The Contortionist – Language (eOne Music)

Tuesday, 16th September 2014
Rating: 8.5/10

The joys of growth made real and made present for all the world to see. Two years removed from the long-loved (by me, anyway) Intrinsic and sonically a lifetime away from debut Exoplanet, Language sees The Contortionist continue to evolve and shine. Harsh moments, already significantly lessened on Intrinsic are few and far in between here and the essence of Allan Holdsworth-esque atmospherics and melody uses are now at the forefront more than ever.

Half of the band is new for this album (literally) and the new blood comes out most in the phenomenal bass-work of former Scale The Summit member Jordan Eberhardt, whose presence is the core of every song. Vibrant, thick, always liquid beneath the lavish synth washes and nigh-eternally melodic guitars, he’s almost the foremost spirit of the album. Not to discount the rest of the band as whether in nü-prog-like (and hyper-melodic) initial single “Language I: Intuition” or older-era Cynic-ish “Thrive”, the songs are fluid, textured, and brimming with flashes of beauty. The new vocalist is, compared to vocalists past, both stronger and the mix and a stronger melodic force overall. Though still serving more as an additional melodic layer rather than a point of attention, they fit exceedingly well and shine exactly when they are called upon.

Vocals this time are predominantly clean, harsh vocals serving usually as a background accompaniment or on the rare (a handful) of cases where the band go full-tilt toward ‘heavy’, most predominantly on “Language II: Conspire” though scattered throughout a handful of songs. One of the core themes, lyrically if not also musically, is that of ebb and flow, the atmospheric and hazy valleys that are cast against melodic if at times tempestuous peaks, a continual exploration of tension and texture. While beholden to hooks throughout the album, in grand prog tradition, takes several listens to actually sink in and reveal its at times disturbingly dense layers.

Some cast the band (and countless others) within a kind of niche-subgenre when Intrinsic hit in 2012, a kind of clean-kid progressive spearheaded by bands like Between The Buried And Me. At the time there was perhaps some credence to that as the band shared more in common with them than the burgeoning (and now deadish) world of djent that was on the rise at the time. Refining and polishing the themes that made Intrinsic such a joy, however, is exactly what the band has done on Language and while initially it can be a dense listen, there is much and more to reveal with time.

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