REVIEW: THE CONTORTIONIST – “Clairvoyant”
Few bands of this era help define the progressive genre quite like Indiana’s progressive metal maestros, The Contortionist. Impressively covering such diverse styles as deathcore (2010’s ‘Exoplanet‘) and atmospheric prog (2015’s ‘Language‘), they have been no strangers to inventive as well as intelligent music. With this year’s ‘Clairvoyant’, it’s exciting to see what direction these gentlemen could possibly go next.
With the switch of frontmen, the goal for The Contortionist remains the same: to create progressive music. In this effort, ‘Clairvoyant’ is successful. Opting for an atmospheric, engulfing experience, there is minimal instrumental heaviness to be heard. Instead, a surge of subtly different textures and a focus on mood crafts a variety of emotions that are satisfying to take in.
With the rather long introduction track, in the form of “Monochrome”, I find this iteration of The Contortionist a more direct outfit. This fine-tuning of the songwriting was hinted at on ‘Language’ during a few moments, but is fully realized here. “Godspeed” and “Re imagined”, two of the most straight-forward songs this band has ever released, are far more interested in painting a segmented, orderly picture than changing things up every few seconds. It’s a different approach, but it works to the band’s advantage, especially given vocalist Michael Lessard’s abilities to perfectly harmonize with the music he is presented.
I became especially sold on this new direction when the title track kicked in. Its unique combination of simultaneously subtle, but extreme elements produces an atmosphere rather than attacks, add the uplifting melodies and is it truly addictive. Where “Reimagined” reminded me of Tool, others almost gave off Gojira vibes due to the double bass kicks and angled ‘light’ riffs that drive things forward. The utilizing of screaming vocals, albeit layered low in the mix behind the singing, are rare also.
The second half of the record honestly floored me. Beginning with the appropriately named “The Center”, a selection of textures that have never been heard before within The Contortionist’s music, specifically throughout the vocal delivery, are utilized to brilliant effect. To say that this song engulfs its listener is entirely accurate.
Meanwhile, “Absolve” experiments with Michael Lessard’s vocal pronunciation, phrasing and range in a more reserved way. It does feature a repeating chorus which is something the band didn’t especially feature before. Because of this the emotion doesn’t just build, it grows on the listener, especially by the time the bridge hits and Michael allows more power into his voice.
The contrast between lighter keyboard atmospherics and natural instrumentation is focal in “Relapse”, which might be my favorite track off the record. It’s one of the more riff-driven songs off the record and I especially appreciated the line “If relapse happens today then let tomorrow be recovery”. When the song drops out to give the piano a few seconds to bridge the two portions of the song together, it’s difficult to not feel affected.
The concept of the word “Clairvoyant” is that of possessing a foresight towards potentially catastrophic events and I find that this word fits what Michael is singing about throughout the record. Be it addressing the lack of love and faith in the world or being desensitized to what’s happening around us, the combination of moody vocals and atmospheres fits like a glove. It makes sense too that loss is also addressed, whether that be death or a departure. I especially appreciate “Back To Earth” for combining all of these ideas, metaphorically or otherwise. Falling back to Earth could mean having a realization that grounds you after a high or coming down from a drug that kept you unaware. Either way, it made me think.
The final track, “Monochrome”, reprises the themes heard in “Godspeed” while feeling like a fitting farewell to the entire record. It features vocals more often than not, but also breaks away from them more than any other track. In this way, I found this finale the most progressive song on the record. Michael’s use of vibrato during a key portion of the song was also incredibly unique and stuck with me on repeat listens. The album ends much like it began, with a lot of open atmosphere and build-up.
‘Clairvoyant’ knows its strengths lie in not wasting a moment of time and that’s why I’m alright with it being only nine tracks. It’s one of the rare albums that feels perfect in length and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The transition to becoming a prog band with slight elements of, dare I say it, indie rock interspersed here and there has been kind to The Contortionist and I feel that is demonstrated more capably here than on ‘Language’ even. For the listener that appreciates taking in their music and not being steamrolled over by it, the pacing of ‘Clairvoyant’ as well as the rewards its more accessible nature allow it at times will make for a satisfying listen. ‘Clairvoyant’ is the ideal follow-up to its transitional successor.
Venturing deeper into a more prominently prog yet accessible sound, ‘Clairvoyant‘ gives its listeners the best of both worlds.