Indianapolis based progressive metallers The Contortionist show with the third record, Language that when modern prog metal works, it’s great, but when it starts to falter, it can be cringe inducing. The band does a lot right on this album, but they fall into traps that many bands in their genre find themselves stuck in. Language has some incredible moments where melodies mix into beautiful arrangements but also has moments where the band sounds like they’re trying way too hard.
The introductory track “The Course” shows off new singer Michael Lessard’s impressive vocal range with runs up and down the scale. But as the album wears on, I couldn’t stop but wonder if what I’m listening to would be better off without any vocals at all. The Contortionist do mix the very melodic clean style of Lessard’s voice with harsh screams of death metal singers which comes as a bit of a jarring experience when you first hear them (especially if you weren’t aware it was part of their sound). The problem is, despite the weird mix of elegant sounds being produced by guitarists Robby Baca and Cameron Maynard, bassist Jordan Eberhardt, keyboardist Eric Guenther, and drummer Joey Baca, it’s the harsh vocals that fit the best. The clean singing comes across as very over dramatic and at times takes away from the fantastic instrumentation.
I don’t mean to keep harping on the vocals but I will say that the lyrics here absolutely distract from the band. They come off very pretentious like they were written in a fever after reading introductory philosophical texts. The Contortionists peers The Kindred also end up in this category but they know when to pull back on the reigns. The best example I can give of this is the fact that The Contortionist sing the phrase “ebb and flow” on four separate songs including one titled “Ebb and Flow”.
The musical chops here are first-rate. These guys know how to play their instruments and are at the top of the heap when it comes to technical playing in progressive metal. The album from a musical standpoint is very well thought out and everything flows nicely into each other which is something I look for when listening to music like this. The counter of the atmospheric like melodies and very heavy distorted chugging by the guitars works well and plays off each other. They have the star/stop jittery time signature riffs that prog metal fans love. However, there is one big musical blunder on the record, the song “Integration” has a synth line that does not fit at all. So much so it’s like they put the wrong track in the mix when working on the album. It really takes you out of the listening experience.
The Contortionist are a band still trying to figure out what they want to do. They have promise, that’s for sure. But it may take them another record or two to finally figure out what they need to do to push forward to the front of their genre. They have the talent to do it, but we’ll see if they can put it all together and create something truly special.