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Devin Townsend Project - "Retinal Circus" (Blu-ray)

Devin Townsend Project - "Retinal Circus" Blu-ray cover image

"Retinal Circus" track listing:

1. Effervescent/True North
2. Lucky Animals
3. Planet of the Apes
4. Truth
5. War
6. Soul Driven
7. Planet Smasher
8. Babysong
9. Vampolka
10. Vampira
11. Addicted!
12. Color Your World
13. The Greys
14. Hyperdrive
15. Ih-Ah!
16. Where We Belong
17. Detox
18. Bend it Like Bender!
19. Life
20. Kingdom
21. Juular
22. Love?
23. Colonial Boy
24. Grace
25. Little Pig

Reviewed by on December 10, 2013

"Narrated by fellow guitar giant (now giant talking head behind the band on stage) Steve Vai, Devin is able to tie together thematically-unrelated songs from every major band or project that he's headed up into a ridiculously grand stage production..."

Heavy metal's most esteemed madman, Devin Townsend, has unleashed yet another gigantic wave of weirdness, whiplash, and wonder upon the earth in the form of a recorded live concert. Having just came down from the gigantic undertaking of releasing a recording of four shows where he and his band played the quadrilogy of albums ("Ki," "Addicted," "Deconstruction," and "Ghost") from start to finish, this release seemed particularly gargantuan.

For this aptly titled "Retinal Circus," Devin's aim was to take everyone on a journey through his entire musical career in the form of a musical of sorts. Narrated by fellow guitar giant (now giant talking head behind the band on stage) Steve Vai, Devin is able to tie together thematically-unrelated songs from every major band or project that he's headed up into a ridiculously grand stage production so crazy that it has to be seen to be believed.

The storyline of this stage production is shaky at best, but it didn't need to be coherent -- Devin even acknowledges this by telling the audience outright that he knows how weird it is, calling it "dragging a metaphor." Songs from all of the fan-favorite records are represented in the show except for "Ki" and "Ghost," drawing from the recent "Epicloud," "Deconstruction," "Infinity," "Ziltoid The Omniscient," "Synchestra," "Addicted," "Ocean Machine: Biomech," "Physicist," "Epiclouder," and even Strapping Young Lad's "City" and "Alien." Quite simply, it's an absurd convergence that didn't seem possible to string together. As Devin sings, "It's beautiful -- because it really fucking is!" Part of that reason is the fantastic camerawork and quality, which was lacking on his previous productions.

Devin's cast members are monsters at what they do, from the band to the stage actors and live choir. Expect to see pyrotechnics, people in monkey outfits, a big Ziltoid baby, a big vagina through which actors appear, Mrs. Ziltoid (who is presumably even more omniscient), hot female dancers, acrobats doing tricks at least 30 feet off the ground, aliens, and guest appearances by Jed Simon of Strapping Young Lad (who is so moved that he cries on camera!) and vocalists Anneke Van Giersbergen and Dom Lawson. Drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen is especially noteworthy, as he plays with equal bits dexterity and nuance as he takes on both songs that were meant for a drum machine and songs that were meant for the human drum machine (aka Dirk Verbeuren).

The concert takes place in a venue still buzzing with the ghosts of concerts past, the legendary Roundhouse in London. Even more noteworthy are the extra goodies included with the deluxe box set (limited to 2500 copies), which you can see Devin Townsend unboxing here, put together with love and a whole lot of money, most of which was personally put up by Devin himself. One truly remarkable thing about this release is the making-of documentary that comes with it, where Devin's cast mentions that there will be other "bigger" things to come. Let that sink in -- BIGGER things than releasing a quadrilogy of themed albums, releasing a quadrilogy of live shows performing those albums in their entirety, and even bigger things than putting together and releasing a 15-year retrospective stage-show/concert and subsequent live recording.

Long live heavy Devy and team, the overlords of going overboard!

Highs: Playing such a show and successfully releasing the recording of it is about on par with climbing Mt. Everest in scope.

Lows: Devin's material has always alienated folks who aren't self-aware and who don't laugh at themselves. The tradition continues here.

Bottom line: One of the most impressive career-spanning live show recordings ever released in the history of heavy metal.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)