October 6, 2013

Review: The Devin Townsend Project-The Retinal Circus

The Retinal Circus is a musical masterpiece.  It is unlike anything that I have ever experienced before, and the experience is nothing short of incredible.  It is roughly two hours of some of the most wild, interesting, and entertaining pieces of music of the year and probably the decade. 

With twenty years of experience, Devin Townsend is no stranger to the music world, who made a name for himself as the founder and head of the metal band Strapping Young Lad.  He has also had quite the solo career, releasing eight albums, the last being in 2007.  After taking some time off, he returned in 2009 with The Devin Townsend Project. Lead by Devin Townsend (vocals, guitar, synths and ambience), the rest of the band comprises of Dave Young (guitar, keys, mandolin), Ryan Van Poederooyen (drums), and Brian 'Beav' Waddell (bass). Also, Anneke van Giersbergen (vocals) appears throughout the album and Steve Vai provides narration.

The Retinal Circus is “a story about a young man who goes to sleep and through characters dreams and the emotional metaphors that climax into the realization that life is all about relationships.” And “Effervescent!/True North” is the first step on this amazing journey of realization.  It is one part choir song, part hard rock, and one hundred percent breathtaking. The first time I heard this I was stunned and excited for what the rest of the album would bring. 

“Lucky Animals” introduces the first characters, the animals, as they evolve.  It is absolutely hypnotic and grand in a theatrical sort of way, as one would expect from an album with the word “circus” in its title. The deep, thundering voice of Townsend contrasts nicely with the soothing voice of van Giersbergen.  The evolution continues on the dark and gritty “Planet of the Apes.” Townsend’s growling voice brings a brutal quality to the song, but he shows a softer side during the second part.  His vocal range here is impressive and worth the price of admission alone. Linked songs such as these two are something that pops up throughout the album.  The next two “Truth” and “War” are about the awakening of mankind and its thirst for violence.

Steering into the science fiction inspired part of the dream is “Planet Smasher,” a song with an immense presence. The atmosphere is dark, yet humorous, making for a memorial song as we are introduced to the character Ziltoid. Townsend does a great job providing the voice of this powerful being. “Vampolka” has Steve Vai narrating over music, which does not quite work without the visual aspect because it sounds as if something is happening on stage that obviously cannot be seen, so a corresponding video is needed for the full effect. It is a very minor glitch as “Vampira” keeps the dark and adventurous ride going in full force.

 After an intermission, “Hyperdrive” is a soothing song that eases the listeners back into the circus with a slightly seductive atmosphere as the dreaming character comes back to Earth.  In the same tradition as the previous, “Ih-Ah!” is a beautiful song with light and uplifting music backed by poignant lyrics.  Do not worry about The Retinal Circus getting sappy or anything, because “Detox” gets the music back to a heavy, crushing sound that is kept going with the likes of “Kingdom” and “Juular.”  The latter has a haunted house spirit with its dark and haunting atmosphere. “Grace” is the highlight of the second part.  Its brilliance shines like a falling star and has a unique transcendental quality that is sure to get under the skin.

The Retinal Circus is my pick for best album of the year. The year is not over yet, but I am confident that this view will stand.  A product such as this does not come along often and is always hard to top.  Devin Townsend is a musical genius and is someone that anyone interested in music should familiarize themselves with.  The Retinal Circus is an experience that everyone should take at least once.


Key Tracks: ALL

Brian McKinnon – Sr. MuzikReviews.com Staff

October 6, 2013


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