We had a dual album review for The Contortionist's 2012 album, "Intrinsic", so it's only right we brought it back for their brand new effort, "Language"!
Bradley D's Review
Album of the year for me, without question. The progressive metal masterminds out of Indiana have gone away from their former sound, but in doing so have made something really spectacular. Now armed with Michael Lessard (Last Chance to Reason) on vocals, Jordan Ebherardt (Scale the Summit) on bass, and Eric Guenther (Daath) on keyboards; The Contortionist are ready to take over the world with their new album “Language” which came out through eOne/Goodfight records on September 16th, 2014.
The Contortionist started out with a sound that I would describe as “space-djent metalcore”. Their first album “Exoplanet” consisted of downtuned, off-time, guitar heavy breakdowns interspliced with slow melodic moments that have a sort of “spacey” vibe; all the while still incorporating virtuosic technicality in their instrumentation. In their next album, “Intrinsic”, they started to move towards a more progressive metal sound. They took some of the metalcore elements out of their music and leaned toward a more Between the Buried and Me/Dream Theater inspired sound; while still maintaining a spacy djent style. I, like a lot of others in the metal community, were fans of the heavier sound of “Exoplanet” and “Intrinsic”, yet the band has been a progressing toward a lighter direction in their sound. The Contortionist’s newest release “Language” is another step toward more of a progressive, atmospheric direction. This is a good example of the saying “sometimes less is more”. In this case, this new release, which I would argue is the least heavy album the band has ever put out, is their best written album from a musical standpoint to date.
The album kicks off with the track “The Source”. It begins with just vocal layering and then comes in with keyboards and acoustic guitars. The song sounds like it would be playing while you fly through the universe as a wave of free-flowing energy. It’s a beautiful song and serves as a good introduction for the album. It just has to be said how much Michael Lessard adds to this unit with his vocal ability, which is tastefully shown off in this song as well as the rest of the album. He does a sort of soft, trancey voice that is reminiscent to Imogen Heap. He also shows he can kick it into gear with a devastating scream and a higher, more powerful clean voice that is just butter to your ears.
Then we get into “Language I: Intuition”, which was the first single the band released for this album. It starts with a building atmospheric guitar and keyboard progression before kicking in with the entire band. The band does a good job maintaining a trancey vibe while changing up their style of instrumentation throughout the song. As the song ends the music starts building up, making you think that something big is coming. The next movement, “Language II: Conspire” is darker in comparison to the song before, and the entire album in general. The beat for this song has sort of a djazzy feel, (Djent-Jazzy. Yeah I said it) yet goes well with the off time chugging and melodic guitar that is also present in the track. Toward the end of the song, Lessard starts to use his vocal range a little more, which again, adds so much to the song.
The next two tracks “Integration” and “Thrive” really highlight a Dream Theater influence in this albums sound. I really enjoyed the vocal melody in the middle of “Integration” and then loved how toward the end of the song it got unexpectedly brutal. The guitar work for “Thrive” is just superb throughout. This song is also one of the songs in the album where Lessard just goes hard with his vocals, around the 2:24 mark, which is always welcome. The song then goes into a slow, atmospheric movement which then builds up with a galloping bass-line back into a guitar riff from earlier in the song. It’s a really fun progression to listen to.
The next song “Primordial Sound” straight up sounds like Animals As Leaders had a baby with Opeth, which isn’t a problem at all. They then go into “Arise” which has different moods throughout. It starts out groovy and chill, then it explodes into this heaviness, and finally it builds to an ending I could only describe as “trippy” and “epic”. I just have to say that from 3:40 and on, the song sounds like a Beatles acid trip.
The last two songs are for sure the most epic songs on the album. “Ebb & Flow” starts out with this sort of “fake out”. You think the rhythm is going to go in a certain way then it just changes into this mellowed out guitar riff. It then builds into a nice melodic part with a flowing guitar solo. After this we are treated to some juicy screaming over a little technical riffing. The song then spends a good amount of time building till the end. The ending however, is really melodic and epic. One of those moments where Lessard just pleasures your ear pussies with his voice. The final song, “The Parable” starts with ambient keyboards that sound like an underwater level in a video game. Then slowly, but surely the drum and bass kick in, followed by the rest of the instruments. The rest of the song is just building toward the grand, epic ending to the album, which contains some of the best vocal melodies and instrumentation in the album. The album then closes out with a speech by British philosopher Alan Watts which honestly gave me goosebumps.
In a world where it’s getting harder and harder to have a truly unique sound, The Contortionist have made an album that is interesting all the way through. The Contortionist sound like they have matured from a musical standpoint in this record. They’ve shown such range in this album; from ambient-esque movements to low end aggression. Some fans may be dismayed by the change of the bands sound in this new release, but I urge them to open their mind and embrace the progression of musicianship The Contortionist has undergone. You probably won’t enjoy album if you aren’t a fan of progressive music or atmospheric metal, but I say give it a shot anyway. You might be surprised.
Chris Kemp's Review
Being the huge fan of Prog Metal that I am, The Contortionist have always been a band I like to follow. To me, they really are true pioneers of the genre for the very simple fact that they keep things sounding very fresh. They don’t try to sound like anyone else and this has really worked for them, especially with their latest release “Language”.
After hearing that The Contortionist we’re releasing a new album, I was really expecting an “Intrinsic II” in terms of the sound and style of the album. Especially considering how well that sound did and how well received it was. But after getting my hands on a copy of “Language” and listening to it through for the first time, it really blew me away with just how different these new tracks sounded and the different approach to song writing they have taken with “Language”.
In the 2 years between “Exoplanet” and “Intrinsic” the band progressed musically a hell of a lot and now again in the last 2 years since the release of “Intrinsic”, they have done it again. But in such a way that really takes them from being a band that shows they have the chops to make it in the progressive scene to a band that are really starting to lead the way for an entire genre. The opener of the album “The Source” really gets you into the right frame of mind and sets the tone for the rest of the album as it has certain themes in the melodies and chord progressions that can be heard all the way through the album which make it a real Overture for the listener. The track flows really well into the rest of the album, which continues the ambient feel and tones heard from the beginning.
“Language I – Intuition” and “Language II – Conspire”, which I will refer to as “L1” and “L2 respectively, are the real foundations for this album and truly show the listener what The Contortionist are about musically and artistically. L1 begins with a beautiful clean guitar part that continues on from the opening track flawlessly and after the other instruments are slowly added in bit by bit, builds up to this incredible groove that really gets me bobbing my head. Mike Lessard's voice comes in perfectly with the music fitting perfectly with the timbres of all the other instruments and tonality of it all but L2 is really where he proves himself as the new vocalist of The Contortionist. His harsher vocals are typical of most death metal vocalists but sound like they’ve been trained and perfected over a long period of time and not just thrown on the tracks for the sake of trying to make it sound heavy. They’ve clearly been thought about very carefully. He then brings back his clean vocals in L2 and his melodies are pulled off impeccably and with incredible finesse and technique. The ways I’m describing his singing for this record are words I’d normally associate with fancy theater shows, fancy dinner parties or even the Ballet! What I’m trying to say is, basically, he has a voice that can sound all nice and fancy and maybe even lull you to sleep every once in a while but he also has the grit and aggression in there to really pull of the high screams and deep lows for the heavier sections of the album.
“Integration”, the 4th track on “Language”, includes some of these awesome 80’s horror movie sounding synth parts which underlie some really heavy prog riffs to create a really epic and grand piece of music. I believe it’s this song that really shows off the full quality of the actual production of the album as well, proving that going to Jamie King at The Basement Recording Studio paid off big time. Everything sounds so clear and natural that the albums production really adds to the whole feel and sound of the album.
Moving on a fair bit towards the second to last track and longest song on the album at 7 minutes, 7 seconds, “Ebb & Flow” is a true masterpiece and by far my favorite song on the album, “Integration” being a close second. The huge introduction on this track is so well written and again proves that they really have upped their song writing game for this record. I really didn’t know what direction the song was going in but it had me hooked on every note and beat until finally it goes into something that sounds like a recall to songs and ideas from 2010’s “Exoplanet” but with this contemporary, mature sound that The Contortionist have newly forged with this release. We eventually find ourselves back into a super ambient chord section that is somehow eerie and bizarre but at the same time also this wonderful journey further into the track. It continues drifting from eerie to beautiful, back to strange then returning to grace until the track ends with an incredible vocal harmony that really tops the song off superbly.
The over all musicianship of the album is really outstanding and the chaps in The Contortionist have really pushed themselves not just in terms of technicality but also in ways of song writing skills and learning to strip the sound down to what it needs to be instead of needlessly having all the flashy shred parts and unnecessary breakdowns/heavy parts for the sake of it. It’s interesting to see just how far the founding members and brothers Joey and Robby Baca have come as musicians and as people, alongside the other “OG” Cameron Maynard. I feel they have really matured with this release and have found a sound that will take them very far, not just within the Prog metal scene but in all things artistic and entertaining.