An Interstellar Concept
Throughout Devin Townsend’s vast career he has released over 20 studio albums under various projects. These projects have a range that rivals his own four octave vocal range, spreading from extreme metal to ambient new age music. Most recently he has teamed up with singer Ché Aimee Dorval for the formation of his newest project, Casualties of Cool, a country rock group.
In 2014, the project came out with its eponymous debut album Casualties of Cool. It was then re-released in early 2016 containing a bonus DVD of live concert footage. Perhaps strangely for a project rooted (albeit loosely) in country music, this concept album weaves a science fiction odyssey of a star-streaking explorer who finds himself lured to a planet by the voice of a beautiful woman. But the planet turns out to have an agenda all to itself. We learn that the planet turns out to be an entity that feeds on the fear of its inhabitants, and uses a radio to broadcast the voice of the woman to lure people down to its surface. While on the planet this lost soul is only able to find solace in the radio broadcast, but eventually the power goes out leaving the man feeling without hope. That is, until finding an old phonograph hidden by the actual woman. This tells him that to free his soul he must conquer and face his fear. He then crafts a bridge from the bones of those whom he has defeated through facing his fear. This show of fortitude and the strength of his will eventually frees both the traveller, and also the woman, from the clutches of the evil planet.
To tell this spacey atmospheric story, Townsend takes a spacey atmospheric twist on country rock tunes that he describes as “haunted Johnny Cash.” Much like the travellers time on the planet, this album leans heavily on the superbly dusky siren voice of Ché Aimee Dorval who sings lyrics that both entice and encourage. Only sparingly does Townsend add his own voice, but when he does it achieves something special, especially in his grim opera singing at the end of “Broken.” Casualties of Cool employs very diverse instrumentation. Many tracks are sprinkled with minimalistic, twanged guitar riffs that center the projects country rock aspect. During “Hejda,” and for almost the entirety of the final song “Pure,” there is the beautifully haunting tones of a native american style flute that vibrates and pulsates primal messages invoking the beauty of the night sky. This mix of different vocal stylings and vast instrumentation weaves together this sometimes wacky story that stands as a testament to what a powerfully creative person can do to a far out idea.
The album flows seamlessly through the story delivering an intensely enjoyable ride through all 15 songs that melt together throughout the record. Like the most beautiful sights of the night sky Casualties of Cool is able to captivate all those willing to pay attention with its dark canvas allowing the stars of Townsend and Ché to shine all the brighter. This album is a stunning example of all that an ambient concept album can be.