Last week, Indiana-based prog metallers The Contortionist came through Warsaw on their fall jaunt across Europe. On the eve of the release of their new EP ‘Our Bones,’ the Hydrozagadka was packed out for a truly memorable show. The air in the venue was electric before the set even began, and as the lights filtered in (to a recording of “I Will Always Love You”, no less) the crowd gave a rousing rendition of their own. The recording faded, and the tension in the air shattered as the show began.
Over the years, The Contortionist have evolved from deathcore beginnings to become one of progressive metal’s most intriguing bands. This shift could not have been more evident in the first two tracks of the night- “Clairvoyant” and “Flourish.” “Clairvoyant” set the scene with an ambient, dark vibe, meandering keyboard lines contrasting with abrasive riffage. Michael Lessard’s instantly recognizable voice added yet another layer of melancholy to an already extremely textured mix. As the spacey intro track faded, the audience was launched headlong into pure sonic mayhem with “flourish.” While the The Contortionist’s recent releases have strayed from extreme metal, this track proved that they can still execute that crushingly heavy style perfectly. Ferocious moshing erupted throughout the venue for the duration of the song, transporting the crowd back to Exoplanet-era The Contortionist.
Transitioning from such an abrasive headspace back down to earth, the title track from their 2014 record “Language” followed. Hearing the two-part, nine-minute song in its entirety is a damn near spiritual experience flitting from layered repetitive passages to sonic chaos to soaring bridges. Honestly, there’s no other way to explain it other than the fact that this song just takes you somewhere else. Somewhere wonderfully captivating and alive, a trance like existence that slowly envelops you in sound. The instruments become one machine that ebbs and flows hypnotically, before jarring you awake and bringing revolt to the peaceful soundscape that so quickly became familiar. This one song is a masterpiece, and the high it creates was only augmented as the show continued.
The night’s setlist highlighted The Contortionist’s most recent releases, such as “Reimagined” and their newest offering “Early Grave.” This song, for me, is the one that truly cements The Contortionist as a hallmark of modern progressive metal. Their sonic growth, both in subject matter and songwriting, always feels like a continuous evolution while avoiding an air of novelty for its own sake. Their approach feels organically innovative, adapting too quickly to get caught in a formula. That brings me to Early Grave- while it has distinctive elements reminiscent of previous releases, the creativity of each member individually keeps it from feeling like a B side. It’s fresh, unique, atmospheric and captivating in the same ways, but coupled with the excitement of discovering how the band has grown sonically. That “discovery” came through in the bridge, as everything died out except somber keyboards and Lessard’s vocorder-distorted vocals. “I know you think that you can’t be saved, but my only hope is that you choose to stay” cut through the quiet of the venue, and you could truly hear the melancholy steeped in his voice. It’s clear that The Contortionist are creatively at the top of the game, and the fact that they can so easily translate that atmosphere to a live setting in such a mesmerizing way is honestly incredible.
The experiential nature of The Contortionist makes it rather difficult to convey their aura in words. While some bands overextend themselves in the pursuit of being “progressive”, The Contortionist’s compositions fully explore wonderfully complex, unique ideas before embarking on the next sonic adventure. Nothing feels out of place. Nothing feels cut short. They are a journey on which you’re simultaneously (and continuously) surprised, intrigued and eager for more. Couple that love of musical exploration with a perfectly fitting light show and deliciously balanced mix, and you’re in for an unforgettable performance. Submerging oneself in The Contortionist’s atmosphere is an experience that must be felt to truly understand.