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The Contortionist - Language CD (album) cover


The Contortionist


Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.85 | 38 ratings

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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.

Andy Webb | 4/5 |


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