In 2012, just about every new metal band clearly wants to prove to listeners that they know how to shred, blast, and groove simultaneously. Riffs often come and go too quickly, and atmosphere is cast aside for the need of musicians to prove their chops to the ever-judgmental metal world. While Indiana’s The Contortionist certainly set their standards of technicality high with their first full-length, Exoplanet, the band always maintained a strong sense of songwriting ability and memorable clean sections to help balance their otherwise brutal onslaught of post-deathcore breakdowns. Intrinsic is darker, heavier, more progressive, and an overall more consistent listen than Exoplanet.
While comparisons to prog-metal heavyweights like Meshuggah and Between the Buried and Me are obviously applicable to this record, Intrinsic spends an almost equal amount of time delving into lush, atmospheric rock territory, ala dredg. Vocalist/keyboardist Jonathan Carpenter’s contributions to Intrinsic are undeniable, as he delivers a performance exponentially better than their previous release. Carpenter’s clean vocals have improved drastically, and his new-found confidence with guttural vocals can now stand up to the work their previous vocalist delivered on their first EP, Apparition. While I may have had my doubts about Carpenter on Exoplanet, I’ll kindly shelve my criticisms for now, as he is quickly becoming one of the more dynamic vocalists in this new wave of groove-centric American metal.
Intrinsic’s use of dynamism is its strongest quality, as the group now clearly know how to balance their metal roots with genre-hopping, whether it be exploring post-rock on “Geocentric Confusion”, quirky jazz fusion on “Feedback Loop”, or the group's bonafide tribute to psychedelia with “Parallel Trance”. Intrinsic's forays into newer territory are excellently balanced with a smorgasbord of crushing riffs that can contend with even the most brutal of death metal outfits, as well as a slew of grooves to keep heads bobbing and math nerds desperately searching for the nearest calculator. While experimentation has become a favorite among many modern pseudo-prog bands, The Contortionist clearly know how to push the limits of their sound without ever seeming forced. Working around so many styles in an unassertive 45-minute run time is certainly something to be commended.
Intrinsic should please the band’s established fan base, as well as attract new listeners who may not have been sure about the group’s ambitious, though flawed, debut. It’s rare to find an album so focused (make your Cynic jokes here) and yet so daring, especially by a group of musicians who are in their early twenties. This is certainly one of the most exciting metal albums of the year, and shows that The Contortionist is definitely going places in the very near future.