Album Review: THE CONTORTIONIST Language
The Contortionist are really speaking my Language (PUN!) on their first full-length with Last Chance to Reason's Michael Lessard on vocals.
Last year I went to see Between The Buried and Me and one of the openers was The Contortionist. I knew of them vaguely from my college radio days, but couldn't recall much. I was mainly interested in seeing them because Michael Lessard of Last Chance To Reason had just been announced as their permanent vocalist, and I fucking LOVE(D?) Last Chance To Reason. The set was mostly (if not entirely) from their album Intrinsic and was pretty solid, but I felt like Lessard was a little out of place. He wasn't quite at his full potential. This brings us to Language, and this is Lessard and existing Contortionist members at their best.
Language opens with a melodic piece comprised almost entirely of vocal layers that I could really only compare to something on the level of Imogen Heap. The album keeps the melody going on the following track "Language I: Intuition" and it is fucking gorgeous. With the exception of a few parts the song suppresses the metal, instead opting for a rhythmic post rock feel. The heaviness does pick up as the album progresses, but there is definitely and ebb and flow (an idiom that appears a lot in the album) happening that favors the prettier side of the band, and I don't have a problem with it. There is still quite a bit to headbang to with the very next tracks, "Language II: Conspire," "Integration" and more. So don't fret, they haven't gone soft by any means.
It's unclear to me how much of the album is the added influence of Lessard, and how much is natural growth here. The band was able to progress their sound enough while staying grounded in who they are. I find this is rare for a band in general, but especially rare for a band often lumped into the "djent" category. This record is a lot more of everything that worked. It is heavier when it needs to be, it is bigger when it needs to be, it is prettier when it needs to be, etc. For example, "Thrive" could have easily fit anywhere into Intrinsic for about the first minute or two, but then Lessard soars and the song crescendos into pure atmospheric metal glory to a level they hadn't achieved before.
I realize much of this review is praising Michael Lessard's vocal abilities, and if Level 3 didn't already cement him as one of the best voices in modern metal/rock/whatever, this album should (I mean, just listen to him on "Ebb & Flow"!). However, this band is really tight and unique regardless of who is the voice. Often bands in the rhythmic, atmospheric, progressive blah blah blah, genre will give in to tropes of the genre, The Contortionist either avoids them or spins them enough to make them seem outside of the box. So many bands will have one guitarist chugging along in wacky rhythms with the bassist and drummer while the other guitarist noodles over the top, and it's just so overdone. These guys will either have everyone noodling in a cool way interweaving with one another, or they just go different directions completely. This could be said about previous records as well I'm sure, it's just especially notable here.
This album is not everyone. If you're quick to lazily label any rhythmic progressive band out there as "djent" and dismiss them accordingly, you should probably just not bother here. This album is for fans of progressive music, atmospheric metal, theory nerds, and especially the previous work of either LCTR or The Contortionist.
I was a much bigger Last Chance fan going into Language, but this has really turned me on to The Contortionist more. This is a fantastic release that is best digested as one long piece.
Language drops on September 16th via eOne/Good Fight Records, and you really should get it.