Magnificent One Minute, Mediocre The Next,
This review is from: Exoplanet (Audio CD)
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet.
When deep in conversation about what music my friends and I are 'into' at present, American Progressive Metal band, The Contortionist popped up, namely, the song 'Flourish' which was the first song of theirs that I heard, later becoming the reason to investigate more. As I suspected, there were songs that had real merit and moments of inspiration in the chaotic style this band has forged. Unfortunately, just as one song began to grow in appreciation, it was cut down by just plain bad breakdowns and lack of any melody, beat, rhythm, soul. I really wanted to like this album and band, but I can't quite grasp what they're getting at, and at times, I doubt the band know themselves either..
is a fairly brutal introduction to 'Exoplanet' thanks to generally unpleasant chords and straight up angry, riffage. There was no doubt about the technical ability of the band members, particularly the guitarists and drummer, but for all their instrumental expertise, it seemed they could do little to form a pleasant sound at all. It takes a good minute and a half to hear some drawn out vocals finally breathe some sort of life, alongside some double bass and spiralling guitar work the second time around (which eventually closes the song). Not exactly the best way to kick start this sort of album, as it isn't the fastest, strongest or best the band can do. I should make things clear here and say that I hold nothing against screaming and the likes found in heavy metal, even death-core etc, when its done properly and not devoid of any real feeling or melody.
Upon first listen, this one takes 2 agonisingly long minutes to have any sort of appeal at all. My good friend had sent me a link to this whilst I was at work. First impressions were, "here's more nonsensical, technical, jargon thats more boastful than meaningful". Of course being the good friend he is, he knew this would likely make my day. After the desolate cries of "Endless motion." and "Now the experience is long gone.", things quietened down and the song gained atmosphere with eerily pretty undertones and crispy clean guitar playing. As the melody progressed, so too did the momentum, with guitars getting louder, drums reappearing and finally at 3:49 exactly, The Contortionist finally manage to 'Flourish'. As if everything were in overdrive, pace quickens to staggering proportions as does the mood. Suddenly this song goes from a soundtrack of floating through space peacefully to hurtling into the sun. I highly recommend finding this song, skipping to 2 minutes in and bracing yourself. Some will likely cover their ears in disgust, but others put on edge, with all the malenky little hairs on their plott standing endwise. But in this albums trademark fashion, this magnificence is banished to the memory when the last minute makes a right mess of things. Worth skipping forward and ending early.
"What the hell is that?"
Initial thoughts of track 3 'Expire'. A weird, techno tuned vocal spouting incomprehensible words of wisdom. Another recurring theme is the use of double bass and speed picking, still offering some... appeal. It does however get a bit more rhythmic towards the end thanks to a head-banging beat. The song 'Contact' features a surprisingly calm intro and morphs into a scaling, upbeat melody thats so out of place with the album so far. The verse sees the same vocal effect, accompanied by this generic screaming vocalist. The happy go lucky start gets lost in the maelstrom of rock now and then but stirs up some decent solo moments. It really does feel like this band enjoy mixing pure, hollow trash sounds with heavenly moments of bliss. At this point, I still don't get it, but then that riff comes back and I dont really care.
More of the same...
in 'Advent'. Strong technical skill showcased as usual, interrupted by dull screams and stuttering rhythm guitar. So they speed up half way through and find something that almost ressembles a beat. It's only now that I realise I haven't taken in almost any lyrics - down to the lack of interest and difficulty understanding a word this 'vocalist' says. 'Vessel' is almost completely unpleasant. Harsh chords mixing with what sounds like the same vocals/lyrics smashed together. That and more insane robot talk. After 3 minutes, the lead guitarist attempts to salvage any credibility that might be had with a cool, brief solo. 'Oscillator' is in the same vein as 'Flourish' - a pretty woeful beginning and solid mid section. However, I find it gets tolerable as there is finally feeling the (later) majority of the song. Even as I write this and the song carries on I start to regret those small words of praise. And after those, more remorse as things pick up - a sign of what this album is like, back and fourth. A minutes worth of spacial noise is well needed in this song, brilliantly picked up by some quirky guitar work, unheard and unthinkable of so far. The pace builds again. When the songs are filled with spindly guitar speed picking, jaunty pull offs and hammer-ons, they are at their peek. Throw in vocals though, and you're back to the same old rubbish really.
"Welcome aboard the Axiom"
'Axiom' ...sounds familiar... isn't that the name of the massive space ship in Disney's 'Wall-E'? Who cares, anyway its a blissful change of pace as its just some quaint acoustic guitar, piano and some backing orchestral notes. Almost melancholy throughout, it turns into some sort of tropical paradiso track.. go figure, but I dig it. It's also the shortest track at 2:25 (it's an instrumental too:). The final 3 songs take the name of the album, 'Exoplanet', I, II and III. 'I: Egress' is super catchy after a minute of idling guitars and downbeat percussion. It gets spritely around the minute mark and the vocals although heavily influenced by technology, work well with the music for once. That said, I swear I heard him sing "You are the operators of this Bulbasaur". 2 minutes in and dundadadaaa, here he is to wreck the song! The rest of the band hold the song together despite its sinister turn, its just that the vocals are so God awful! Yet I still enjoy part of the songs.. what does that tell you?
Life to Lifeless
Cannot get off the mark with more stop start guitar and all round thrashing, but that doesn't stop most of the band making the most of the eviler sound. The last song feels like a jazzy bit of relaxed showing off. The inevitable rears its ugly head again though, dragging the music into a dark hole of dreadful nothingness. Its difficult to believe that an album with such highs can have equally vast lows. That said highs can be so full of life and vigor and the lows so boringly lifeless. Frustration, thy name is The Contortionist.