support The Contortionist
author HES date 03/03/16 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

I would never claim to be a metal aficionado. In fact, most of my life my superficial impression of anything metal was that is was way too dogmatic and senseless to preoccupy oneself with (for a visual representation watch this video). But lately I have been swayed by bands like Northlane, Animals As Leaders and Cold Night for Alligators. Heck! I recently enjoyed an Acacia Strain-show. One of the records that really opened up the world of prog, djent and metalcore to me, was the 2015 release, "Polaris", from tonight’s headliner TesseracT, that not only challenged the genre in general, but also my impression of the genre. But why does it even matter, this story of me being new to this genre? Honestly because I now know that TesseracT has gone through their share of lead vocalists, for now settling with Daniel Tompkins - one of the best clean vocalists in the genre. The main critique, however, is that Tompkins have had issues adjusting to some of the older tracks, not fully being able to make them his own. For the reasons above, I do not have the same comprehensive knowledge of former vocalists as I know some readers may have. For the same reason, I made sure to back myself up with our resident metal expert AP, that will also be giving you a review of the show warm-up, courtesy of The Contortionist:

Photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen

The Contortionist

Despite the fact that six years ago, The Contortionist made a profound impact on me with their debut album, ”Exoplanet”, I inadvertently fell off the bandwagon and failed to keep up with the goings-on of this Indianapolis-based six piece since then. The record was a masterclass in technical deathcore — a genre in full flourish at the time, yet one which they appear to have swapped for the djenty, progressive metal style so popular at the moment on 2014’s ”Language”. The airy atmospherics of “Intuition” and “Conspire”, both off that record, thus catch me off guard, having expected a flurry of death metal riffs, breakdowns, and a band exerting itself with much more authority than is the case here. Instead, amid strange and eerie vocal effects produced by several microphones used in parallel by vocalist Michael Lessard, the six musicians look as though riding a heroin rush, eyes shut and lost in their own worlds with next to no movement save for plucking a note or striking a chord. It has a certain allure, but the group’s self-immersion creates a disconnect between band and audience, broken only when “Solipsis” off 2012’s ”Intrinsic” erupts with distortion and deep growling and marks the beginning of a retrospective segment in the set.

The Contortionist

When the going gets heavy, so too does the band — completed by guitarists Robby Baca & Cameron Maynard, bassist Jordan Eberhardt, keyboardist Eric Guenther and drummer Joey Baca — suddenly come to life, each standing member hovering over the front of the audience with the sort of imposition one has come to anticipate from representatives of modern death metal (or deathcore, if you will). It feels odd that the most extreme moments should assume the character of ‘breathing breaks’, but once you have floated through three songs of spaced out prog, some shredding and a breakdown or two is a relief — especially when the performance is as introverted as The Contortionist’s in those zoned out sections. From a musical perspective, it is difficult to fault the band as their compositions are well written for the style, but there is a pressing need for energy to these proceedings that is not only a byproduct of the lack of physical movement, but also a setlist in which the dynamics have not been fully considered. It is a decent show then, but nothing that will sit in memory for months to come.



At this point the whole room is boiling with excitement. It’s pretty clear that despite having changed their lead vocalist and frontman, TesseracT's distinct instrumental style has been enough for the fans to stay loyal too. And as the lights turn out, a collective gasp is quickly replaced by excited howls as the band jumps directly into the symphonic chorus of “Phoenix” - the striking composition of the track almost seems written as a show opener. Vocalist Tompkins also has the very significant lead in this song, so maybe it is a strategic choice, to help cement his position in the band.


Speaking of Tompkins, he delivers rock solid vocals throughout the show, so much so that it’s only fair to downplay the fact that he is helped by a backing track on some of the very tall notes. On the "Polaris"-tracks Tompkins manages to deliver vocals very close to the standard on the album itself, as the band double the tracks up in two pairs; "Phoenix" and "Messenger", and later in the show "Dystopia" and "Hexes". This trick works very well with the ambient nature of the "Polaris"-record, that focuses on an overall sound, rather than distinct tracks.

Another key player in tonight’s performance is bassist Amos Williams, performing shirt-a-little-too-open and barefoot. Those things do add a little spice to the gig, however, are very insignificant in comparison to the monumental effect Williams’ characteristic slappy bass lines have on the soundscape, almost sounding like a rusty, old madras spring as it loops again and again in mesmerizing motifs. Supporting him is Jay Postones on drums, who dictates many of the contrapuntal shifts in rhythm to perfection, helping the band deliver one of most instrumentally tight shows I have seen in a while. Even more impressive is how the light show actually manages to support the very technical older tracks, in particular the “Of Matter”-series from the "Altered State"-album. The almost baroque sound of the guitar on “Of Matter - Proxy” also provides guitarist Alec Kahney some well-deserved spotlight. The only thing really spoiling the whole thing is the usual shady sound of Pumpehuset’s lower deck, where the good sound hubs around the middle of the room, leaving it a bit flat on the brims of tonight’s big crowd.


Now obviously I am a Tompkins-fan as his were the vocals I initially was caught by, but I think in spite of my bias, it is fair to say that Tompkins has found his place in the band and in some way that this has made the band able to deliver even better live performances. Where some of the former vocalists favored a vocal style with comprehensive phrasings and song-technical frills, Tompkins has a natural tone, that leaves most of those frills superfluous. Personally, I think the cleanliness of his vocals make the instrumentation stand out better - a dense composition means every use of vocals has to be deliberate. And I think that is what Tompkins also brings tonight, as well as great audience interaction. I remain impressed with TesseracT after tonight’s show.


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