Devin Townsend can be a difficult guy to nail down musically. Whether it’s coffee-themed prog-metal concept albums, stadium rock or Strapping Young Lad levels of brutality, there are few styles the man hasn’t touched upon. And now he can add Country music to his repertoire.
The man’s latest album, released under the Casualties of Cool moniker with Ché Aimee Dorval, is the result of a massively successful campaign on Pledge Music. The success of the campaign is testament to the Canadian oddball’s enduring popularity as even in the bio he explicitly states, “It’s not a metal album, nor is it meant to be a statement about my interest in metal…This is something different.”
It’s rarely worth looking at Devin’s solo work in any sort of grand context; previous Devin Townsend Project albums were all radically different from each other, and the bombast of 2012’s uplifting Epicloud was as different to them as it is to this. But there are traces of Ki‘s minimalist songwriting and Ghost’s (all HevyDevy/InsideOut) almost ambient mood music to be found here.
Casualties of Cool opens with ‘Daddy’, a dark country tune, and from there we’re taken on a quiet acoustic journey. Everything is very understated; some parts are quietly uplifting, some more eerily haunting, and the whole thing is full of ambient atmosphere. Dorval (previously heard on the DTP’s Ki) and her deep, smokey voice takes centre stage for most of the album, with Devin providing backup.
With the exception of the epic ‘The Bridge’, it’s hard to pick out any standout songs. They flow into one another quietly without any big fanfare. Whether it’s the jazzy saxophone of to ‘Moon’ or the dark melancholy of ‘The Field’, the quality rarely drops but the quiet, introspective nature means CoC requires multiple listens. What may be little more than ambient whispers on the first or second listen can turn out to be actually a worthwhile bit of music.
It doesn’t have the same kind of highs of previous albums, but Casualties of Cool is an intriguing experiment from a man who excels in making left-field music. Go in expecting massive a prog-metal exercise will only lead to disappointment, but having an open mind will result in a rewarding if largely uneventful experience.
In amongst the big boys now, with the Official Ghost Cult Top 10 Albums of 2014. Kicking off with albums 10 to 6, these were the attention and headline grabbing albums that provided the soundtrack to the year…
10. DEVIN TOWNSEND – Z2 (HevyDevy/InsideOut)
Not one but two aural explosions from everyone’s favourite Canadian ADD sufferer. Disk 1 showcases the epic pop-Metal melodies expounded on Epicloud, in a vibrant collection of melodies, twists and simply great tunes, while Disk 2 is the long awaited Ziltoid sequel, a more symphonic and aggressive take on the original. Devin has shown, once again, that no matter what project fills his head, he is a pure musical genius, with 3 albums (technically) in our Top 50.
“Double albums are notoriously difficult beasts to grapple with. If there’s a suspicion of ‘all filler, no killer’, that’s perhaps understandable given some of rock music’s recent inglorious past when it comes to musical heft. The common consensus on this sort of exercise ranges from how to edit Use Your Illusion (Geffen) into one digestible chunk; realising that, yes, Fleetwood Mac really did do ALL of the drugs when recording Tusk (Warner Bros) and, frankly, even Corey Taylor must think that there is way too much padding on House of Gold and Bones (Roadrunner). Breathe easier, then, as this is not a sprawling, indulgent mess. Z2 is indulgent and there is a LOT to get through but Z2 is two records being issued simultaneously rather than some attempt at a single, 23 song epic.”
9. AT THE GATES – At War With Reality (Century Media)
After a gap of 19 (NINETEEN!) years the Fathers of the Gothenburg sound released the follow up to one of the greatest extreme albums of time, the genuine legend that was Slaughter of the Soul (Earache). That they didn’t embarrass themselves is one thing, that they were able to ignite the flame of excitement in older fans and pick up newer ones, whose favourite bands swore by the altar of ATG is testament to their quality.
“At War With Reality is a genuinely worthwhile listen and worth the 19 year wait. It still sounds like At The Gates, not the razor-focused Slayer-worship of Slaughter of the Soul, although those moments are still present, but an all-encompassing At The Gates that draws from the band’s entire back catalogue. At The Gates have shown the world that they’re still the most powerful force in melodic death metal. At War With Reality does more than just prop up the band’s legacy, it enhances it.”
8. PALLBEARER – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore)
Doooooooooooooom, beautiful doooooooooooom! Melancholy, poignant, mournful and emotive, the second album from Arkansas’ Pallbearer set new standards in textured 70’s styled doom, twining haunting, reflective leads, heart-felt impassioned lyrics and vocals, and down-tuned crashes.
“Superlatives and panegyrics are thrown around like confetti these days, and mostly for albums that just don’t deserve them. Here is an entity beyond words. The blend of crushing weight and sadness that twines with an almost paradoxical ascension to light throughout this quite magnificent set is sublime and inspirational. This willingness to puncture doom’s boundaries and travel outside them surely hails Pallbearer as the most important band of their genre right now.”
7. TRIPTYKON – Melana Chasmata (Century Media / Prowling Death)
The sound of decomposition in thick, gloopy, stained riffage, the darkest end of despair in musical format, the sound of utter personal devastation hammered relentlessly into your ears as Tom G Warrior continues the styling first unveiled on Celtic Frost’s swansong, Monotheist. Beyond the gloom, beyond the end of the universe, lurks Triptykon’s second opus magnificum.
“Still gloriously innovative at 50, the enigmatic and death-obsessed Thomas Gabriel Fischer returns with his latest and possibly most enigmatic incarnation. The darkly expansive Eparistera Daimones, the first Triptykon album, displayed a panoply of musical styles. Remarkably, sophomore suite Melana Chasmata sees a deeper mining of that creativity, reaffirming the band’s reluctance to be confined by any musical barrier and confirming the triumphant second coming of Gabriel’s most inventive, diverse and impressive guise.”
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated “pure” Death Metal release of the second half of the year, this Polish hate machine did not disappoint, with a career and genre defining masterpiece, adding to their impressive canon with an absolute killer of cemtex-infused vocal growls, blistering drumming, colossal grooves and excessive riffs. But this was no old school rehash, the Krosno krew enhance their wares with industrial touches, and an insinuation of Slipknot showing this is a thoroughly modern and quite exceptional Death Metal band.
“With this much skill at their disposal, looking back it almost seems embarrassing that they were ever doubted. To use a lazy comparison, Decapitated are like (Marvel Comics anti-hero) Blade; they possess all of the strengths of Death Metal and none of its weaknesses. And it’s increasingly evident they cannot be killed. Quite simply Blood Mantra is one of the finest Death Metal albums to be released now or ever and it’s difficult to see how it can be topped. One thing is for sure; Vitek would be proud.”
The countdown to the Official Ghost Cult Magazine Album of the Year for 2014 continues. Please consume and enjoy the results of our 2014 Writers’ Poll. We hope it will introduce you to some of the incredible works of art you may have missed that we have had the immense pleasure of listening to and writing about this year.
In our third installment we bring you albums 30 through to 21
30. CASUALTIES OF COOL – Casualties Of Cool (Pledge/HevyDevy)
“Casualties of Cool is an intriguing experiment from a man who excels in making left-field music. Go in expecting massive a prog-metal exercise will only lead to disappointment, but having an open mind will result in a rewarding experience” DAN SWINHOE 8/10 Full review here
29. ANATHEMA – Distant Satellites (KScope)
“One of our world’s most understated bands, despite the plaudits they get, Anathema have once again showcased their knack for penning both forward thinking and emotionally driven music which oozes real human character and sentimentality”. CHRIS TIPPELL 9/10 Full review here
28. DOWN – IV (Part II) (Down Records)
“When we look back on this part of their career, we will likely understand that these are less like regular EPs that other bands release, and much more like a mini-opus, in pieces. Down clearly realizes their collective vision, no matter who is in the lineup, every time”. KEITH ‘KEEFY’ CHACHKES 9.5/10 Full review here
27. VALLENFYRE – Splinters (Century Media)
“Sadistic and aggressive with endless moments of bleak reflection Splinters is a leviathan unleashed upon unsuspecting listeners and a release surely destined to grace many year end lists” ROSS BAKER 9/10 Full review here
26. AGALLOCH – “The Serpent and the Sphere” (Profound Lore)
Like a massive-antlered stag glimpsed amidst a wintry landscape, breathtaking, elusive and hard to pin down, The Serpent and the Sphere looks set to continue their elegant and ever-evolving legacy JAMES CONWAY 9/10 Full review here
25. THOU – Heathen (Gilead Media)
“A storm manifest as a piece of music, as devastating as it is awe-inspiring, Heathen is varied and compelling for the entire runtime”. TOM SAUNDERS 9/10 Full review here
24. septicflesh – Titan (Season of Mist)
“Sharp, buzzing riffs and symphonic keys, strength and brutality amongst moments of pomp and beauty, bloody entertaining and another show of form” PAUL QUINN 8.5/10 Full review here
23. PYRRHON – The Mother of Virtues (Relapse)
“The Mother Of Virtues doesn’t just challenge what is “extreme”, but calls into question whether some of what is produced is actually even music. Completely and utterly impenetrable, and exceptional with it”. STEVE TOVEY 9.5/10 Full review here
If the last album from the Devin Townsend Project, the brilliant Epicloud (HevyDevy), taught us anything about Professor Townsend and his creative mind, then it was proof positive that, yes, he could pretty much turn his hand to anything he fancied, yet still deliver something uniquely “Devin”, irrespective of the often eclectic styles and byzantine layering of his music.
Epicloud was glorious, carefree and packed full of tunes. Earlier this year, his crowd-funded Space-Country experiment, the introspective Casualties of Cool (HevyDevy/Pledge) album was so warmly received by fans and critics alike that Townsend’s stock has rarely been higher – his forthcoming show at London’s Royal Albert Hall was an instant sell out, for example. In many eyes, he is currently the man who can do no wrong.
As a consequence, expectations are not just high but positively stratospheric for Townsend’s latest endeavour. Z2 (HevyDevy) is a double album (there’s also a limited edition triple CD for those of you who really can’t get enough Canadian in your life) split into two distinct parts. Sky Blue appears to be the natural successor to Epicloud, a record filled to its aural brim with infectious and joyous tunes straight from the heart and the drawer marked “top”. Dark Matters, its companion disc, is a radio play cum musical. However, it’s not quite “Wicked a la Townsend”. No, Dark Matters sees the return of everyone’s favourite fart loving alien, Ziltoid the Omisicient. We’ll come back to him in a bit.
Double albums are notoriously difficult beasts to grapple with. If there’s a suspicion of “all filler, no killer”, that’s perhaps understandable given some of rock music’s recent inglorious past when it comes to musical heft. The common consensus on this sort of exercise ranges from how to edit Use Your Illusion (Geffen) into one digestible chunk; realising that, yes, Fleetwood Mac really did do ALL of the drugs when recording Tusk (Warner Bros) and, frankly, even Corey Taylor must think that there is way too much padding on House of Gold and Bones (Roadrunner). Breathe easier, then, as this is not a sprawling, indulgent mess. Z2 is indulgent and there is a LOT to get through but Z2 is two records being issued simultaneously rather than some attempt at a single, 23 song epic.
Sky Blue comes out of the traps quickly with the chest-beating, fist bumping, anthemic surge that is ‘Rejoice’; long-time collaborator Anneke Van Geisberger is again in tow and there is a lovely, warm homely feel to it all. Well, as homely as crunching metal riffs and sweeping keyboard flourishes can sound, anyway. The pounding tenor of ‘Fallout’ swiftly follows and both tracks combine as an aural one-two to the solar plexus. This is thrilling power pop, bristling with guile and intelligence. ‘Midnight Sun’ is lush orchestration par excellence with more than a nod to the Twin Peaks soundtrack that Angelo Baladamenti conjured with David Lynch back at the start of the 1990s.
‘A New Reign’ continues in similar vein – it’s the yang, to ‘Midnight Sun’s Yin, if you will; both tracks are effectively a call and response to each other, built around a yearning mid tempo beat that comforts as much as its carries you along. ‘Warrior’, a song surely designed for closing credits of a Hollywood blockbuster with its swirling harmonies and cavernous chorus, sees Van Gisberger centre stage once again, her ethereal voice resplendent in the layers of complex yet deftly executed melodies. There’s a lot of metal love on ‘Silent Militia’ – it’s a sort of “Look! I can still do this heavy stuff whenever I like!” statement from Townsend just in case you thought the migration to the centre ground of melody had become a permanent one. That relatively lightweight piece gives way to an altogether dark atmospheric on the reflective ‘Dark City’ while its companion track the plaintive and haunting ‘Forever’ gives the listener as well as artist pause for thought, reflection and introspection. Reflection over, the defiant and defiantly life affirming ‘Before We Die’ wraps up another glorious slice of inspired and inspirational music, as only Devin can provide.
And then we come to Ziltoid. Or, rather, come back to Ziltoid.
Dark Matters is a genuine and brilliantly composed piece of musical theatre and requires the attention of the listener from beginning to end. It is rather akin to a radio play, wherein Devin has recast himself as a modern day Orson Wells and Ziltoid is the protagonist for this most unusual take on War of the Worlds. Those of you familiar with Townsend’s career to date will recall that he used Ziltoid as the bridging point between the early part of his career in Strapping Young Lad to the musical polymath/everyman that we know and love today. Ziltoid is doubly important as it has also given an insight into the mind and sense of humour of Townsend via a medium and backstory that is, at the very least, unusual.
Dark Matters reboots the caffeine addicted puppet as a real alien for this 2014 version. Eschewing the tale from the 2007 album of Ziltoid having attacked earth, we now find that Ziltoid has built a coalition on Earth through the gloriously named Captain Spectacular (hello there, Fozzy’s Chris Jericho). In amongst this densely packed extravaganza of kidnapping, alien planets and weird creatures called Poozers there’s a humble (ish) narrative thread around vanquishing kidnappers and continuing to find the ultimate cup of coffee.
Dark Matters commands your attention because there is so much going on and at a rate of spectacular knots. Whether it’s the architecture of the entire piece with its grandiloquent opening, the self-deprecating narration or some of the heaviest music he’s created in years – witness the serious head-banging proposition of ‘Ziltoid Goes Home’, for example – Dark Matters is a grand and never less than interesting experiment that tests the energy, innovation and creativity of its artist to its limit, and serves the listener with a complex, exhausting, energised and enthralling experience.
Dark Matters works but only in the context of itself – it is supremely indulgent but regard this as the indulgence of a deep long, warm bath or a gluttonous feast. Dark Matters is sometimes hard going but it is often grin-inducing listening. It’s admirable and occasionally genuinely funny. As an exercise in florid musicianship it’s hard to knock but you need to prepare yourself to be immersed- this is a record that commands and needs your attention. All of it.
Barely six months after self-releasing the wonderful introspective space-country Casualties of Cool project, Townsend’s creative juices appear to be in full flow with this latest release, a musical extravaganza that covers a quite astonishing range and depth of musical style and influence. From metal, hard rock, Euro-pop to the magnificent, scatological and barking mad return of Ziltoid the Omniscient, there really is something for everyone here. That old cliché of less being more has not only been thrown out of the window, it’s been pushed off a cliff, thrown to the wolves, run over by a train. On Z2, more is clearly more and this is a musical feast to gorge upon. If the adage “you can’t keep a good man down” has any ring of truth about it, then this must mean that Devin Townsend is a very good man indeed.