Over the years I have been lucky enough to hear most of what this mad Canadian has released, and what I have learned to expect is actually not to expect anything but just go along for the ride. His mind obviously works on a totally different plane to the rest of us, and the only person I have ever compared him to is Phil Spector, as here is yet another genius who creates a wall of sound all of his own making. So when I heard that there was going to be a double CD (plus associated blue-ray and DVD versions) released of his ‘musical’ I knew that I was going to be in for a treat. The word ‘musical’ is in inverted commas, as there is no real storyline and to be honest it is just a whole load of songs put together from different periods (including the mighty Strapping Young Lad) that gave him excuse to put together a stage show quite different from anything he had undertaken previously.
Devin actually admits as much during the performance, but he takes it all to a new level with the use of loads of guests outside of the core band, but not all of these are musical. And it is this that is so frustrating with this album for me, and the clue is right there in the title of this. ‘Retinal’ is an adjective pertaining to the word ‘retina’, which is a delicate, multilayered, light-sensitive membrane lining the inner eyeball and connected by the optic nerve to the brain. All the time I am playing this I keep feeling that I am missing out on something visually, so I went onto YouTube and checked out the official video for “Grace”. Some time later I managed to get my jaw back into place from where it had dislocated while I sat there open mouthed not quite believing what I was seeing. As well as a top metal band, he has brought Anneke van Giersbergen back, and although I can hear that on the CD, I wasn’t able to see the video of Steve Vai providing the verbal introduction, the double jointed acrobats on stage, the gospel choir, the guys with angle grinders shooting sparks over the stage and so very much more.
I went back to the CD feeling a little disappointed, but to be honest I soon got over it as I put “Planet Smasher” on at speaker damaging volumes (I’ve always been a sucker for Ziltoid). Once I had accepted that there was more to it than I could hear I instead concentrated on just the music instead of what I might be missing, and what we have here is an aural feast. Anneke has a wonderful voice, and relishes playing the part of being the light against all of the shade. This music is really heavy, very bottom end, and she plays a huge part in making it sound complete.
What we have here are 25 songs, more than 2 hours in length, and a show that must have created huge waves when it was performed last year. This is a masterpiece, and I am sure that the full blu-ray (which I have yet to buy, but is now definitely on my list) is stunning. Somehow, even though I feel that part of it is missing, I can’t bring myself to score this any less than 5 *’s, as it truly is one of the most remarkable live albums I have ever come across.