"The best thing about prog music is that even if you haven’t caught up on to what’s happening in the actual music, you just know that there is some sort of loose concept that is tethering all of the riffs, melodies and lyrics together to create a wider, more sophisticated art-piece. As pretentious as that does sound, it’s a feeling one cannot help but enjoy or at least appreciate whilst listening to ‘Clairvoyant’, the latest offering by new-found progressive lords, The Contortionist.
Drawing on influences ranging from the crushing power of Between The Buried & Me to the melodic beauty of Sigur Rós, ‘Clairvoyant’ and its nine compositions are a grand mixture of ethereal passages of beauty and crushing riffs; the kind that gives listeners mere glimpses of the heavier beast this band once was.
See, while previous incarnations of The Contortionist (2010’s ‘Exoplanet‘ and 2012’s ‘Intrinsic‘) were more generically djent and tech-death orientated releases, here on ‘Clairvoyant‘, and similar to 2014’s ‘Langauge‘ save for the guttural screaming, it’s crystal clear that things have taken a deeper turn for the ambitious from the opening seconds of ‘Monochrome (Passive)’. An instrumental fanfare, this song introduces the sweeping dynamic range that The Contortionist will come to explore throughout their fourth record, revealing a greater thirst for experimentation and wider sonic palettes than ever before. Gone are the blast beats, gone are the breakdowns, gone are the bass drops, and gone too are all of the screams. Instead, they’ve all been replaced with a pristine soundscape of swirling widescreen synths, cinematic low-end, layers of harmonics, busy yet intersting drum patterns, wonderfully gritty bass tones, and guitars that skirt between both lush textures and crunchy impact – often at the same time.
Elsewhere on this mighty record, ‘Absolve’ opens with a gorgeous bass line that, with the help of tight beat laid down by drummer Joey Baca, underpins the impressive crooning and vocal talents of frontman Michael Lessard. A song like this shows off a far more thoughtful and calmer side of this once much heavier act. Likewise, ‘Relapse’ gives keys player Eric Guenther glorious free reign to establish the musical backdrop to which the very song takes place; with walls of synths and gentle piano parts giving way to a classic 7/4 groove that’ll get every typical prog fan nodding their head along out of time.
In addition to boosting all of their dynamic stocks, ‘Clairvoyant‘ also showcases a band that has really learnt to earnestly ‘progress’ with their songs; rather than merely cycling through riff after repetitive riff in a desperate attempt to keep people’s attention. Channelling the likes of latter Opeth and even Tool in terms of progression, many of the songs on ‘Clairvoyant’ cautiously move between various scenes, steadily introducing new instrumental elements and sounds that allow each track to morph into new yet recognisable shapes for their respectively mammoth conclusions. Case in point, the record’s title track. Opening with a waterfall of synths and spacious reverb, the epic quickly spirals down to crushingly heavy depths of punchy grooves and churning riffs, before floating back to the melodic, layered surface and ending with just a little bit of extra menace originally hinted at. Another great example of this is the second-to-last ‘Return To The Earth‘, which gradually shifts from a post-rock slow burner to a brutally heavy march slightly tinged with moments of psychedelia. The progression to such an end is slow, but that works for the song and also makes sense overall, given these piece’s strong sense of continuity.
What’s most striking about ‘Clairvoyant’ is the ease with which it can be digested; something that not all prog records are capable of achieving admittedly. By taking away the need for over the top technical showmanship and instead investing their creative energies in the composition of their melodies – much like what Gojira achieved with last year’s brilliant LP, ‘Magma‘ – The Contortionist have condensed down the absolute best parts of their sound and have created a collection of compositions as haunting as they are reflective. Given that this new record was tracked in a cabin by a lake – the very first time the band apparently tried something of the sort for a recording environment – escaping the binary world of metal, numbers and digital surroundings has done them a world of good; producing a warm, beautifully heartfelt collection of songs and untapped, honest sounds as a result.
Thank God these guys are willing to take the risk to move away from the very sound that brought them to world attention in the first place. Because progressive-music is about always trying to do and create something new, and ‘Clairvoyant’ is The Contortionist firing on every creative level and clearly enjoying themselves in the process. Not overplaying can truly go a long way and this magnificent record from The Contortionist is real proof of that." - Kill Your Stereo