Devin Townsend earned the moniker as the “Mad Scientist of Metal” but more and more he should just be considered a musical mad scientist.
The prolific artist, who has dabbled in heavy metal, industrial, punk, world music and even Euro pop, takes a stab at a few new genres, Americana and country.
Anyone familiar with Townsend, and most in this country are not, know that he is not going to write a straight forward record. After all, this is a guy who wrote a series of albums for various elements,
wrote a concept album about a coffee crazed alien bent on Earth’s destruction and retired his popular heavy metal outfit Strapping Young Lad because he was no longer angry enough to need it as an outlet.
His newest record is the first to be recorded as Casualties of Cool and teams Townsend with vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval and the two create a haunting, ethereal record that has its roots in Americana and country, but strays from them rather quickly.
The record, which was funded by fans, is the soundtrack for a lonely night on the plains where a lone cowboy is haunted by the ghosts of his past. It is quiet, pretty in most places, but not sparse. This is not a few voices and acoustic instruments, though they appear, this is a layered, ambient soundscape.
In fact Townsend said the record “sounds like haunted Johnny Cash songs. Late night music, completely isolated sounding.”
The record may or may not be a concept album, but the cover shows an old radio and you could almost hear many of the songs emanating out of an old wooden radio in some haunted speakeasy.
“Daddy” begins the album with a country shuffle that would not be out of place on a Johnny Cash record, with Dorval singing in her soothing, sultry yet calming voice. “Mountain Top” continues the feel, another shuffle, this time with Townsend’s layered, ethereal vocals. The man can scream with the best of them, but you’ll hear none of that here. Dorval takes over the vocal duties on the second verse, and they harmonize for much of the song.
“Flight” loses much of the country feel, but conveys a sense of sadness and loss, while “The Code” is a love song between two conspirators, with Dorval’s vocals distorted and distant.
“Moon” is atmospheric and sparse, almost Pink Floydian in places, until the saxophone comes out of nowhere to help transition seamlessly to “Pier”, another very sparse song. The two almost serve as a brief intermission.
“Ether” and “Forgive Me” return things to a more country, albeit still a dreamy feel. “Broken” and “Bones” form another two-song suite of sorts. Dorval is really showcased here, especially in “Bones” which has a sort of melancholy, yet poppy folk feel. “Deathscope” returns the country-esque feel, with Townsend almost getting twangy in places, at least until the saxophone returns, this time making a hideous noise and signifying that things were going to get weird(er).
The Bridge is big, epic and dreamy and it serves as a fittingconclusion to the record, although it blends into “Pure”, a mellower, outro of sorts that lets the listener drift away.
Townsend is never static as an artist, almost compulsive in his need to compose, record and experiment. Casualties of Cool is another in a long line of successful experiments by this mad scientist.