March of 2013 was a jarring month for progressive metal fans, especially for those of Indianapolis’ own The Contortionist. Seeing John Carpenter – the vocalist/keys player – leave to start his family, many were left questioning the future of The Contortionist, considering how much Carpenter brought to the table in the writing process of the band. With 2014 came two new members, keyboard player Eric Guenther and Last Chance to Reason’s own Mike Lessard to sing. With that, The Contortionist began the arduous task of recording its third full length. Now, with new members (including ex-Scale the Summit bassist Jordan Eberhardt, who joined after bassist Chris Tilley left), Indy’s own prog geniuses show off their new face with Language.
The first track, “The Source,” shows off Lessard’s vocal ability in a very soft, ambient intro. This track is followed by the first single, “Language I: Intuition,” which is the best example of subtle technicality I’ve seen since early Cynic or Dream Theater. Drummer Joey Baca’s jazzy influences are shown off beautifully, and the guitars and bass are composed to form a very organic-feeling landscape in the mind. The band does a fantastic job of incorporating the groove back in through the follow-up song, “Language II: Conspire,” which is the heaviest track I’ve heard from The Contortionist since Exoplanet was released. “Conspire” truly shows off what Lessard brings to the table, and it is with no hesitation that I say he is a perfect fit for the band; his devastating screams only match Carpenter’s, and his clean vocals shine well above his.
“Integration” is up next. Guenther’s own unique keyboard style is shown off on this track, keeping with more effect-driven ambience to go along with the very discordant playing that accompanies the guitars in a beautifully symphonic way. It dwells into a very post-rock and jazz-influenced section that was greatly enjoyable; then it transitions into what I’d consider a focal point to the album: an incredibly heavy yet melodic section which feels like an essential The Contortionist moment – one you’d find in any of the band’s records. Afterwards is “Thrive,” which has a rather strong Between the Buried and Me feel in its transitions, though the song itself feels more relatable to newer Periphery.
The second single released, “Primordial Sound,” has a very soft and relaxing intro, which gradually builds in a TesseracT-like soft rock section, as Lessard’s vocal layering is shown off with a three-part harmony mixed in with his harsh growls. Following it is “Arise,” which is very groove-driven yet remarkably technical in its guitars. Though “Arise” is the second shortest song on the record, it is four minutes of instrumental brilliance behind Lessard’s soft vocal brilliance. “Ebb & Flow” opens and it feels like Tool took a soft turn up until the powerful guitar chords push through and the song continues to get heavier. Even through the softer section, this song feels the darkest of any on Language. It also brings back a lyrical theme from all throughout the record: “Drift with the ebb and flow / sink in the ebb and flow.” That thought also applies in how you listen to the album, for it is very groove-centralized, so you subconsciously bob your head and flow with the rhythm of it.
The final track, “The Parable,” comes in very softly. I’m afraid several metal fans might miss just how beautiful this part is; the atmosphere set here is to be commended because it sets up the riff and vocal pattern in such a way that’s almost Pink Floyd-like in execution. The song drifts back and forth between the album’s themes and ambience, and it leaves a very complete feeling once it drifts away, with a little anecdote of speech at the end to make you think.
Language completes everything The Contortionist started with Intrinsic, and then expands upon it tenfold. Lessard and Guenther are welcome additions musically, as they brought a life to this album Carpenter might not have been able to himself. I don’t speak hyperbolically about this album when I say it is the must-own record of 2014 because it does things for metal – or even music in general – that haven’t been achieved in decades. It's catchy, groovy, technical, sound songwriting all wrapped in one 48-minute masterpiece.