Sound — 8
Based on the shifting measurements, awe-inspiring instrumental work and the penchant for blurring the lines of metal genres, the Contortionist is a very appropriate name for the Indiana-based progressive metal band. Founded in 2007, their sound at face value fell under the forsaken deathcore label, but with drawing inspiration from iconic prog-rockers like Rush and Dream Theater, they broke the mold with equal parts heavy sound, intelligent composition, and impressive technical riffing - this sophisticated trifecta from such a young band consequently turned a lot of heads when the band released their debut album, "Exoplanet," in 2010.
With their follow-up album, "Intrinsic," the band started to show an eagerness to branch out from the deathcore-centric sound of their debut and started showing a more eclectic progressive feel to them, which would earn them a supporting spot on tour with another one of their prime inspirations, Between the Buried And Me, in 2013. Although the sky seemed to be the limit for the band at that point, the Contortionist would also hit a snag that year when their frontman, Jon Carpenter (note: not the famous film director John Carpenter), amicably left the band for personal reasons. This wouldn't stifle the band for long, though, and after getting frontman Michael Lesserd of Last Chance to Reason to be their fill-in vocalist on tour, he would soon become a permanent member. Now, still keeping to their steady album-every-two-years schedule, the Contortionist have released their third album, "Language."
As the jump from "Exoplanet" to "Intrinsic" showed the Contortionist allocating more space for prog rock intrigue, "Language" shows the band further abstaining from the metalcore gear ("look ma, no breakdowns!"), but this was evident when they premiered their first song off the album, "Language I: Intuition," which contained lots of less-aggressive prog-rock riffing and no extreme metal parts. They finally kick into the heaviness at the turn of "Language II: Conspire," but even then, the dark metal clouds formed in the beginning of the track disperse later on, opening up into another soft section led by an acoustic guitar line. This juxtaposition of heavier parts with soft parts is essentially the sonic thesis of "Language" - the rapid prog-metal instrumentation in "Thrive" is paired with Lesserd's soft vocals instead of expected growling, and the easier-going "Primordial Sound" contains some growling vocals and rapid double-bass pedaling bubbling underneath- and instead of letting their energy take form in bludgeoning heavy sound, the Contortionist focus more on dynamic range, as evident in the soft-to-heavy transformation in "Integration" and the aptly-named "Ebb and Flow." The jazz-influenced basslines get more recognition throughout the album, and the expanded dedication to the ambient synthesizer elements make "Language" sound inspired by Sigur Ros (as opposed to the Contortionist's previous works being easily comparable to the likes of Between the Buried And Me), having more slow-unfurling atmospheric moments like in the opening "The Source," "Thrive," "Primordial Sound," "Ebb and Flow," and the closing "The Parable." Because of this new focus, the riffs aren't as astounding compared to the Contortionist's previous albums, but you'll still find some strong and smart riffing in "Language II: Conspire," "Integration" and "Arise."
Lyrics — 6
While Carpenter's absence from "Language" probably wasn't the reason for the Contortionist's further straying from the extreme metal aspect of their music, Carpenter's absence is noticeable in the lyrical aspect. With the Contortionist having been known for intelligent lyrical matter, showing a penchant for subjects of science that are still shrouded in mystery and unknown discovery, like outer space and human psychology, "Language" is less embedded in textbooks and more spiritual.
As opposed to the science lectures Carpenter would growl at the listener, lyrics here are terse, cyclical throughout, and come off like inspirational self-help quotes that get passed around Tumblr and Instagram, like "drift with the ebb and flow" in "Language I: Intuition," and "complacency, is obsolete" in "Thrive." This Occam's razor approach to the lyrics works in tandem with the album's focus on appreciating negative space and ambience, because more words would only serve to clutter the atmosphere and draw away from the musical fluctuations, but aside from the proper role it serves on the album, Lesserd's lyrics are quite different from Carpenter's lyrics, so many may feel shorted by this change.
Overall Impression — 8
"Language" is, by and large, a significant change for the Contortionist, and for those that were primarily drawn to the band by their cut-throat sound and instrumental acrobatics, "Language" may not be your cup of tea. But even though just about everybody will miss the generous helpings of stampeding mathcore elements that made "Exoplanet" and "Intrinsic" so damn great, "Language" is a change for the better. From the practicing of patience in their progression and the sophisticated crafting of ambient sections, to the band going AWOL on the loudness war that the majority of bands still fight in, "Language" is an overall leap in maturity for the Contortionist.