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Tech/Extreme Prog Metal • United States

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The Contortionist biography
THE CONTORTIONIST is a US (Indianapolis, Indiana) progressive Deathcore act formed in 2007. The band released a couple of EPs before releasing their debut full-length studio album "Exoplanet" in 2010.

( Biography written by UMUR)

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Metal/Entertainment One 2014
Audio CD$8.11
$7.40 (used)
Language by Entertainment One Music/ENT. ONE MUSICLanguage by Entertainment One Music/ENT. ONE MUSIC
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3.57 | 20 ratings
3.63 | 18 ratings
3.63 | 23 ratings

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1.00 | 2 ratings
3.14 | 3 ratings


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Exoplanet by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.57 | 20 ratings

The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Wicket
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Djent. As quickly as it entered the "metallisphere" (as I call it) with the rise of Meshuggah, people quickly realized that it's super boring and repetitive. But hey, at least the guitars sound cool? Does that count as progress?

Perhaps, but immediately djent focused bands had to refine their approach, and realized that they could alternate the signature "djent" power chords with more subtle guitar approaches, mix in some ambiance and clarity, and The Contortionist was one of the first to really break that mold and become of the first to rapidly gain attention in a more progressive metalcore environment.

And this album doesn't start off too bad. There's plenty of brutality for the heavy-set, but also a fair bit of singing as well as the contrasting "softer spots". Compared to their future albums, though, this album features the most screaming. Therefore, it may seem contradictory that this, their heaviest disc, might also be the most progressive? Hmm, not quite.

Personally, I like their second effort, "Intrinsic", most of all out their catalog so far. It's a pleasant enough balance between both heavy and soft, singing and screaming, hot vs cold tendencies. While "Exoplanet" is far from brilliant, it is fairly self explanatory in educating the un-educated on just what to expect when listening to this band.

Well to sum it up, it's essentially a brutal disc, occasionally behaving in a very rigid, almost technical way, before the occasional break in the sky and a sweet lull of singing and ambient guitar plucks save you from certain face-smashed doom. Beyond that descriptor, there's not really much more to say about this album (and quite honestly, this band).

I mean, if it's something you'd into from day one, congratulations, you might enjoy it. I still find (especially this disc) to be difficult to get into. The later two albums are more accessible, granted, but "Language" I think feels a bit lifeless, not in complete sell out mode, but almost in complete shut-down mode, and frankly, trying to explain this shift in their sound (so quickly, I might add, just a span of 4 years) is impossible even for me right now.

If you favor the brutal side, this is your album. If not, try "Intrinsic". If, however, you desire a more progressive metallic sound, but you want it to be very friendly and predictable, but also balance heavy and soft, then Skyharbor's "Guiding Lights" is for you (I've been stuck on them for weeks now). With radio friendly choruses but unconventional song structures, it shines where "Languages" tries, but in my opinion, fails.

 Intrinsic by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Studio Album, 2012
3.63 | 18 ratings

The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Insin

3 stars The Contortionist's first album, Exoplanet, is strongly based in djent and deathcore, and their third album, Language, is full of melodic, soft passages with the occasional heavy interlude. Intrinsic is a logical bridge between the two, less founded in deathcore (and metal in general), with gentle, sugary parts balanced nicely with the heavy, and perhaps even dominating. The closest match to this band's sound would have to be Cynic, considering the band's roots in metal and their tendency to float into completely unaggressive, soft parts. (The Contortionist doesn't excessively use robot/vocoder vocals, so that automatically puts them above Cynic in my opinion.)

The juxtaposition of soft and heavy parts is generally done well, transitions between the two flowing rather than sudden. The melding of these portions is a good effect, useful in bringing Intrinsic more variation and a more progressive sound, but the interplay between the parts seems lacking, like it could have been done better. The parts don't sound like they have much relation to each other and they don't do a good job of moving the song anywhere. After a heavy part occupied by harsh vocals, The Contortionist returns to sugary singing and warm guitars as if it never happened. Since the band's transitions themselves aren't inherently worthwhile (you won't be left thinking "wow, that was cool"), there should be some kind of purpose to the part that is transitioned into. The interplay makes it Intrinsic a more entertaining and progressive listen, but in the end it doesn't really affect how the song moves along, the soft and hard only serving to contrast each other. It doesn't leave the listener wondering what is going to happen next? all of the songs sound very similar to each other anyway.

While the each song as a whole flows but seems as though it is not constructed with the larger musical idea in mind, the individual parts are not bad, though the album's major flaw is that it would be much better if the riffs and instrumentation were more memorable (as an example, I am a sucker for keyboards, but these ones did nothing for me). The clean singing that helps mark the soft passages isn't great, as it is completely emotionless and unaggressive. It resembles the whiny emo vocals so often used in metalcore, but it's not an exact fit. There's a slight spacey, futuristic feel to the music, especially demonstrated and emphasized by the lyrics, and The Contortionist has mostly abandoned breakdowns? mostly.

Given this step away from deathcore and a smooth but still somewhat ineffective incorporation of soft passages into metal roots, Intrinsic is a fairly decent album in a small niche of prog occupied by bands like Cynic. The Contortionist has an interesting sound, though it is one that could be executed better and probably has. Intrinsic is more progressive and an improvement from their first album. The album following Intrinsic is even better, and hopefully this band will continue to improve because they have the potential to make some great prog. Baby steps, guys.

 Language by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.63 | 23 ratings

The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Andy Webb
Special Collaborator Retired Admin

4 stars The source of a prog metal era

The Contortionist is one of a slew of tech prog metal bands that came out in the mid-2000s as a solution to the believed lack of Meshuggah impersonators. It turns out that all along, no one really wanted a bunch of neu- Meshuggah bands, but nevertheless, dozens upon dozens of 'djent' bands as they were called emerged onto the scene. Some of these bands, such as Periphery and TesseracT, did good with the style and furthered the prog metal genre by taking after Meshuggah's signature sound. Many (many) other bands, however, such as Volumes, Monuments, and others, simply made a mockery of themselves by producing immature, flat music that never wavered in style, timbre, or direction. For half a decade, these bands churned out album after album of this music, and eventually, the market for djent more or less closed.

The bands which understood djent had to be dynamic in order to be sustained, such as the aforementioned Periphery, TesseracT, and others, added new elements to their music, such as ambience, melody, and other styles to make it more interesting and sustainable. The Contortionist, which started originally based in deathcore djent more than anything else with their first album Exoplanet, picked up on this very quickly and more or less abandoned the djent sound with their second album Intrinsic in 2012. While they still had the heavy djenty sound on much of the album, it was clear the band was headed in a much more ambient and atmospheric sound culture than a djent one. Their music still contained elements of riffy djent and death metal, but after the addition of Mike Lessard on vocals, whose strength is in clean vocals rather than screams, the band's music lightened significantly.

With the release of Language in 2014, it was clear The Contortionist had made a stylistic shift. The band released the first part of the self-titled track as a single several months before the release of the album, and just from there, I knew I was hooked. The song is airy, gentle, and ambient in the beginning, with dreamy, almost psychedelic guitars that still maintain the almost robotic precision that was present in the technicality of their previous work. From there, the vocals come in, adding an even dreamier quality to the music. Mike's melodies are soft on this track, giving the song a remarkable flow (purposefully, I assume, as a motif of the album is the ebb and flow of life). The song builds and builds and builds, until it breaks into an absolutely infectious groove which, on the full album, leads perfectly in the clearly much heavier second part.

The entire album acts like this. It (again) ebbs and flows into periods of dreamy atmospheres and then into moments of progressive death metal that still has an ambient and dreamy feel to it. Never on the album do the moods seem over the top, however, and when it feels like they've gone too far with a heavy bit, they transition effortlessly into a softer passage.

The album, however, is not without flaws. At times the album can seem to lose direction, with a guitar riff seeming a little loopy or amelodious, very rarely does a passage sound out of place. Take the beginning of "Integration," for instance, where the entire intro is a steady buildup to a grooving riff-based song. Almost the entire first two minutes, however, has little to no melodic direction or structure. While the song is not bad in any way, it's just a little awkward to listen to, especially after the perfectly executed title track that plays before it. It isn't until almost halfway through the song does the track really gets going in terms of groove and syncopation. The lyrics at many points on the album seem half-baked at best. While it's understandable that they were written when the band was completely baked, at times they don't seem to make any sense at all.

Even with these few flaws, though, the entire album is blissful to listen to. For a primarily death metal based band, the band knows how to perfectly balance their more atmospheric passages with their heavier ones to make an absolutely heavenly listening experience. The mix doesn't make any one element overpowering or underappreciated, so on a nice stereo system, the entire experience is enveloping and pleasant. The warm guitar tones used throughout the album blend nicely and give the entire album a great tone, and Mike's vocal melodies round out the band's sound very nicely. Overall, the album shows a remarkable evolution for a band that was originally almost exclusively a deathcore band, and it shows just what can truly be done with the prog metal genre. 4+ stars.

 Language by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.63 | 23 ratings

The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Gallifrey

2 stars Djent is dying.

Thank. God.

Even if I can't fully say I enjoy the Contortionist's Language as a musical entity, I certainly enjoy what it and Altered State and Guiding Lights represent as a new stage in progressive metal. Over the last few years djent has risen up and flooded the prog scene, even though the prog badge it claimed so boldly to have was always up for debate from the progheads of old. But let's face it - was djent really ever a progressive movement? The fans sure like to claim it is to collect their precious 'cred', but everyone else in the world saw it for what it was, a (slightly better) continuation of the "scene" movement of the mid-2000's, complete with a new, equally ridiculous fashion style, generic, heavy, shinily polished and oh so formulaic music, and filled to the brim with 15-year-olds. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on it (completely), I'm just trying to describe it as what it is. No matter how many times the djentkids would explain to you that "IT DOESN'T HAVE BREAKDOWNS IT'S NOT METALCORE" or "DUDE THOSE POLYRHYTHMS ARE SO PROG", the truth was simply there in how plain awful the music was - it was metalcore. (or if it wasn't metalcore, it was 350-note-per-second ""jazz-influenced"" hyper-technical wankery, but I won't touch on that right now)

But like with any teenage-oriented phenomenon, what we get, after a few years of trash, is something remarkable, known as "growing up". Not only are the bands themselves getting tired of writing formulaic, amelodic trite, but the fans are growing up and growing out of childish, angsty music. No one wants to hear how fast you can play or how hard you can chug or how close you can get your tone to the sound of a duck being stabbed, they want to hear music with actual quality, actual compositions, and actual merit. And although Language is far from good, this is just another step to quality. Give them five years, and Skyharbor, TesseracT, The Contortionist, and even some non-djent bands like Chaos Divine and Existem, will be the next Porcupine Trees and Anathemas and Opeths.

The Contortionist were one of the djent bands who never really denied the fact that they were also metalcore, and while that gets some respect for me for embracing it rather than hiding behind a barrier of "m..muh polyrhythms" like so many bands in this area, it didn't exactly make their music good. Both Intrinsic and Exoplanet were embarrassing abominations of messy riffs, disgusting metalcore vocals, br00tal riffs and chug-core breakdowns. Sure, every few minutes they'd break into a post-rock interlude that sounded like glorious brilliance when compared to what was around it, but if you isolated those short, nice sections and played them alone, you realise that they're not too hot, either. And that's basically what we have here, with Language. A 49-minute long, clean-sung post-rock interlude. The roles have been flipped, and we have pretty much all sugary tones and clean vocals, with the heavy, metalcore chugfests being used as interludes as the clean parts were on the previous albums. And sometimes, not very often, The Contortionist hit stuff that shows potential.

People have been comparing this album a bit to Cynic's rather legendary comeback album, Traced in Air, and album that I admire and respect, but can't quite enjoy fully. Cynic's vocoder and electronic-heavy style of clean singing and angular riffing has certainly been an inspiration to the non-metalcore side of djent since the beginning, but it always seemed that above the bands' aims to create melodically and harmonically interesting music to contrast the chugging and screaming, their aims to make their atmosphere as lifeless and cheap-sounding as possible always got in the way. There is a sheen over this album; a glittering, shining envelope of sparkling synths and dreamy ambience that all sounds like it was recorded on a casio in someone's basement. It's been a problem for a while, really ever since Uneven Structure popularised it on Februus, the ambience and atmosphere created by the keyboardist has to sound as slick and cheap as possible, with no exceptions. Listen to the opening of "Integration" (bonus shoutout to the ridiculously stupid song titles on this album), and ignore the guitars playing random notes - that for sure is just the sugariest synth setting on the cheapest keyboard you can buy, how did anyone ever think it was a good idea to actually put that on an album? In concept, the ambience that so band of these bands aim for is a great idea, adding melody to an often amelodic genre, but it is always done in such an average way that, in combination with the reverb on the clean vocals and guitars, just ends up as a muddy soup of dreamy sounds that never mesh with each other in any way.

So what does this album have going for it, aside from the "not being terrible" part? Well, even if the way they are presented is weak and soggy, the melodies here are very pretty and often quite good. Sure, every time he sings it feels like he's whispering meaningless new age-isms with absolutely no correlation to the rest of the music, but he regularly hits some dreamy and sweet melodies, particularly during the rather not-awful "Primordial Sound". This song really feels like something Devin Townsend could put as a softer section, and although there is plenty wrong with the drum tones and vocal delivery and guitar tones and everything else, the song's core melodies and progressions are actually alright. Apart from that, I guess the clean guitars get some nice runs every now and then, but the star of this is really the vocalist, whenever he starts singing as opposed to whispering.

But above everything, the biggest problem with this album is how poorly everything meshes together. It's like there was absolutely no mixing on this at all - the keyboards are there and the vocals are here being all dreamy, then the guitars are off over the side playing awkward chords in some unrelated time signature, and the drums are on the other side trying to be complex and stuff. And when the band needs to go heavy, they do it in such a weak and unremarkable way with guitars never locking into any form of groove, just playing aimless and unrelated notes. Listen to the intro of "Language II: Conspire" and tell me that isn't one of the most embarrassing attempts at playing a guitar you have ever heard. And these heavy sections are made even worse by the gross harsh vocals and the fact that the bloody keyboards are still playing off the side, as if nothing happened. There is absolutely no relation between the parts on this record, it just sounds like an ocean of wimpy, slightly damp porridge. As much as I want to love this album, everything about it is done so poorly and shoved together so haphazardly that I'm having trouble defending it even to myself.

The Contortionist are certainly on the right direction, but they have a way to go. The idea behind this album is good in concept, but the timbres, production and delivery are so weak and poorly executed that it really doesn't make good listening, despite the fact that this is literally gold compared to their first two albums. It might take them some time to get up to where their new contemporaries Skyharbor and Tesseract are up to, but I think they can get there. Don't give up now, little recovering djentcore band, you can make good music soon.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

 Shapeshifter by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2008
1.00 | 2 ratings

The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

1 stars 'Shapeshifter' - The Contortionist (2/10)

First, let's give this thing some context. In 2010, progressive metal band The Contortionist released 'Exoplanet', a great album that showcased the talent of this young act quite nicely. A year before that, The Contortionist released 'Apparition', an EP that definitely suffered from a few issues, but still came across as an inventive and interesting piece of music. It therefore comes as a huge surprise to hear The Contortionist playing something that is so bad. Before they developed into a technical progressive metal act it seems, The Contortionist were dead set on a cringeworthy brand of deathcore; heavy on breakdowns and gutturals, and light on intelligence or tact. In fact, 'Shapeshifter' is one of the worst things I have heard in quite a long time, made especially surprising due to the fact that while most of the bad things I hear are from bands I have low expectations for, The Contortionist is a band that I have come to really respect.

It doesn't take long to realize something is missing from The Contortionist's sound. Even if I had gone to listening to the band without having the great precedent of their more recent proggy material to disappoint me further, 'Shapeshifter' would still come off as the primordial adolescent ooze that it is; a group of kids that prove they can play for a few seconds of each song with a neat solo or technical riff, than throw it all away for another reprise of deathcore's favourite trait; the infamous breakdown. A piece of deathcore canon that may give the kiddies all the reason in the world to nod their heads but makes me shake mine, the breakdown is featured profusely here, and the vocals are only as terrible as I could imagine them to be. An immature howl or grunt is an atrocious performance, and takes the band from being boring to being downright unpleasant to listen to.

The last track here 'Nonmanual Dexterity' does feature a little more going on in it than the rest of the garbage here, but that is not to say it is good, it is to say that theres a moment or two here that show promise. A post-rock section is featured here, and it starts getting quite powerful, but it gets ultimately brought down by some nasty clean vocals that really show the vocalist's immaturity as a musician at this point. Luckily, this one section would get salvaged and reworked on later releases, and here, it is the only part of 'Shapeshifter' that does not reek of piss.

The Contortionist really gets off to a rough start with 'Shapeshifter', and its quite astounding how they were able to tweak and improve their sound so much in the space of a year before 'Apparition'. With this though, I would be inclined to say that this is one of the worst EPs I have heard in months, and perhaps ever. Awful, and were it not for a moment of promise towards the end of the EP, this would be a complete and utter throwaway entirely. Pathetic.

 Apparition by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2009
3.14 | 3 ratings

The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 'Apparition' - The Contortionist (6/10)

Before the release of their excellent full-length 'Exoplanet', The Contortionist laid down a very solid foundation for their sound with this self-release. Having been introduced to this American progressive deathcore act through their debut, I have had high expectations for all of their other material, but at the same time, it is difficult not to compare this EP (and 'Shapeshifter') with the debut, which is significantly more developed and refined than the sound here. 'Apparition' is certainly a strong statement for this band though, especially considering it was released while they were still an underground group. While the band's progressive elements are firmly intact here, a little too much of the rather lame deathcore sound is still present, which can make The Contortionist's sound a big of a mixed result.

Even upon first listen, I noticed that many of the musical ideas were sounding familiar, and indeed they are; The Contortionist would later go on to recycle many of these ideas for their more mass-distributed full0length, and luckily, it's the best parts of 'Apparition' that make the cut, as opposed to the weak elements, of which there are a few to mention here. The Contortionist plays a technical style of metal that then alternates between heavier deathcore moments and lighter post-rock sections. The Contortionist can certainly hold their own when it comes to metal; their riffs are fairly standard when it comes to technical death metal, but enjoyable nonetheless. The more simplistic deathcore breakdowns are inherently mediocre and lacking in much interest, but the lighter moments of The Contortionist do tend to set them apart. It is a very nice feeling to hear a band go from chaotic technicality to something very beautiful and effective in its simplicity. The sense of melody is also quite strong in these parts.

'Apparition' does tend to feature a little too much of the adolescent deathcore elements than I might be comfortable with, and while they do tend to make me cringe towards the most generic of the breakdowns here, the rest of the sound that The Contortionist has to offer does make the trade worth it. Many of the best ideas here would go on to be further developed with 'Exoplanet' though, so in hindsight, 'Apparition' can feel a little obsolete. Be that as it may, the EP is fairly strong, and indicative of the potential that they would later grasp with the debut.

 Exoplanet by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Studio Album, 2010
3.57 | 20 ratings

The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 'Exoplanet' - The Contortionist (8/10)

Metal has always been a type of music where a little bending of the rules is encouraged, and with that in mind, many talented young acts have been taking advantage of the style to express themselves in new heavy ways. Enter The Contortionist, a five piece progressive metal act that carries that somewhat stigmatic label of 'deathcore' around with them, but as one can hear on their debut full-length record 'Exoplanet', there is much more going on to them than the label implies. Contrasting claustrophobic technical death metal with wonderfully atmospheric jazz and post-rock moments, 'Exoplanet' is a futuristic dive into metal that showcases the skill of some promising young talent.

Many of the younger bands have been attracted to the breakdown-heavy and crushing sounds of deathcore, but to be entirely honest, few are able to pull off the sound with intelligence or taste. The Contortionist is certainly a heavy act by all accounts, but as virtually every track on this debut indicates, there is more going on to them than mere metal riffage. 'Primal Directive' and 'Flourish' both start out as fairly straightforward technical metal tracks, complete with blistering drums and guitars, and fairly generic growls. As the music goes on though, the band is common to shift into lighter, melodic sections. This is where the great strength of 'Exoplanet' lies; in the atmospheric beauty moments where they take it down a notch and contrast their typically heavy metal sound. This is not to say that the metal aspect of The Contortionist is not tight however, just not as unexpected. The Contortionist is very technically complex, and during the most technical moments of their fury, it is often very difficult to predict where the band will head next, even if the sound revolves around the same guitar tones over the course of the record.

The Contortionist does contrast the heavy and light moments throughout the record, and at times, this can start feeling a little formulaic. Luckily, the melodic moments are so atmospheric, and the heavy parts are technical enough to keep the whole thing interesting to the end. The closest comparison or evident influence to the band's sound would actually be to Cynic, and while that influence certainly does not show in the band's necessary breakdowns and tech riffs, it is clear in the melodic moments, particularly in the way that a vocorder is used over the clean vocals. Overall, this gives the band a fairly futuristic sound to them that works well with the sci-fi lyrical themes they cover.

An excellent first full-length from this band, and while I'm not finding myself endeared to every sound that the band has to offer, there are incredible parts here that must be heard by progressive metal listeners.

Thanks to bonnek for the artist addition.

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