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The Contortionist - Language CD (album) cover


The Contortionist


Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.84 | 36 ratings

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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:

Gallifrey | 2/5 |


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