The Retinal Circus

Devin Townsend Project

In reviewing a work of this magnitude, I feel truly humbled. I hesitate to call […]
By Daniel Fox
October 7, 2013
Devin Townsend Project - The Retinal Circus album cover

In reviewing a work of this magnitude, I feel truly humbled. I hesitate to call this a live album - a 25-song live performance spanning his 20 year career, complete with fully-fledged musical theatrics. Listening to the recording is wondrous enough; witnessing it would truly immortalise it. Nonetheless, the fundamental concert was recorded in its entirety on video and audio. Bear with me as I struggle with the task of reviewing it.

Split up into two sets, the first set is dominated by a number of highlights. In particular, the memorable "Lucky Animals", a peculiar, ultimately theatrical track is at the forefront of Townsend's ever-moving, ever-musical creative complex, and brings with it an inescapable live energy. It is a perfect example of the creation of a live feeling - that is, just from listening to it, imitating the true live experience. It is worth mentioning that this song is one of them that features guest musician Anneke Van Giersbergen. Another unforgettable piece from this set is "Planet of the Apes", the longest song performed that night; typical of Devin, it is an utter melting pot of genres, combining many different genres of metal, and truly demonstrating his versatility as a vocalist and writer; easily one of my favourites. Unexpected, yet to be expected from the weird and wonderful Devin, is the strange, minute-and-a-half filler, "Vampolka", which is essentially a spoken word monologue, backed by a half electronic, half acoustic polka piece, that is a perfect example of the versatile live performance this band is capable of. Another noteworthy track from this first set is another long track, "Colour Your World", which takes on the versatility of "Planet of the Apes" and builds on it, by drastically changing the mood halfway through, from the heavy to the tender and back to the heavy. Lastly, and possibly my favourite, is the through-and-through Prog Metal track, "The Greys", which reminds me strongly of DREAM THEATRE and FATES WARNING, and is entirely a beautiful, sonic wonder.

The second set of the concert begins with the calm and airy "Hyperdrive", a soothingly soft and breezy easy-listening track. Then, straight into the peculiar "Ih-Ah", which is definitely one of my favourites from the entire recording; infectiously catchy and powerful, and no matter what, manages to seep happiness into the darkest of mines. I am noticing a trend: some of my favourite tracks feature Anneke's beautiful voice; Townsend's decision to hire her on as a guest was pure genius, and her voice is a perfect fit. Moving on, it is quite hard to expect Devin to record a live album of this calibre, and not include any STRAPPING YOUNG LAD material; the performance of "Detox" absolutely does the band justice, and will no doubt be a huge hit for nostalgia's sake, for the band's old fans after their 2007 breakup.  Performed live, it by no means loses the energy and ferocity of a fast and furious thrash piece, dominated by crushing gallop riffs. Again, a heavier highlight from this set is the beautiful "Kingdom", showcasing Devin's trademark tendency to switch from powerful growls, to clean vocals verging on the operatic, and is performed on epic proportions. "Grace" takes off in a different direction all together, and is largely a symphonic metal track that evokes an enormous, living, breathing atmosphere of grandeur, that even reminds me of DIMMU BORGIR's "Death Cult Armageddon", and is yet again graced by Van Giersbergen. "Little Pig" is the perfect ending track for the concert, and is more or less an expression of philosophy through music and live theatrics, that ends on an inescapably happy note.

Not only one of the longest, but definitely one of the greatest, if not the greatest, live performances I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. As a die-hard metal-fan, I can say with certainty that music does not have to solely feature overdriven guitars, 230-BPM riffs, controversial lyrics and inaudible vocals to be worthy of gracing my ears. It does not matter what genre of music one listens to; this live album has something for everyone.

10 / 10


"The Retinal Circus" Track-listing:

1. Effervescent
2. True north
3. Lucky animals
4. Planet of the apes
5. Truth
6. War
7. Planet Smasher
8. Babysong
9. Vampolka
10. Vampira
11. Addicted
12. Colour Your World
13. The Greys
14. Hyperdrive! (acoustic)
15. Ih-Ah!
16. Where We Belong
17. Detox
18. Bend It Like Bender
19. Life
20. Kingdom
21. Juular
22. Love?
23. Wild Colonial Boy
24. Grace
25. Little Pig

Devin Townsend Project Lineup:

Devin Townsend - Vocals, Guitar, Synths, Ambience
Dave Young - Guitar, Keys, Mandolin
Ryan Van Poederooyen - Drums
Brian 'Beav' Waddell - Bass

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