(Here’s the second of TheMadIsraeli’s new reviews in as many days, the log jam having broken on his pent-up thoughts. Today, the subject is the 2012 release by Indiana’s The Contortionist.)
Man, was there a fuck load of hype around this album. I have to say, as much as I like this band and as good as I think their music is (I’m reviewing the album obviously), I didn’t know mixing djent, deathcore, and post-rock would be such a big deal. Other bands have obviously attempted to bank off what The Contortionist have done since their stellar debut Exoplanet was released; probably most notably Substructure, whom I also love to death.
But now we’re here to talk about the band’s insanely hyped and eagerly anticipated sophomore release, Intrinsic. The Contortionist have stepped up their game, expanded their sound, yet they have also refined it. I will be frank and say the experiment here is not entirely successful, but rather that this should be viewed as an excellent, ambitious step forward in establishing an identity. It could be argued, of course, that this band already stood out, but Intrinsic is definitely an album you couldn’t mistake for another. It is for this reason, combined with Intrinsic’s solid ideas and concepts, that make it worthy of an NCS review in my mind.
The music has definitely changed quite a bit. The trademark elements are still here: Brutalizing death core grooves; mantic, technical, brain-hemorrhaging riffs; soothing ambience that makes one envision galaxies moving in space; and crescendos and drops in intensity that showcase extreme dynamic intelligence.
The prog level is definitely turned up on this album, though. The song structures are much more frantic, with little to no cohesiveness whatsoever. A lot of the songs jump unexpectedly from part to part. There may be a returning section at some point during the song, but even in those situations, the returning part is thrown in with the most unorthodox logic.
The album as a whole is also downright schizophrenic throughout its course. The contrast between the loud and the soft is unreal. When The Contortionist play softly, it’s the most beautiful, rich, and gripping ambient ecstasy of a rare sort. When they turn brutal, it’s gut-wrenching, intestine-twisting, and skeletal-fracturing fury. It’s very rare to hear a band create such contrast with such potency.
The opening song “Holomovement” is about as odd a starting song as you could imagine. Its chiming, space-tinged, clean guitars and cool groove create an arresting atmosphere, a sensation of floating in space, waiting for death. The guitars, while distorted, have the gain dialed back as the heavier sections are full of graceful tapping as well as resonating thooms from the low end of their 7 strings. There is only one short section of deathcore brawn, and it’s near the beginning of the song, no less, never to return.
The song’s instrumental chorus is an amazing section of music, a riff full of strings allowed to resonate, producing an ethereal yet messy atmosphere with a captivating melody. The way this song ends is also really cool, returning to the chorus but dramatically slowed to a doom-level tempo.
“Feedback Loop” starts with a bass-only intro, followed by some twisted sci-fi sounding synths underneath. The ensuing groove is monstrous, with vocalist John Carpenter’s beast-like vocals completing the assault full-circle. The atonal tapping, mangled chugs, and psychotic synth work that ensues are just overwhelming.
The band throw a substantial curveball, though, as the rest of the song is melodic and passionate in its delivery. It also showcases the contrast between Carpenter’s inner beast and his inner angel. His clean vocals are gentle and airy, and they float over the music with elegance. I think it’s safe to say that the Cynic influence should be pretty obvious by now, particularly the influence of the album Traced in Air. Carpenter’s cleans even exhibit that same alien robotic tone.
“Causality” is definitely one of my personal favorites. Its opening is an atom-smashing groove, which is interrupted by one of the most beautiful melodic sections I’ve ever heard. This is mostly due to John Carpenter’s insane knack for keyboard work that both fits and enhances the music. While technical, punctuated riffing is wildly at play underneath, the atmosphere provided by the keyboards creates a soothing effect.
The ensuing section, however, is the complete opposite: a total all-out assault of spastic seizure-riffing that brings to mind even Dying Fetus a bit. The section that follows this throws you for an even bigger loop: A densely layered, epic, melodic chorus followed by a lead guitar medley that unfolds for a good chunk of the song and worms its way into your subconscious self. The djenty breakdown (part of the song’s first section reprised) is a nice finishing touch.
“Sequential Vision” is definitely one of the proggier songs on the album. Its opening riff is oddly… bubbly. Fusion-esque is the way I’d describe it, as well as many of the other sections in this song. Its verse is an oddly ethereal, spacey section that incorporates the use of a vocoder to make you feel as if you’re being serenaded by the HAL-9000. The schizophrenic convulsions of brutality that occur throughout, amongst the beautiful and otherworldly rainfall, are pleasantly jarring.
“Geocentric Confusion” is the best song on this album, the most successful number of the Intrinsic experiment. The brutality is at an all-time high here, with The Contortionist caving in your skull with some of the most twisted and cacophonic beat downs they’ve ever done. The small melodic bits compliment the rest well, for the sake of providing contrast, but in this case, they actually fit together. The song doesn’t rely on schizophrenia-as-novelty to the extent the others previous have. The outro of this song at the same time is gorgeous — a syncopated groove layered with lush keyboards and acoustic guitars that winds you down from the intensity.
The next two songs, “Dreaming Schematics” and “Anatomy Anomalies”, are slow-paced numbers that channel two distinctly different vibes. “Dreaming Schematics” uses atmosphere and variations to build the music to a brutal climax. “Anatomy Anomalies”, however, is a doomy song that takes the listener on a journey as it dies out. Its structure is quite interesting. The distorted, angular, jazzy progressions throughout the song add a sense of unease that throws you off amidst the generally ear-pleasing melodic parts.
“Cortical”/”Solipsis” is the last real song on the album. The first part is a very eerie journey in the vein of the two immediately preceding songs, while the second part is one of the most devastating breakdowns I’ve ever heard in the entirety of deathcore’s existence. The album closes with “Parallel Trance” — spacey, soul-pleasing ambience that swells and dies.
The mix, I will be frank, is a bit iffy. The album was mixed by the almighty Jason Suecof with help from Eyal Levi of Daath, and . . . it’s loud? That’s about as much as I can say. Some of the frequencies clash pretty badly; the drums are often gratingly abrasive and at times there are parts (everything underneath the solo In “Causality”, for example) where everything becomes a bit muddy and discombobulated. Oddly enough, the mix is at its best when the band is entering into the more Cynic-like moments on this album.
The music itself, I do speak well of it. I mean every compliment I’ve given, but at the same time what The Contortionist will have to learn in the future is that randomness is not being progressive. Some of the changes and transitions that happen on this album tend to feel totally unnecessary — but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen nonetheless.
Intrinsic is worth checking out, but it’s a for-sure thing that the band is still getting their feet wet with this more adventurous direction. I’d even say buy it. It’s a great effort if you can understand and accept this as more of an experiment and less of a fully realized album.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Intrinsic is out now in North America and will be officially released in Europe by Season of Mist on October 19. The Contortionist’s Facebook page is here.