Clairvoyant - The Contortionist
Artist: The Contortionist
Genre: Progressive Rock/Metal
Release Date: September 15th 2017
Review by Steve Jenkins
There aren't many bands in the modern progressive era that have caused as much buzz as The Contortionist has. As they continue to grow and evolve as a band their sound is changing and they've gone from a once progressive deathcore band with their game changing album Exoplanet, to almost post-rock/prog-rock influenced alternative metal. That's quite the change in styles, but it has worked well for the band, and Clairvoyant is a perfect example of how and why. Back in 2014, the most drastic step away from their deathcore roots was the album Language, which was a turning point for The Contortionist. A massive overhaul in lineup changes would have to play a big part in the evolution of their sound, as they lost their vocalist and keyboardist as well as their bass player all in one hit due to personal reasons. So now we have a band consisting of half new and half original members and an upward trajectory into new territory and massive success.
Any remnants of their original deathcore/metal sound is now obsolete on the group’s fourth full-length album Clairvoyant. The band have streamlined their songwriting from the ebb-and-flow meandering of Language to more traditional song structures and an atmosphere more comparable to bands like Deftones and Karnivool than the crushing extreme technical prog that made the act a household name in metal circles. Breathe deep, The Contortionist fans; they’re a rock band now, and believe it or not, they’re actually better off for it.
A major issue with Language was its lack of immediacy towards the listener; there were few hooks and the structure of the album took several spins to follow and appreciate. The Contortionist were evidently mindful of this while crafting Clairvoyant, and it shows with its greater frequency of moments that cement a song to memory. Clairvoyant does bring some immediacy and is top-loaded with interesting tracks that give proper introduction to this new version of The Contortionist. The record opens with the deceptively doomy instrumental “Monochrome (Passive)” — which sets forth a number of motifs that pay off in the album’s closer “Monochrome (Pensive)” — and gives way to the exhilarating and upbeat “Godspeed” and the beautifully simple “Reimagined.”
The album’s title track is perhaps the heaviest, and sounds like it could have been a cut from Language, and even still, there isn’t a single breakdown or growl in sight. “The Center” is a hypnotic shoegazer that utilizes ascending and descending guitar chords that build tension under Lessard’s crooning. Highlight single “Absolve” raises the tempo with snappy angular leads and an understated but haunting chorus. “Relapse” briefly hints at synth wave with pulsating synth bass and piano leads that could provide inspiration which broaden’s the band’s scope in future releases.
“Return to Earth” is another highlight and wise single material that showcases the band’s dynamic of huge riffs and ambient guitar leads and synth pads. The aforementioned closing track “Monochrome (Pensive)” delivers the promises of its homonymous counterpart at Clairvoyant’s introduction. It’s nine minutes of some of The Contortionist’s finest work and serves as a proof of concept for the band’s current sound and the possibilities of the band’s current iteration as a unit capable for crafting passionate and chilling songs in this style.
One of the major criticisms of Language unfortunately carries over in Clairvoyant; frontman Mike Lessard’s talents are still underutilized, in a couple of ways. Lack of his trademark pterodactyl screaming notwithstanding — and really, in the context of this record, the lack of harsh vocals are a non-issue — he remains grounded in a relatively narrow vocal range and has limited opportunity to soar. Understandably, Lessard and the rest of the band seem to be cultivating a certain vibe of mellow restraint, but there are many instances where the inclusion of an extra vocal layer showcasing Mike’s more impassioned higher register in the final chorus would elevate the track tremendously. “Godspeed” and “Monochrome (Pensive)” being of particular exemption, but its appearance at the front and back of the album leaves the performances in between feeling narrow. Mike is also buried in the mix on occasion, particularly on the record’s title track where the nuance of the performance in the first verse is almost inaudible.
There are definitely more highlights than lowlights on this album, and the complete move forward into the melancholy progressive rock direction has worked out to be nothing short of a perfect fit. The spacey, dreamy, down-tempo, rock sound that The Contortionist now give us is beautiful and they sound like a new band entirely, it's very refreshing. As a fan of Exoplanet, I have to say I never thought that they would make a new record that would give me the same feeling, they have with Clairvoyant but in a different way. It's calming and soothing and quite possibly the best they've ever sounded. Fans that continue to latch on to what this band once was, should definitely open up their mind and take in the true power and hypnotic musicianship that this album provides.
8.75 out of 10 stars.
Watch the official video for the track "Return To Earth" below: