has been some of the best music-related news I’ve heard in quite some time. My body is so ready, at least I think it is.

These two records have that transcendental type of musical aura about them that I am so unequivocally attached to. They’re more than just musical experiences but rather spiritual ones despite not being outright spiritual in any way, shape, or form beyond the listeners interpretation. While Ghost is more musically optimistic and cheerful (you could even go as far to say it’s kawaii), Casualties of Cool is on the bleaker side of things. It doesn’t start off eerie but as you find your way towards the back half of the record, it progressively decays into doomy ambient country bliss – even moreso if you listen to this record at a slower speed/pitch to simulate playing a 45rpm record at 33rpm!

The subtle fusion of genres not usually combined together genuinely creates a style of music that I’ve never heard before and still haven’t been able to find outside of Casualties of Cool. There is a special type of irreplicable magic that comes from its deceiving simplicity. It starts off so mellow, slyly cheerful, and musically ‘conventional’ with “Daddy”, only to devolve into sinister yet equally as tranquil soundscapes as heard on “Hejda” and “Deathscope”. The tracks all seamlessly transition from one to the other, aiding the record to feel as if it is one stream of consciousness that is constantly evolving. If the title of ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ hypothetically could only be applied to a single album that deserved it most, it would be this one.

On the contrary, “Genesis” off of Townsend’s Empath has SO MUCH going on throughout its six-minute runtime; virtually every major genre was incorporated in some fashion with masterful execution indeed. The obviously inherent goal of that track from the very start was to have it be a mish mash of literally everything and by virtue, it wasn’t that creative conceptually, outside of the audio engineering know-how and the instrumental prowess needed to pull something like that off of course. The sum in this case is equivalent to all of its parts, not necessarily greater, and that’s alright!

Casualties of Cool as a whole and “Genesis” couldn’t be more unlike one another in how they strive to defy genres; extra emphasis on how as they ultimately all came from a single artist (and collaborators) at the end of the day. While I am obviously more partial towards the former, this isn’t to say one is necessarily better than the other but rather to acknowledge the musical visionary that Devin Townsend is, as only he is capable of boldly pushing musical boundaries in both directions; be it either from a stylistic/compositional standpoint or from a technical/production one. Either way and no matter how much cheese there may be (none in the case of Casualties), you can expect nothing but absolute quality when it comes to Devin Townsend (and Ché Aimee Dorval for that matter!). I cannot express my excitement for whatever the next Casualties of Cool record will contain.

Robert Miklos

If you would’ve told me some ten odd years ago that one of my all-time favorite records will be a record that isn’t metal, or rock, or jazz, I would’ve laughed you out of the room with the force of a thousand suns and slammed the door behind you. Never even mind, if you told me, it had a lot of country music elements in it (I have a precarious, to say the least, relationship with that genre), I would have imploded with laughter, causing a supernova of ridiculousness. Yet, here we are. Casualties of Cool’s eponymous album is one of my all time favorite albums ever, easily, by a landslide.

Casualties of Cool isn’t just another Devin Townsend album. If you ask me, it’s the Devin Townsend album. It’s so Devin Townsend that when this record is playing, he and the rest of his band are basically in the room with you/besides you. Then he and his band grab you by the collar of your shirt and take you on a surreal and epic adventure around the universe, because, you know, Devin Townsend.

There are few musicians I hold in such high regard as I hold Townsend. I won’t go on a rant (against every instinct telling me otherwise), but his level of composition (especially), production, performance, and overall musical vision is more or less unparalleled in the world of prog, but arguably overall as well. He talked a fair amount about the record and how it was made, so I’ll skip all that as well and focus entirely on how I see things.

Although, most people see Casualties of Cool as a normal-sized record, presently, I refer to Casualties of Cool as the fifteen-track record with an entire thirteen-track bonus disc, plus a few extras. While I don’t think all the extra material makes the journey that much better, I do feel like it adds some extra nuance and fleshes out the story a little more. At this point though, as I see it, all the extras are somehow an indispensable part of the album’s identity. Granted, I do prefer the first disc of the record more than the extras.

One of the most fascinating things to me, is still the stylistic diversity of the record. I mean, look, it’s sure as hell not the first time someone brings together disparate musical ends for an eclectic effect, but I’ve seen few instances of this thing done better. On paper, it sounds plain wrong at a glance. A body consisting of country, blues, ambient, and chamber pop, with a healthy dash of experimental, rock, and anthemic orchestrations topped off with all sorts of various artifices here and there. It’s honestly unbelievable how well it’s all pulled off. It sounds like it couldn’t have been done any other way and that’s just amazing.

I never really cared much for the lyrical layer of the album to be honest. Indeed, it aptly and neatly ties together the concept of the record, telling the story in words alongside music. It’s just that, by the time I dug into the lyrics, my fantasy of the album’s adventure was already fully crystallized and laid out, so due to that little cognitive and emotional dissonance, I renounced said written accompaniment. I do think that Ché Aimee Dorval’s voice is an ineffable element of beauty and wonder across the record and I’m sure thankful that she had words to carry with that voice.

I’m not entirely sure how I’d describe the adventure of Casualties of Cool, but it definitely starts somewhere in a bayou/swamp. At least that’s how I always envisioned the setting of “Daddy” and “Mountaintop”. A long trek through some marshy kind of maze, which eventually reaches a clearing point near hills, at night, with a clear sky rolling off of them upwards, revealing shimmering stars scattered around. That’s when “Flight” kicks off.

“Flight” is just something else entirely. It really conveys perfectly the effortlessness of gliding through the sky, immersing me in a fantastical display of radiant colors lighting up the night sky, dancing, shifting, and blooming throughout, carrying my being into another dimension. It’s as much beautiful and simple as it is complex and mystical. To this day it’s one of my all time favorite songs and it will be for the remainder of time.

As it all pops and coalesces into a magnificent conclusion, afterwards, we are brought down back to earth to the marshy maze over the duration of “The Code”. Only to then reach another clearing like before and be lifted through another bewildering spectacle across “Moon”. “Pier” acting like an odd, cryptic, liminal bridge between realms, feels rather dark, creeping around with odd clicks and clacks with little else on top. However, as I wade through the shadows in a new world.

As “Ether” carries on, things feel oddly similar, yet markedly different. There’s an ethereal (pun intended) air swirling throughout and it’s just unshakable. It’s hard to pin down particularly, but it feels like it’s heralding something more than it leads on with its easygoing demeanor. With heavy pounding drums and a lone flute on top, “Hejda” further amplifies the surreal factor, expanding the horizon of this new world more and more, making it ever clearer. It sets the tone for what feels like some kind of cosmic pilgrimage into the unknown. “Forgive Me” hearkens somewhat nostalgically to the beginning of the journey, relenting from this new path just ever so slightly, only for “Broken” to shift back and keep things on course for the otherworldly stuff that’s about to go down. Again, “Bones” hearkens back, softly, with a bitter-sweet sensation that’s difficult to nail down, only to be, again, derailed by “Deathscope” and its uncanny vibe. It’s all a beautiful kind of larger scale call and response kind of dynamic, which at times can even feel like two different narrative threads unfolding simultaneously.

“The Field” leads us to the final bridge we have to cross on this fantastical trip, like the calm before the storm, with little to nothing offered in the way of suspecting what’s next. Still lingering with the wistful and saccharine echo with which it left me behind, I attempt to cross the bridge. “The Bridge” is the apotheotic climax of this journey, unfurling before my eyes an entire universe. I’m not even sure there’s a better way to describe it. As I let it consume me with its grandeur, I emerge on the other side in a different form, which has nothing in common with the physical world. You could say that I’ve become a casualty of cool (pun 150% intended). So, there’s nothing left in the end, but pure feeling. As such, “Pure” concludes the adventure, gently and simply.

It’s a wild and amazing ride. So is the rest of the extra material, although it’s not quite as poignantly tied together from a narrative standpoint, however, emotionally and musically speaking it bares enough resemblances to feel like an expansion. Although, it couldn’t stand separately, on its own, as its own adventure.

There’s nothing left to add, yet at the same time, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m aware that might not make sense to some, but I’m sure it will once you ride on the sonic waves of this outstanding adventure.

Dominik Böhmer

Dominik Böhmer

Pretentious? Moi?

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