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The Contortionist | ‘Language’

When Cynic reformed and eventually released ‘Traced in Air’, there was a palpable sense of excitement.

Not difficult to imagine when you’re following up an absolute bona fide classic in ‘Focus’ and it’s been 15 years.

Thankfully, ‘Traced in Air’ was stellar in the end but even though the following EPs were very impressive, this year’s ‘Kindly Bent To Free Us’, which is by no means a dud or anything, just didn’t met their own lofty standards. It was a harsh crash back down to reality but that’s what happens when you put a band on a pedestal.

Why are we talking about Cynic so much in a review of the new album from The Contortionist though?

Because The Contortionist have rather audibly taken their biggest inspiration from Cynic (more ‘Traced in Air’ than ‘Focus’ mind you) and the band’s new full-length ‘Language’ quite frankly is the kind of album that Cynic should have released this year.

The Contortionist have for a long time, at least from this perspective, been another face in the crowd of the broad and largely dull world of djent, deathcore, tech death and where these three disciplines have been intersecting over the last three or four years.

‘Language’ is an album that boldly yanks them away this world and from whatever stuff the ilk of Tesseract and their millionth new vocalist is doing now. This is a matured and utterly engrossing work of progressive metal.

Yes, the Cynic vibe is very strong. The shimmering melodies in the guitars and clean vocals are very Masvidal but the execution is near-flawless in its own right. The post rock tones of intro ‘The Source’ lay down a heady gauntlet to start, showing us that The Contortionist are going for a big and dramatic sound and they thankfully avoid any cheesy clichés in doing so while first track proper ‘Language I: Intuition’ could easily have gelled with ‘Traced in Air’s finest moments.

Other bands whose influences can be heard here are Between the Buried and Me and Devin Townsend – all good company to keep. The former’s long-time producer, Jamie King, handled the studio reins on this album and the sprawling sound that can be heard on BTBAM records is all over this album too.

With all this talk of influences though, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is getting too derivative and while the inspiration is strong, The Contortionist have crafted out an album that is simply their own.

‘Language’ sees the band expertly walking a tight rope between more tech death oriented riffing and gorgeously melodic sounds, led primarily by new vocalist Mike Lessard as he trades his high pitched wails with occasional coarse death grunts or how the guitarists play off sleek Petrucci-like leads with meandering almost mathcore riffs. Take the ‘Language II: Conspire’ as a prime example, easily the record’s heaviest outing.

Lessard’s addition to the band (previously of Last Chance to Reason) has worked wonders here. He’s a much more assured and mature vocalist, a quality that was needed to complement the same

quality that the rest of musicians quite clearly have and on this album, the vocals occupy as much importance as the riffs, striking a perfect balance.

‘Language’ is also a concept album of sorts; at least that’s what we can gauge from the recurring references and themes in the lyrics but also in the music. ‘Language’ could easily be presented as one whole track and never feel disjointed.

At the same time, they never sacrifice technicality for memorability either; a trait sadly lost on most of their peers. ‘Primordial Sound’ is closest the band will get to a stripped down sound with Lessard’s clean serene vocals leading all the way while ‘Arise’ could be a single if they actually wanted with its hook-laden clean riffs and charging vocals.

Another rare trait on display here is that the album gets legitimately better as it progresses and seems like lesson in momentum gathering. This becomes clear with the breathtaking final two tracks ‘Ebb and Flow’ and ‘The Parable’ with their gripping crescendos respectively, once again helmed by a stellar vocal performance from Lessard.

‘Language’ is an unexpected triumph from The Contortionist. Perhaps if you’re immersed in this particular scene you saw it coming but from this vantage point this is a bit of surprise and all the better for it; even a possible album of the year contender.

4.7/5 – Jonathan Keane ::: 17/09/14

  1. Holy moly, that’s some sound.

  2. That warrants further listening. Nice one, never heard of them before.

  3. I have a copy of “Exoplanet” somewhere – enjoyable if indeed derivative. Based on that one track up above, there is indeed an intense – and welcome bang of TiA from it.

    Straight to the top of the wanted list.

  4. Brian Regression Says:

    Loving this album, was on repeat all yesterday. The previous album Intrinsic hinted at this capability but it’s still a massive leap forward. Oh and for those who now become fans.. DME are putting them on with The Faceless and Protest The Hero later in the year.. Gig of the year by an urban and country mile.

  5. Connorputrefy Says:

    I’m a cynic and Devin townsend fan, and whilst the production is good I think the track is shit. To me ,sounds ripped off from cynic. I had listened to these guys before and then they sounded like one of those myspace bands. Now they sound like one trying play cynic. Often imitated,never replicated I guess. It’ll be avoided like that gig in Dublin.

  6. wizardinblack Says:

    I found it a bit sterile if I’m honest, the production seems to suck the life out of the music, …..or something.

  7. Quality album imo. Massive step up from their previous output, which I hated.

    Can agree with the wizard somewhat about the production. A little sterile at points which can take away from the atmosphere they are trying to create. A small peeve for me though!

  8. Drumming isn’t even a patch on cynic’s on the track posted…
    Solo was a bit meh too

  9. Tezcatlipoca Says:

    I’m just listening to the album on Spotify and I have to side with Connor on this. It just sounds like an outright ripoff of Cynic more than a tribute.

    It’s well played and it’s nice to listen to, but seriously, they sound almost like a tribute act.

  10. I have never listened to Cynic which is something I must rectify. That track posted above is really like the stuff from Between The Buried And Me. I love that band but now I feel like they are both just ripping off Cynic.

  11. Whilst the album touches on the Tymon Kruidenier era of Cynic, I still can’t call it a huge rip-off. the djent elements are still there for all to see. Regardless, it’s a great listen.

  12. The bang of Traced In Air is undeniable but I think there’s a lot more going on there too. It’s good stuff, I like it.

  13. Man, that really DOES sound like something from Traced in Air… still, seeing as the real thing seem to have more or less left that sound behind now, its nice to have someone carrying on in that vein. I didn’t mind that track at all actually.

  14. Black Shepherd Says:

    Well that was a pointless bit of weak meandering Cynic-light with Porcupine Tree inspired tepid, bargain brand tea vocals.

    Are all the songs on the album as bad as this one or are some worse? I’d hate to judge it too hastily…

  15. Check out the song ‘Integration’ off the album. Really good.

  16. Black Shepherd Says:

    Nope, still awful. All the bands doing this kind of stuff 10-15 years ago are better than this, even Frantic Bleep.

  17. Some of this feels lifted directly off Katatonia’s Night is the new day. Overall, painfully generic. Not awful, just not at all interesting to these ears.

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