If there’s one thing all the very best bands of all time have in common — in any genre — it’s that they evolve and change over time.
Sure, there’s something to be said for consistency, becoming good at something and doing it over and over again. Just ask Slayer and Killswitch Engage; both bands are doing quite alright, but writing the same album again and again will only take you so far.
But there’s “very good,” and there’s “great,” and in my opinion no band can ever be great unless they experiment and progress. From The Beatles to Pink Floyd to Mastodon, all the great rock bands in history have clear, non-linear musical trajectories.
With Clairvoyant, The Contortionist have thrust themselves into the conversation for being one of metal’s all-time great bands. Are they there yet? No, but only because it’s still too early to tell. But they’re certainly well on their way.
Four albums and seven years ago, a bunch of kids from Indianapolis released Exoplanet, an album that sounds like it was written and performed by a bunch of kids from Indianapolis. Downtuned guitars chugged, riffed and deedily-deedled. It was competent, but unspectacular, one of many albums to come out of the then-burgeoning djent/whatever movement.
Since then the band’s taken the trace atmospheric elements present on that record and gradually made them their main form of business: The Contortionist are hardly even a metal band anymore. And that’s just fine.
If Language, released in 2014, was the first time The Contortionist fully embraced their new direction — thanks in large part to new vocalist Michael Lessard (ex-Last Chance to Reason), keyboardist Eric Guenther (ex-Daath), and bassist Jordan Eberhardt (ex-Scale the Summit) — then Clairvoyant finds them mastering it. This is the album on which The Contortionist have finally arrived and become entirely themselves.
The record’s dreamy first single, “Reimagined,” is as sublime a track as has come out all year, a perfectly written — and deceptively complex — pop song with shimmery guitars throughout, deep, pulsing bass and a hook of gold. “Relapse” is equally as magnificent, sporting an instantly hummable vocal hook on top of a gorgeous arpeggiated guitar arrangement that follows a proggy verse riff. The title track finds the band embracing their inner Cynic — really the only band to which any kind of parallel can be drawn, albeit a small one — with skronky, jazzy guitar chords and rhythmic, lock-step guitar and drum chugs (OK, maybe these guys still have some metal left in ’em) that complement the track’s wide open, ambient chorus and ethereal bridge. Lessard lays harmonies upon harmonies of himself on “The Center” (and elsewhere), an art lost amongst most of today’s metal bands. Who the fuck even bothers harmonizing at all anymore? Lessard’s going for near-Queen levels of layering here.
Sonically, the record is marvelous; this may be Jamie King’s best production to date, and that’s saying a lot. The arrangements are wonderfully complex, with layer upon layer of guitars, keyboards and sound effects revealing themselves upon repeat listens but never bogging down the whole. The mix is crystal clear and remarkably even, with Eberhardt’s steady low end taking a deserved seat at the front of your headspace.
Most of all, though, it’s great to see a band taking chances and moving forward. The result is a fully formed band, four albums in, to which no other bands compare. Literally: no one else sounds like The Contortionist even a little.
There is absolutely nothing to knock about Clairvoyant. I’m sure it’ll have its detractors, but there’s always gonna be some luddite kid refusing to accept change and evolution to whom Exoplanet is the only true Contortionist album. Fuck that guy. The earth is round.