Artist: The Contortionist
Ah, once more we dive into the realm of progress: progression, progressive, and all other all-important modifications of the word. With the use of the term “progress,” success or fulfillment is usually implied, raising the question: how we do truly qualify progression? Is it merely something that’s different, or is that not enough? Often times, it isn’t, as progress itself tends to require improvement–which is bad news for Indiana-based progressive act The Contortionist and their latest full length, Intrinsic. While a strong album in its own right, it pales to compare to their past releases or contemporary releases of their peers, as it’s most well-done elements are recycled tactics from their previous releases.
While The Contortionist might not have hit the nail on the head with Intrinsic, they certainly gave it a good whack. Instrumentally, the album is lush with progressive, heavy-soft dynamics which provide the listener with a steady supply of head-bobbing intrigue. However, where on their previous release, Exoplanet, much of the heavy parts were crushing in contrast to the stellar, technical shredding they were paired with, Intrinsic sings a different tune. Here, many of the heavy sections range from listless and half-hearted to simply lazy. Furthermore, some sections where a spine-crushing breakdown or heavyweight groove would fit perfectly have been filled with atmospheric transience which doesn’t do the band justice. However, when they do toggle successfully from shred to soul-rending mode, the effect is astounding–and can be best observed on Intrinsic’s “Geocentric Confusion.”
While, granted, some of the dynamism may have been drained out of The Contortionist’s appeal, Intrinsic is still an instrumental heavyweight. The keys provide a sci-fi, atmospheric feel while the guitars lend a strong combination of shred, crush, groove and harmony. The bass’ low end helps keep the album anchored when the keys start to get overzealous and the guitars get hazy with atmospheric light-headedness. Meanwhile, the drums do what they do best–fit every situation like a glove. Whether it’s smooth, jazz-infused percussion, or a tempo-changing, ear-shredding barrage of brutality, the drums are always matching the tone set by the other instruments, making sure not to get carried away, or, conversely, becoming unnoticeable. Even at their most half-hearted moments–which can be seen in “Cortical” and “Holomovement,”–they still function together to craft a solid canvas which is either made into art or trash by the function of the polarizing nature of the vocals.
A majority of Intrinsic’s weakness comes from the vocal-end of the band. Ranging from strong to pitiful, The Contortionist provide a plentiful palette of harsh, clean and spoken vocals (the latter come with some electronic modification) which are either fitting or hair-raisingly out of place. Once more, “Geocentric Confusion” shines as a beacon to the efforts of the rest of the album, where every variation of vocal method employed fits the music surrounding it. However, a majority of the tracks feature at least one–if not more–segment where the vocals are so jarringly dissynchronous that they become hard to take seriously. Often times, these moments are brought about by the filtered, altered spoken words which really come across more as a series of show-offy phrases from Astronomy textbooks muttered through a vo-coder. While they do rarely provide merit to the atmosphere of the album, often times they simply make the listener put their forehead in their hands and wonder what were The Contortionist thinking?
While The Contortionist certainly haven’t progressed with their latest effort, it’s hard to call Intrinsic a regression, either. Realistically, the album is more or less a step sideways–still the product of a progressive and instrumental juggernaut, and still a strong album in its own right. It’s simply the fact that the album’s strongest moments are borrowed from their previous releases which makes The Contortionist’s Intrinsic a victim of both hype, and the band’s own success.
By: Connor Welsh/Eccentricism