Friday, July 20, 2012

Album Review: The Contortionist - Intrinsic

Album Rating: B-
It’s exhausting being an avid progressive junkie like me, because of how often you get disappointed. In a genre that prides itself on experimentation, it’s necessary for musicians to remain moving forward, testing new waters and paving new paths to success. While it’s great that such evolution is encouraged, it can also be detrimental for groups to fear staying in one place for too long.  

Although The Contortionist’s debut album Exoplanet was a progressive deathcore success that nobody anticipated, the gears have shifted vastly since 2010 to prompt the creation of Intrinsic. The album features a more prominently progressive landscape, nudging the earth-shattering deathcore moments to the side to fit between pockets of tranquil ambiance. While the group’s new formula certainly isn’t flawless, it at least leads to a few of The Contortionist’s greatest moments yet. “Holomovement” channels the likes of Cynic in its dreamy atmosphere, in a way unforeseen by the group this far. Elsewhere, “Geocentric Confusion” ends on the sweetest note before giving way to the ambiance that defines Intrinsic’s transitions.

There are issues that are immediately evident upon the first listen, though, and they primarily stem from The Contortionist having somewhat of an identity crisis. For instance, both the tracks I mentioned earlier only falter when descending into the depths of deathcore. And while these roads were traveled more extensively on Exoplanet, the reason that they worked so well is that they were indicative of a group in unison. The breakdowns in “Oscillator” had been done before, sure, but at least they were achieved comfortably. The heavy moment in “Holomovement” is not only completely unnecessary but also just unpleasant from a cohesive standpoint - every instrument’s struggling to be heard, fighting for a cause that’s yet to be determined.

Vocalist Jonathan Carpenter also struggles to utilize his voice in an innovative manner, adhering strictly to pitch-corrected singing for the melodic moments and monotonous shouts in the “brutal” parts. The relationship between the vocals and instruments isn’t as harmonious as on the group’s previous offering, and granted, part of this may be attributed to the production. After all, the guitar tone is so keen on resembling the idea of “djent” that it’s hardly distinguishable during the more complex passages.

The progressive leanings are performed curiously, as well. “Causality” closes out on a very introspective note, only to have “Sequential Vision” destroy the mood without a moment’s hesitation. The problem with the latter song’s introduction is the carefree nature it possesses for unspecified reasons, and the conflict against the otherwise tension-packed voyage that the rest of the tracks create. Intrinsic wants to be a deep album, but when causeless riffs go nowhere it dampens the album’s potential. When tension is released it gets extinguished immediately, and when heavier moments arrive there’s no buildup to even faintly warrant them.

There’s no justifiable reason for the changes The Contortionist have enacted, except for what feels like a desire to sound important. High ambitions are only a problem when they conflict with a band’s identity, and the progressive metal group didn’t rise from the hardcore-punk-rooted town of Indianapolis to create a monumental album on the second swing. Intrinsic showcases a band aching to be in someone else’s skin, aspiring to the accomplishments of their predecessors while, well, floundering a little bit in the creative department.

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1. Holomovement
2. Feedback Loop
3. Causality
4. Sequential Vision
5. Geocentric Confusion
6. Dreaming Schematics
7. Anatomy Anomalies
8. Cortical
9. Solipsis
10. Parallel Trance

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