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Album Review: DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT Retinal Circus

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On October 27, 2012 Devin Townsend – more specifically the Devin Townsend Project – performed a concert that was to be the most encompassing, career-spanning show of Townsend’s career. The result was a massive production that featured a choir, circus performers, puppets, a giant vagina, and special guests.

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Finally, after nearly a year of poking at the recordings Retinal Circus is being released on BluRay, DVD, and CD.

Fans have probably watched the bootleg recordings of Retinal Circus live stream on YouTube by now, and have found the audio was just atrocious. Devin agreed, so it was so refreshing to hear the CDs had his trademark massive sound production.

Those who are looking for a raw, full live experience may need to look elsewhere. Townsend and his band are an amazing group, but the backing tracks may seem a little too up in the mix for some. Also, there may be some pitch correction here and there. Mind you, this is nowhere near a false live experience, just Townsend putting on his usual layer of “turd polish,” as he describes it.

Ok. Criticism is over, now is the time to be a fanboy.

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Anyone who has seen the Devin Townsend Project knows the standards to expect at his shows, and they are all here. You’ll finally have amazing sounding live versions of “Truth,” “Vampira,” and more recent Epicloud tracks like “Lucky Animals” and “Grace.”  So for casual listeners these should be treats, but for the rabid fan base there are finally live versions of stuff from Ziltoid The Omniscient like “Color Your World,” “The Greys,” and an acoustic version of “Hyperdrive.”

There is an added appeal to the CD version over the DVD or BluRay version of the concert in that, while Steve Vai’s narration of the story of the show is pretty humorous, his interjections are edited down. This is likely just for the time constraints of a compact disc, but if you’re listening to these CDs in your car, do you really want a lengthy intro for every song? Probably not.

Retinal Circus had a fair share of guests to the Project. The most prominent was frequent collaborator Anneke Van Giersbergen. Not only did she appear on the DTP songs (“Addicted!,” “Ih-Ah!,” “True North,” etc.) she was present in the studio for, but she also provided vocals to the mostly instrumental “Truth” and even sang lead vocals on non-DTP tracks like “Babysong,” “Planet Smasher,” and the “War” outro “Soul Driven”, and she does so amazingly. That was my one gripe with the Addicted performance on By A Thread. Anneke’s voice was buried in the mix by her own backing vocals. The Retinal Circus does her absolute justice.

While Anneke was the most featured special guest, the most noteworthy was, of course, Jed Simon. He is only on a few songs, but two of those two songs are monsters. “Detox” and “Love?” are the only two Strapping Young Lad songs in the performance, and it makes complete sense for them to be. These are two songs that were nearly ruined by the bootleg’s audio, that were completely redeemed by the proper album’s turd polish. The first time I ever heard “Love?” was seeing SYL in person and it gave me chills, the recording from The Retinal Circus was like hearing it for the first time again.1275130_665694636789195_580395765_o

Anyone who is a fan of anything Devin Townsend should totally pick up Retinal Circus in some form, whether it be the CD – like I’m currently spinning – or any of the video packages, which are yet to have a North American release date.

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It should be said that it isn’t a complete career spanning set, though. There are some albums left off for the sake of the story in the performance, but they aren’t terribly missed. Perhaps they’ll be included in some future live event. Because, we know Devy loves events, so it isn’t completely insane to hope.

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