01. The Source
02. Language I: Intuition
03. Language II: Conspire
06. Primordial Sound
08. Ebb & Flow
09. The Parable
2014 MNRK Music Group, Good Fight Music
Let me first confess that I've not previously spent time with any albums from Indiana progressive metal band The Contortionist. I'm obviously ill-equipped to quantify the transformations they've made since their 2010 debut, Exoplanet. What little I did know about The Contortionist led me to believe that this would be some sort of half-baked djent excursion, not exactly a thrilling notion to this writer. Thankfully, I was sorely mistaken.
Language kicks off with "The Source," a brief and mellow affair featuring unremarkable guitar picking, layered keyboards, and some pleasant vocal runs from singer Michael Lessard. Not a particularly rousing start, though its subtle appeal warrants the song a reprieve from the virtual rubbish heap universally reserved for worthless intro tracks. Much like this album, it grows on you.
The first portion of the next song, "Language I: Intuition," strongly resembles something from the final two albums of defunct band, Codeseven (not a bad thing). The guitars then begin to take over and The Contortionist seems to find their identity -- a well-balanced cocktail of skillful songwriting, diverse but focused vocals, admirable musicianship, progressive metal that lurks menacingly but rarely steps to the forefront, and the kind of moody ambiance that only keyboards can produce.
Of course with their vast array of musical weaponry, it's difficult for The Contortionist to perform for long without sometimes sounding like a few bands you know well. "Language I: Intuition" may remind some of Cynic, while the rock parts of "Language II: Conspire," and indeed much of the album, sound very reminiciscent of Coheed and Cambria. Additionally, its often mellifluous blend of prog rock and technical metal is clearly inspired by Between The Buried And Me, among others. These moments are fleeting, however, and never rise to the level of blatant imitation. Moreover, The Contortionist inject enough of their own personality into the LP to render cries of forgery moot. Besides, it's the quality songs that will inevitably motivate listeners to return to Language, not the band's ability to mimic BTBAM or anyone else.
The frantic bellows of vocalist Lessard that end "Language I: Intuition" give way to "Integration," an energetic combination of prog guitar riffs, sweeping melodies, and rhythmically complex metal. Notably, Language really hits its stride halfway through this song, when Lessard's haunting vocal melodies begin their reign. Strong, yet never overpowering and often deftly understated, his singing is bound to echo around your head hours after the music stops.
Knowingly placed at the album's midway point, "Thrive" is its crowning achievement, a captivating journey featuring smooth, yet memorable vocals interspersed with progressive guitar and double bass fireworks. Halfway through the song lies a brief respite, a moving section featuring keyboard pads and thumping bass. Aural magic, indeed.
Follow-up "Primordial Sound" is another quality composition. After channeling Dashboard Confessional crooner Chris Carrabba for 30 seconds or so, Lessard is supplanted by some mellow prog orchestration before returning to lend standout vocals to the rest of this spacey rock affair.
After several bars of melancholy rock, the guitars take center stage 30 seconds into "Arise" via the most BTBAM-esque riff on the entire record. The vocals reappear shortly thereafter and the entire ensemble teams up to deliver a few minutes of jagged metal and, ultimately, enduring melodic rock while the bass guitar pounds away underneath.
Since I've already mentioned Between The Buried And Me a few times, it's worth noting that Language was produced by frequent BTBAM cohort, Jamie King. While some will inevitably deride The Contortionist for selecting King, of all people, I applaud them for choosing the right man for the job. The production on here is fantastic and mix is near perfect. Criticism be damned.
"Ebb & Flow" further exemplies The Contortionist's willingness to genre bend. Sometimes these musicians stomp out odd signature grooves with harsh vocals; other times they lay down thick slabs of melodic rock with lush vocals. And yet other fragments of music are sparsely orchestrated mood pieces (e.g. the Jupiter era Cave In tom rolls and guitar chords found midway through "Ebb & Flow"). It's impossible to pigeonhole The Contortionist and I'm sure they wouldn't want it any other way.
Language closes with "The Parable," a moody piece that gains urgency as it proceeds, all bookended by sonic landscapes. Eventually, we hear the voice of British philosopher Alan Watts reciting a small portion of his Nature of Consciousness lecture over the strains of synthesizer chords; an inexplicably stirring end to a sterling album.
Bottom Line: Capable songwriting, compelling lead vocals, and impressive musicianship unite with memorable results on The Contortionist's latest album, Language.