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