Review Summary: Time is moving forward.
For The Contortionist, it’s high time for a fresh start. Ever since vocalist Michael Lessard withdrew from Last Chance to Reason last year to make waves with the Indianapolis-based group, The Contortionist have amped up excitement for their new release at every chance they've gotten- giving the impression that this thing would be the best. They've probably trademarked the term 'Facebook hype' by now, posting updates about every significant step of Language
’s recording process. (Sure, some of it probably could be considered insignificant too, but we fans all ate it up nonetheless.) So now that the album finally exists in some tangible form, it's easy to understand why The Contortionist believes in this record. It's big in a way that these guys wear well- not only does Language
make amends for the transgressions of 2012’s Intrinsic
, but it builds on the distinct sound that the band has solidified through its last two releases.
Many of the adjustments The Contortionist have made to their music are incremental, but other attributes are obvious from the get-go. Even someone who’s only faintly familiar with the band’s past works is bound to immediately notice how lush Language
sounds in comparison. Each and every sound on this record is utilized to its fullest capability, and this makes the final production mix that much more arresting at the end of the day. The Contortionist seem to have caught producer Jamie King at his peak, for the difference he’s made here is monumental: “Thrive” just wouldn’t be the same without those layers of keyboard to accentuate the verses, and no song wears those weighty, incisive drums better than “Primordial Sound”. But underneath King’s glossy sheen of sound lies a familiar band doing what they know best- it’s just that this time around, The Contortionist sound as huge on record as they do live. For anyone who’s witnessed the band’s verve onstage, that’s saying something.
Dig a little deeper into the record, and you’ll find a refreshing sense of subtlety. The Contortionist understand they’re best at rhythmically rooted progressive metal, and at music that exists in this world while looking for inspiration on others. Space, in all its vastness- it's the chief theme The Contortionist have sported ever since their inception. Such a motif hardly seems novel at this point in the modern metal world, which means that with it comes a prerequisite of thematic nuance. Michael Lessard's narrative throughout Language
is lofty, yes, but also feels surprisingly intimate- the band’s new vocalist has a knack for weaving otherworldly motifs into a blanket of remarkably relatable thoughts. Single "Primordial Sound" is perhaps the most conceptually heavy-handed piece on the record, and yet it breezes by like a trade wind across the sea. Subtlety has never quite been an accurate descriptor of The Contortionist's sound, but its use is more apt here than ever before.
But you’d better believe Language
still finds ways to be over-extravagant. Note the ninety-second introduction of “Integration”, so rife with perplexingly obtuse riffs that it feels pulled straight out of Intrinsic
's playbook. It all feels so arbitrary, as if The Contortionist could've used any random sequence of chords and gotten the same point across. And that title track, it might even be more confusing. Two-parters in concept albums always at least hold the promise of some sort of congruity, because you know
those two songs will be connected in some vital way. So when “Language II: Conspire” rolls in with no immediately visible connection to the song before it, except that they’re the same tempo, it is the most confusing thing. “Conspire” is a chugfest of a tune, and it’s comprised of the most undemanding “heavy” elements The Contortionist could’ve possibly utilized. Sure, the group eventually returns to the main melodic hook of the duo, but it’s such a curiously tenuous connection that’s established. “Conspire” is a delightfully simple conclusion to “Language” overall, while also being a wildly inadequate follow-up to the giant “Language I: Intuition”- but there’s something beautiful about the anticlimax nonetheless. Forget what I wanted to hear- these guys have no reservations writing a groovy song whenever the hell they want to. They call the shots, and I wait to see what happens next- that’s just how it goes.