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Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Contortionist - Intrinsic review

Year : 2012
Genre : Progressive Djent Metal with a lurking ambient tendency
Label : eOne/Good Fight Music
Origin : United States
Rating : 7.5 / 10 (score evolved from 6.9 on July 29, 2012)

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The Contortionist steps forward with an orthodox progressive metal release, which, for the most part, is the tasteful courting of an image of music that sounds to fall between Dream Theater and Periphery, yet more limited in its scope than their more renowned peers of popular recognition. The disc sounds the most interesting throughout the adventurous technical breaks of instrumental intermissions that it brings to the table, and it is much less capable to offer relevant surprises when witnessed from the angle of Dream Theater song structure administration. A good amount of the affair is dedicated to the abstract (stock) sci-fi feel that is very easy to exploit mercilessly once you are content to rely on a certain set of "safe-sci-fi" chord passages, - TUKK! - and these tame-, in character, almost ambient affectations do no particular beneficial service for the overall experience of this contribution - other than serving out the rudimentary cravings of a lazy taste bud. My intent is not to put you off of the LP, it instead is to inform you that the disc has a combination of quite predictable-, and even pseudo-content - more on that later - and a steady segment of genuine music cultivation, too. Read on to find out more.

The LP starts out frighteningly enough, with an adorable, open, smarmy musical space being offered at first, but this sonic environment gets polluted quickly by the most puzzling element of the album, which is the clean singing. The way the fronter is singing the first words : "tiny pieces" in pretentious Dream Theater sci-fi fashion is a terrible threat, probably. This is how you will end up if you criticize his clean singing. Throughout the disc, the lead singer responsible for the cleans is doing a veeeeeeeeeeeeeeery modest job at best. His willingness to give himself to a resonated thought wholeheartedly, paradoxically sounds to be non-existent, and his lung capacity/sonic power is not even in the same galaxy Spencer Sotelo comes from. As such, don't be hesitant-, in fact, feel obliged to dramatically degrade your expectation levels regarding stellar clean singing on this spin, because you will find none of that herein. The death metalish/metalcoresque vocal delivery is pretty "just-standard", too.

I feel the urge to state my claim that the parts of the disc that I find most intriguing, are the more intense, instrumental segments with - usually - profound sound-presence in them, which does not necessarily equates musical aggressivity. The package has a nice, sober understanding of interesting, exigent chord mechanics, and is fortunately willing to handle complex chords in a melodic manner to produce fine soundscapes whenever showcasing prime value. It also realizes that it takes fucking WORK to create the fine variant of music praising those, so it is not too hard to catch the disc red handed, either. The central riff of track number 6, "Dreaming Schematic" is an example of how a colorful, flamboyant pattern is being shown and played around with, a riff which deliberately occupies the position of reigning at the intriguing crossroad of dissonance and melodic pattern. Pretty cool stuff, but it is not the form the disc keeps throughout. Though this particular song reaches a decent melodic chord-ride in the mid-section that lasts all the way to the climax, THEN the climax itself is a nod to aggressive sludge and I can't find a way to pick on it, so I do not even keep looking for such opportunity. But what about "Anatomy Anomalies?" Seriously, the way the fronter starts to sing the verse, is Karaoke level. (Pretty fucking bad, too.) Starts from 1:02. As you will hear, - if you listen, that is - this particular song exhibits somewhat of a fusion jazz vibe, similar to the YouTube videos in which fusion jazz rock giant Frank Gambale gives you tips on what to play on a Phyrigian chord progression.

So, whenever work has been done, and quality music has been served, you also will get a healthy amount of alibi-content as an agent that glues the ripe parts together, hoping that your awareness is stimulated enough to deem the more tepid glue-parts - usually summoning trite alternative metal affectations all in the ethos of James Labrie - as passable. Sure, it IS passable, but nothing beyond that. I complain about this aspect much enough so the need to support my claim is no longer evadable. Here is an example, from track 2 : man, you need to dress exclusively in pink latex to enjoy the way the lead singer comes in at 2:12 in second track, "Feedback Loop". I mean, Jimmy Sommerville's great werewofl howl - you bet. - is an alpa male statement compared to this rendition of pretentious, powerless stock-sci-fi bigotry. James LaBrie though approves, 'spose. It is especially saddening to see such a promising build getting raped violently by sedated sloth clean singing, as this track, "Feedback Loop" starts out with an especially strong introductory segment, in which mere sonic monster mass gets played around with in skillful and inventive fashion - though you will probably need to subject yourself to the happenings on numerous occasion in order to be able to truly and competently appreciate what actually is in front of your ears. Once again : the LP is most interesting when you are not sure what is happening, because, when you ARE sure, then it already is bad fucking news.

The sci-fi theme is an ubiquitous one throughout the more tame structural elements, yet, unfortunately, its rendition remains absent when sought after in the more aggressive builds. The sci-fi ethos revealed on the LP is very similar in its musical shape and form to the particular behavior you are accustomed to hear in either 1. super-orthodox progressive sci-fi metal, or 2. second-grade jazz fusion. Like the climax of track 8, "Cortical" : if you want to hear this kind of music getting the holy shit and more played out of it in manly fashion, look for the Frank Gambale records of the '80s.

Track number 5, Geocentric Confusion - now could you go any more sci-fi with the title? Of COURSE you could - is a good example of pretty much all the elements the LP is capable to offer at face value, and it equally is one of the more strong entries on the affair - though the semi-retarded, sedated sloth clean singing in the climax degrades the overall picture a bit. Following a brief deathcoresque intro, the track submits to one fine highlight of those quite delicious melodic chord passages. At 3:40, the build goes on a nice stroll in lightweight mode, with Meshuggah cymbals and overall rhetorics, - also notice how this entire structure mimics the catarsis-tissue of the 2002 Meshuggah song "Straws pulled at random", as a certain pattern is colliding with two chords for differing trance effect, as in said inspirator - but the clean singing here really is something to produce a psychotic episode for, secretly, silently. And the lyrics! The horror! The madness! "...I'll always be there for you." Oh man, could you be there for someone else instead?

My entire percept is that this disc partly is a Periphery fan-album, with an increased tendency to profoundly rely on open spaced alternative metal affectations. The aggressive parts of the disc are colorful in nature, pack nice variation, and make good, efficient use of the rumbling djent guitars. In other words, exhibit good command and competent variation on the massive sound, especially in a rhythmic context. Yet, as result of the lack of notable high frequency detail - saved for some self-congratulatory spaced-out guitar molestation-sessions - the global charms of the release give out peak value with relative haste, and the elements they get interchanged for, are predictable and even tedious at times.

The sound is decent, yet I have the personal opinion that the album is a little bit too loud, and bleeds into white noise distortion on many many occasions. I'm pretty sure that these are either 7 stringed guitars tuned down to the core of hell, IF not eight stringed monsters straight out. Now for the only primordial problem that already has been outlined, and which though permeates the data. The clean singing is almost below evaluation level. You can't seriously keep a poker face handy and compare this sedated trapped in open space clean singing to Anubis Gate's Henrik Fevre or to Periphery's Spencer Stiletto. Sorry, this is the only occasion I joke with the name of Spencer Stiletto. DAMN! Furthermore, I am not at all content with the fact that the disc ends with two versions (!!) of a frankly, tedious space-ambient piece that takes away 7 minutes flat from the 48 minutes fray, - leaving you with 40 minutes of real deal content, look, mom, I can (kind of) do basic math! - and it is not a tad more special or anything else than the transcendental meditation soundtrack-backdrops on YouTube. Bad? Not at all. WORSE? Yes, much much much much much so. If I'd truly want brainwave entrainment in the information age, it would cost me 0.99 USD to get rid of it provided I'm not careful enough. This is an acceptable progressive metal release with surprisingly weak clean singing embedded into it, and with a healthy amount of elegant sonic content, some of which is worthy to revisit. In packets.Watch out, marketing mine!

Addendum : I have listened to this album more since then, and I realize it is more mature of a record than I previously have thought, and so I adjusted the subjective rating accordingly.

Rating : 7.5 / 10 (Score evolved from 6.9 on July 29, 2012)

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