Che Aimee Dorval

Devin Dissection: Holding Patterns

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Progressive metal
Released: September 9, 2016
Format reviewed: FLAC

By: Kris Kotlarik

Holding Patterns is the bonus disc to Transcendence. It has no continuity, which doesn’t really make it an album, but it’s still worthy of a review. Let’s go track by track, bolding some of the best ones. All claims I make about the tracks can be fact-checked by reading the album liner notes unless otherwise stated.

Gump: Apparently, this song was quite contentious among the band members, as many of them thought it was one of the best songs on the record, but Devin couldn’t crowbar it into the main disc. The riffs on this midtempo track are infectious and this track could have easily found a home on the back end of Synchestra. The instrumental riffage midway through is this track’s highlight.

Celestial Signals: Grandiose layered vocals throughout the track give it an epic feel, but the song doesn’t really go anywhere.

Support the Cause: I’m not exactly sure what the cause is, but this is similar to the title track of the main disc in that it has a march beat vibe going on. The notes from Devin say it has a Scorpions vibe, which I kind of get (same rhythm and tempo as The Zoo). I really like the section starting at 1:48, and the song ends with a slightly heavier version of this. I disliked the track when I first heard it and still don’t care for the vocal intro, but it has grown on me somewhat over several spins.

Into the Sun: This is an interesting thought: Devin Townsend re-imagines Dethklok. Just picture a bunch of murder and mayhem while listening to this and you’ll see what I mean if you give it a couple of spins. The song is alright, but hasn’t done much for me so far.

Time Overload: A relatively straightforward hard rock song with some industrial tinges to it, it’s rather repetitive and holds little to no replay value.

Lexus: More than anything else, I love the chorus. Che’ Aimee Dorval appears to throw down the most rock-based vocals I’ve heard from her to date in the pre-chorus, and it works surprisingly well. But that chorus just resonates with me in this strange way that constantly makes me want to listen to it. I’m pretty sure it’s Devin’s self-harmonization that is doing it for me. The rest of the track is fine and on the heavy metal end of the spectrum; with a smoother touch it could have gone onto Epicloud after “More.”

Farther On: A short track that sounds like it could have evolved into something if it were expanded upon a little further in production or collaborative writing. Not sure if it could find a home on any of Devin’s recent albums, but this song is fine.

Victim: Originally recorded on Physicist, this was among my least favorite tracks on that album. I’m not sure what the appeal is to this one over any number of other tracks that could have been remade; “Namaste” and “Material” are significantly better candidates. I will say that this version sounds better than the original; the verses were the biggest problem in the original, and are still a problem here, but it sounds less grating.

Monkeymind: Heavy metal instrumental! It features some interesting riffs and a couple of solos, notably at 2:00 when it goes full Willy Wanka. Yes, I said Wanka. Get with the program.

Canucklehead: Strictly a joke song in the vein of Punky Bruster. It’s also very similar to “Sunshine and Happiness” from Synchestra, but with funny lyrics.

Loud: Deliciously soothing. Devin says this could have been on Sky Blue but couldn’t find a home for it; I get where he’s coming from and I’m glad this song sees the light here. It shows Anneke van Giersbergen’s softer side while showing off Devin’s ability to replicate a vibe similar to the softer parts of “Where We Belong,” one of the best songs off of Epicloud.

OVERALL: Holding Patterns is an oddball collection of assorted (or ass-sordid) demos from different eras of the DTP. It’s worth getting if you’re a Devin fan, especially since the double-disc edition costs about $3 more, but don’t expect across-the-board greatness.

Rating: 2.5*

Review: Casualties Of Cool – Casualties Of Cool

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Genre: Country/Blues Rock
Released: May 14, 2014
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Recent Releases – Off The Grid

By: Kris Kotlarik

Disclaimer: This review only covers the main disc of Casualties Of Cool. Given the length of the second disc, I would consider that to be a separate release were I to review it, much like Epiclouder or the “Stuff That Was Almost Stuff” CD from the Contain Us box set. My review of the second disc would have largely been negative anyway, since there is almost nothing on it that gains my attention except for “Dig For Gold” and “Dead Eyes,” both of which are okay but not stellar, and “Perspective,” which is pretty good and reminds me of a slightly slower version of “Unity” off of Infinity. “Ghost Wives” is just awful, and “Fight” is a stripped-down rework of the brilliant “Flight,” serving no real purpose. Luckily, this disc has no bearing on the main album’s score. 

“You’re reviewing a country album? What the hell is wrong with you!?” -Meathead metal elitists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think modern FM country music is total crap that strayed away from its musical roots into poppy territory quite a while ago. Except this isn’t one of those albums. This is more of a callback to country’s earlier days, further bolstered by a highly talented lineup and a nice, innovative concept.

Casualties Of Cool is a project headed by Devin Townsend and Ché Aimee Dorval (henceforth referred to as Dorval). The latter also appeared in a more limited role on the Devin Townsend Project album Ki and had some stellar parts, most notably the ending section of “Trainfire,” which has now become one of my favorite words to say in daily conversation. Other guests on this album include, among others, legendary drummer Morgan Ågren, Shining (NOR) saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, and Kat Epple, the flautist from Ghost.

With a lineup like this, one would expect some pretty nice results to emerge. And for the most part, it is. At times, however, the overindulgence on Devin’s part is palpable. We’re talking about Devlab-esque indulgence here (Devlab is an electronic ambient album by Devin that isn’t anything special; if you’re looking for electronic stuff, however, The Hummer may be of interest to you).

The best songs on here, by a long shot, are “Flight” and “The Bridge.” The former features a nice riff and a relaxing vibe, with Dorval providing some highly memorable vocals. The second half has Devin’s trademark wall of sound, and the ending has a gorgeous Devin vocal line. Perhaps my favorite part, though, is the nice bass fill at the 5:00 mark. With that said, one of those moments of overindulgence rears its head when Dorval sings “Feed the pigeons with my collision,” with the last word being distorted by design. It makes sense, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Even so, “Flight” is in the running for song of the year.

“The Bridge” serves as the album’s climax and is the most “typical” Devin song here. He managed to get a Swedish choir to sing “Yolo” with straight faces (apparently, it just made sense to him at the time). That aside, it boasts two absolutely massive buildups with a brilliant mellow bridge section in between.

The other songs are rather mixed. Some, such as “Mountaintop” and “The Code,” are over the top when it comes to lyrical cheese. Others, including most of “Hejda” and all of “Pure” and “Pier,” can best be described as meditative music. “Deathscope” is a weird song to say the least; it starts with a straightforward rockabilly beat, but also has all kinds of crazy electronic distortion effects and also includes the only moments of heavy vocals (other than “The Bridge”). Munkeby does some wanking on the saxophone before it drifts off into ambient territory. “Deathscope” ranks as my third-favorite track.

“Moon” is Munkeby’s chance to shine, and his work is a major contribution to that track. “Broken” features the male contingent of the Swedish choir and provides a fantastic vocal delivery, but it doesn’t last nearly long enough. “Bones” is just an average song music-wise with more stellar Dorval vocals, but this track stands out as the one that progresses the album’s lyrical concept (a man lands on a planet and is attracted to a woman’s voice. That woman is trapped beneath the planet’s surface. The man tries to get both of them off the planet. Like many before him, the man dies but manages to free the woman). The concept in and of itself is fantastic and overall, it’s well-executed within the music.

The other tracks I haven’t mentioned (“Daddy,” “The Field,” “Forgive Me,” and “Ether”) are all solid and there isn’t much to be said about them that hasn’t already been said about the rest of the album: Some ambient stuff, amazing vocals by Dorval, and some calm, soothing melodies. There is far too much ambient indulgence on here for my taste, and yet I still keep going back to this album whenever I need a break from the heavier albums more than most others that would otherwise fit the bill in my library.

Overall: Taking out much of the ambient layering would have put this close to “Album of the Year” territory.

Rating: 3.5*

Additional Thoughts: Casualties Of Cool will be playing live shows in London and Helsinki. London gets just about every special Devin gig, including By A Thread and The Retinal Circus, while Helsinki had the privilege of hearing the entire Ziltoid The Omniscient album live. And it makes sense, since Devin has a huge fan base in both places and Helsinki is perhaps the best city on the planet. If I ever win the lottery, you know where to find me.