Since his beginnings in Steve Vai’s band, Devin Townsend has always worn many stylistic hats.
He has straddled the worlds of atmospheric metal and, as Strapping Young Lad, extreme heavy metal, not to mention his Ziltoid and Z2 puppet-based concept metal operas. Nevertheless, he managed to catch many off-guard with his blues/country fusion project, Casualties Of Cool. Originally released in 2014 after a successful crowdfunding campaign, the album is presented here with a brand new DVD.
Recorded at London’s Union Chapel, the concert was filmed during a brief club tour in support of the album’s release. Among Townsend’s backing band are his main collaborator Ché Aimee Dorval and legendary drummer Morgan Ågren, both of whom wrote the record with him. In metal circles Ågren is known for his tech-metal-jazz collaboration with Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thordendal; in these parts he’s known for drumming with Zappa and Kaipa.
A scintillating show. He should wear this hat more often.
The set opens with the woozy, reverb-drenched shuffle of Daddy. It’s eerily familiar. Johnny Cash allusions aside, Townsend stated that he wanted this record to sound “like an AM radio playing in the background”, but it never descends into lo-fi folk. The cavernous reverb and gentle drums give it a somewhat abstract vibe, comparable to the quieter tracks on his Ocean Machine album.
Flight comes across rather more upbeat, with Dorval and Townsend briefly raising their voices. In the context of such a restrained set, even small dynamic shifts are noticeable. Ether builds from muted beginnings to a sweeping climax, driven by Dorval’s powerful and haunting vocal. It takes a moment to recognise that the spine-tingling sound on the outro is not in fact a rain sample, but Ågren building up random rhythmic chatter using his sticks on the drum shells.
After Forgive Me, there’s an enjoyable, somewhat self-indulgent jam, giving the other musicians a chance to cut loose while Ågren even gives a hint of a drum solo. All the while, Townsend proves himself a highly capable blues lead player. Contrast this with Deathscope, where a screaming solo replaces the slow fade and ambience found on the album track. You half expect him to end it by telling the crowd that their kids are gonna love it, Back To The Future-style.
The Bridge may lack the 50-strong choir of the studio version, but as it rises to a mighty crescendo atop Dorval and Townsend’s harmonies, the song’s a stirring close to a scintillating show. He should wear this hat more often.