Review Summary: The Contortionist complete their gradual ascension to being a progressive rock band, with catchier choruses, synths galore, and the consistent use of beautiful guitar melodies and harmonies.
The Contortionist have followed a fascinating trajectory since their inception. With each album cycle the band have been gradually exorcising out the aggressive metal styles they began playing, instead lending more emphasis to spacier textures. Each album embodied a connector to the others, being comprised of complex heavy metal guitar playing and busy rhythms. The instrumental prowess brought to mind the likes of Dream Theater, latter day Isis, and Cynic. With Clairvoyant
, the metal tendencies primarily function to lend an epic, punchy sound to each song, especially in choruses. The music itself is more accessible and darker than the highly praised predecessor, Language
The Contortionist complete their gradual ascension to being a progressive rock band, with catchier choruses, synths galore, and the consistent use of beautiful guitar melodies and harmonies. Certain moments here and there are even more reminiscent of post-rock than progressive rock or metal, particularly the gorgeous second half of album opener “Monochrome (Passive).” While the band members still play impressively, their instrumental playing has been simplified. Big sounding choruses with almost groove metal rhythms bring to mind a band like TesseracT, particularly songs like “Godspeed,” “Reimagined,” and “Return to Earth.” Tremolo picking guitars in the background accompany light synths, lending an airiness to the otherwise heavy, massive choruses that make up much of Clairvoyant
. With a nearly hour-long runtime, this formula can get tiresome when some tracks have flashier qualities than others. In essence, The Contortionist are at their best when they layer guitars and electronics into atmospheric, soaring melodies. These moments spring up frequently, but occasionally sound familiar and reside a bit too often in the background.
The most rewarding aspects of Clairvoyant
occur when the band let inhibitions and accessibility go out the window, like in album closer “Monochrome (Pensive)”. These highlights usually come up in the longer songs, during the instrumental passages. The title track changes colors impressively, as it begins with a heavier sound but gracefully develops into its uplifting, heavenly second half. Album centerpiece “The Center” follows, with fantastic vocal layering and musical transitions that allow for the band’s best compositional decisions to shine through. A main guitar melody, giving the song a dark feeling overall, is interspersed with different sounding verses at each repetition, subverting the more traditional song structures that make up the shorter tracks.
The briefer cuts could almost be played on mainstream rock radio, and brings up a parallel with how the aforementioned TesseracT has embraced more accessible, lighter sounds as well. Language
foreshadowed this change for The Contortionist, and the softer direction is the right one for the band to take. However the more straightforward course is one that wouldn’t quite hold up over 55 minutes if there weren’t enough dazzling, transportive musical passages to keep it engaging. Fortunately, Clairvoyant
contains enough of these qualities to keep it consistently excellent all the way through. Even the mainstream songs are able to surprise, with something like a beautiful piano playing section, found in “Relapse.” The Contortionist are evolving in rewarding fashion, and will continue to thrive due to a strong sense of melody, experimentation, and atmosphere that is always present, no matter what musical direction they pursue.