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Review: The Contortionist – “Clairvoyant”

Release date: September 15, 2017
Rating: outstanding (4)

Line-up:

Michael Lessard – vocals
Robby Baca – guitar
Cameron Maynard – guitar
Joey Baca – percussion
Jordan Eberhardt – bass
Eric Guenther – keyboards

I am the type of person who listens to black metal while studying. I am also the type of person who falls asleep to Swallow The Sun. But from time to time, I am like everyone else: I’m craving calm, balanced music, and that’s the kind of music The Contortionist, one of the greatest prog bands on the market, have been offering for the last couple of years. If you aren’t familiar with The Contortionist, note that this band’s style pretty much went from a quite balanced mix of prog rock, djent and deathcore to almost meditative post-rock and fusion in less than ten years. Someone even commented on one of The Contortionist’s music videos saying that their new material feels very soothing for people who struggle with anxiety.

The Contortionist still play progressive music of course, but ever since their third record “Language” released in 2014, it seems as if they have found a niche they enjoy and to which they will probably stick for the future. While there still were some djent and deathcore elements to be found on that album, things have changed a little with “Clairvoyant” – the harsh vocals have completely disappeared and even though there are some heavier parts, they can’t really be compared to The Contortionist’s djent/deathcore past.
One thing I often dislike about progressive bands is how they try to include every single idea they might have had during songwriting without considering if those different elements are in tune with each other. The Contortionist, on the contrary, have been establishing a more simplified approach to songwriting, and have perfected the art of writing songs that flow perfectly from beginning to end and into each other from the first to the last track. That is why discussing every track individually wouldn’t make any sense – you really have to listen to the whole record to understand it. Some beautiful songs, however, are “Godspeed”, “Reimagined” and “Absolve”.
Additionally, I can’t stress enough what great of a vocalist Michael Lessard is. It is not only his ability to change from soft head voice singing to pig squeals that makes him special, but also the fact that he sounds absolutely flawless live. He really has full control over his voice and I particularly enjoy how he incorporates his r’n’b influences into his vocals. On “Clairvoyant”, he dispenses with harsh vocals, though, and to be honest, I do believe that giving up the harsh vocals wasn’t the best idea. I see, however, where The Contortionist wanted to go with this record and that such vocals just wouldn’t fit into the musical concept of “Clairvoyant”.
Another aspect that could be seen as a downside to this record in general is the fact that it flows to the point where it lacks a certain surprise effect. Or, in other words, you could be listening to “Clairvoyant” and there probably wouldn’t be any kind of “WTF!” moment. Of course, a record shouldn’t be solely based on those moments, but a little surprise here and there would be welcome on this particular one. Having Lessard’s whole vocal spectrum would probably enable a more extreme sound dimension to the record and make it even more interesting and enjoyable.

Other than that, I can’t think of anything negative. Just keep in mind that if you are looking for tech metal and djent, The Contortionist isn’t the band to offer you that kind of style of music anymore. Apart from that, I believe that this album can make you happy: It is great at calming you down, and to top it all, it will satisfy any progressive music freak’s need for extraordinary music.

Tracks:
01. Monochrome (Passive)
02. Godspeed
03. Reimagined
04. Clairvoyant
05. The Center
06. Absolve
07. Relapse
08. Return To Earth
09. Monochrome (Pensive)

Review: Arch Enemy – “Will To Power”

Release date: September 8, 2017
Rating: average (3)

Line-up:

Alissa White-Gluz – vocals
Michael Amott – guitars
Jeff Loomis – guitars
Sharlee D’Angelo – bass
Daniel Erlandsson – drums

How do you introduce a band like Arch Enemy? It’s actually really easy: You don’t have to. They are on nearly every rock and metal magazine cover right now. If you haven’t heard of this band to this day, please allow me one question: Have you been living under a rock for the last three years?

Arch Enemy are truly known and loved for what they do. Their new album Will To Power has been really successful so far, but the release of this record hasn’t turned the world upside down. Alright, sarcasm aside: I won’t complain about a more than solid new record by Arch Enemy just because they haven’t drastically changed since their last record. No one is expecting any kind of major shift in style from this band. At this point, I am happy if their songs stay consistently high-quality.
So as I mentioned, the essence of Arch Enemy stays the same and probably will for the years to come – however, adding different elements into their music allows them to move with the times and to offer their loyal fans new and exciting music without changing their style completely. And that’s exactly what they intended with Will To Power. I will, though, complain about the fact that this album could have turned out better than it actually did.
The intro “Set Flame To The Night” sounds pretty mediocre to me. The next song, “The Race”, a quite fast and straight-forward song, seems to be doing the job as the first “real” track on the record, not more and not less. “Blood In The Water” just isn’t memorable. It is quite likely that you will forget this song very quickly, as it is way too packed with quite unimpressive riffs and unnecessary guitar tootling.
From this point on, the record starts to become enjoyable. “The World Is Yours” is the first track on this record that finally stands out. It isn’t nearly as catchy as “War Eternal” was, but it is really solid, quite dynamic for an Arch Enemy track and the bass sounds really cool. Next up is “The Eagle Flies Alone”, aka “You Will Know My Name 2.0”. I mean, the song is really good. I assume that at least one medium paced, epic track is part of every Arch Enemy record now. But the interesting thing about Will To Power is that they decided to put another slower, “ballad”-like song right after an already relatively slow track like “The Eagle Flies Alone” – it’s called “Reason To Believe”, and this really is the kind of song that gives you strength and hope. I really enjoy it. It is definitely something completely different for Arch Enemy, but oh, is it splendid! Thank God Alissa got to use her full vocal spectrum on this album, particularly on this track and also on some other songs to come. It seems that she has a lot more saying in the songwriting process now, as some melodies and singing styles are very reminiscent of older The Agonist material, which makes absolute sense. I have been a fan of The Agonist with White-Gluz, so I really don’t mind hearing some parallels to her old band. On the same note, Arch Enemy’s frontwoman is starting to form a personality of her own and, luckily, is not trying to copy her predecessor Angela Gossow. People can say whatever they want about Alissa White-Gluz, but thanks to her talent and hard work, she has risen to the very top of the metal scene, and rightfully so.
The album continues with “Murder Scene”, a quite classically structured heavy metal song that also sounds quite personal if you listen to the lyrics. “First Day In Hell” and “Dreams Of Retribution” are surprisingly dark, but well-done. In general, the following tracks stand out in comparison with other Arch Enemy tracks in the sense that they are less epic and more straight-forward and higher-paced, which is nice to hear for a change. “My Shadow And I” highlights my last point, as well as the cover “City Baby Attacked By Rats” originally performed by GBH. “A Fight I Must Win”, technically the last track off Will To Power, on the contrary, sounds like a classic Arch Enemy song again. The lyrics sound kind of unspectacular, but that’s nothing new about Arch Enemy either. I also see what they did with the violins at the end, which I find really unnecessary. Write an epic guitar riff, Amott. God damn it, it’s your final track!

Despite this record being solid, I can’t change the fact that to me, it is “only” solid. I can’t rate it as “outstanding” as it isn’t to me. What is presented on Will To Power is the least you would expect from Arch Enemy. I think it’s great that they are experimenting a little bit with different sounds, but I’m missing true hits on this record other than “Reason To Believe” and “The World Is Yours”. Fans will like it. But Will To Power will most definitely not blow anyone away who knows what Arch Enemy are capable of.

Tracks:
01. Set Flame To The Night
02. The Race
03. Blood In The Water
04. The World Is Yours
05. The Eagle Flies Alone
06. Reason To Believe
07. Murder Scene
08. First Day In Hell
09. Saturnine
10. Dreams Of Retribution
11. My Shadow And I
12. A Fight I Must Win
13. City Baby Attacked By Rats

Examining Arion’s last three singles

I didn’t plan to write this post. But as fate willed, Arion released a new track not long ago, and I just had to give it a listen (even though I should be doing something more important, for example calculus).
In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, Arion is a melodic power metal band from Finland. The band is formed by a couple of music students not older than a little over 20 years, with exception of their fairly new singer. Their debut album came out three years ago and I remember going nuts over it. It was my second favorite release of 2014 and I knew all the lyrics by heart. You get the idea.
As you might have guessed by the date of their first and latest album release, Arion haven’t managed to put out a new record, but they are making sure that they aren’t forgotten completely. Last year, they released two singles and a brand new one just yesterday. If they will be continuing like that, we will soon know all the songs off the new album without getting a new album … so shall we get into some details about the singles?

First of all, it never bothered me that Arion sounded like well-known and loved bands such as Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, at times even like Children Of Bodom; they somehow managed to create a good mix of these bands and threw in their own style and signature sound. But now, it does bother me that their new tracks increasingly sound like bad copies of their greatest tracks off “Last Of Us”.

“At The Break Of Dawn” (feat. Elize Ryd)
Let’s face it, Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) has collaborated with numerous artists in the rock and metal scene, with pleasant and not so pleasant results. So having Elize sing on your song or album is no guarantee for success (Timo Tolkki, I’m looking at you…). However, in the case of Arion’s first single after their debut album, Elize took this song to the next level. It is fresh, catchy and energetic, the vocal line is absolutely stunning and it still sounds like Arion. I do have to admit that I was a little sad that former singer Viljami Holopainen (who by the way has nothing to do with Tuomas Holopainen) didn’t get to sing this duet with Elize, they would have sounded beautiful together, and he would have probably really loved to collaborate with her.
Note that this song is Arion’s most listened track on Spotify, with over double the amount of listens than their other top tracks. So I am definitely not the only one who thinks that Arion did everything right with this track. I am wondering, though, if Elize was involved in the songwriting process. It would explain why “At The Break Of Dawn” turned out so well…

“Unforgivable”
When this song was released, I listened to it one single time and I thought it was so mediocre that I didn’t feel the urge to listen to it again … ever. I still did for research purposes, though. The vocals are weird and I can’t really see where Arion are going with this song. It is kind of all over the place. Not a hit for me.

“No One Stands In My Way”
So first of all, what we have here is a song title that could easily fit onto an Arch Enemy record. I was expecting a cheesy song title! Alright, it is kind of cheesy, I suppose …
“No One Stands In My Way” starts with a riff that instantly reminded me of the opening riff of “10 Silver Bullets” by Swallow The Sun. Shortly after, you can hear a bass line that is very similar to the one on “Out Of The Ashes” from Arion’s first record. In general, this song sounds like a new version of the aforementioned song, and it is without question that I like “Out Of The Ashes” a lot better.

The weird thing about the last two tracks is that if you start listening at every single instrument individually, you really start questioning what these guys are trying to do. But weirdly enough, the tracks aren’t awful as a whole. I don’t get it.

I am very anxious about the new album, in case it will ever see the light of day. I truly doubt that I will adore it as much as their first album. Without their talented former singer Viljami Holopainen and with their new singer Lassi Vääränen (who is not bad but not exactly outstanding either), the quality of Arion’s songs seems to be decreasing with every new release. Could it be because they are on their own now? It is a known fact in the metal scene that Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering) and Matias Kupiainen (Stratovarius, Arion’s drummer’s elder brother) helped the band in the songwriting process for “Last Of Us”. Are they lost without a little help from some more experienced musicians? Or have they been able to write such hits as “Seven”, “Lost” or “Last Of Us” all on their own, but are somehow drifting into the wrong direction now?

Let’s hope we will find out soon … until then, I will listen to “At The Break Of Dawn” and their first record on repeat.

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