The Contortionist are one of many bands in the progressive metal realm that just refuses to stand still. Once a band admired for their intelligent and atmospheric twist on the brutal groove of the deathcore sound that would otherwise beg for ignorant hate-mosh, they’ve since reached for the clouds and shifted towards more psychedelics a la Cynic. Intrinsic was pretty far-removed from the groundbreaking debut Exoplanet. The breakdowns that occupied so much playtime were largely eschewed in favor of post-rock and prog leanings; low-end technical riffing was traded in for jazzy chords and guitar virtuosity. Many of the instrumental sections across Intrinsic brought to mind a modernized interpretation of progressive rock bands like Rush, and it all worked in context as a separate entity apart from the band’s celebrated debut as an unavoidable stylistic evolution. Exoplanet and Intrinsic both embodied the idea of space in completely different ways. Following in step, Language continues the evolutionary journey through the stratosphere in favor of high-concept, cinematic prog.
Unfortunately for Language, The Contortionist kept their head in the clouds for so long they forgot to keep most of the songs grounded with hooks and a balanced structure. This is no doubt an ambitious record, perhaps even moreso than Intrinsic. Language even contains the best vocal work of any of the group’s records so far thanks to moments of impassioned beauty through ‘The Source‘, the duo of title tracks, and the finale ‘The Parable’, but even newcomer Michael Lessard’s pipes of gold can’t breathe life into chord progressions that often don’t bloom into something catchy. The concept, production, and talent are all there in abundance, but Language seems like fashion-over-form in practice.
Don’t be mistaken; Language has moments of beauty and absolute wonder, particularly in the climactic ‘Language II: Conspire.’ The band experiments with the use of acoustic tones for the Sigur Ros inspired ‘The Source‘ and during the thematic reprisal in the aforementioned highlights, which is a phenomenal sound worth exploring against the band’s continued use of lush keyboards. Really, The Contortionist thrives when they’ve been granted the right melodies and chord progressions, but more often than not, the songs end up not resonating as deeply as they’d like to. Language meanders through the beautiful soundscapes and mind-bending artistry without a sense of purpose or closure; simply reveling in itself in time and space with flash-pan elegance without reaching climax and resolve.
Further, part of what made The Contortionist tick is the dynamic between the devastating and the beautiful. The near-barbaric nature of the colossal grooves in Exoplanet served as the reciprocal to impassioned and inspired stargazing. The band adequately applied the Yin/Yang philosophy to songwriting in order to magnify the significance of both aspects of their sound. The balance has been tipped in favor of psychedelic-tinged prog rock a la Cynic’s Kindly Bent to Free Us, which was incidentally not that well received. The band’s deathcore roots do show sporadically — the first half of ‘Language II’ features bass drops and head-bobbing grooves while ‘Arise‘ cleverly tosses back and forth between Scale The Summit-esque instrumentation and surprisingly infectious riffing — but Language is by design a departure for the group, and it makes perfect sense why the band have continued to move forward.
Fortunately, Language is an album that is representative of its themes and grows and changes with each listen. The Contortionist may have shifted in tone and headspace, but there’s no shortage of replay value. With each passing listen, Language presents itself in a new light, and the lush compositions do yield new findings in their many layers and intertwining rhythms and melodies. Despite the heartfelt concept and thoughtful composition though, Language has difficulty resonating with listeners on an emotional level across its entirety, and as such, falls just short of the high bar they’ve set for themselves.
The Contortionist – Language gets…