Welcome to another episode of A Scene In Retrospect, the feature in which we, the It Djents staff, get to gush over records that helped shape the modern progressive scene as we know it! Today, we have yet another very special treat for you, as the album PR/social media manager Valentin and staff writers Pete and Ashley will be discussing is none other than The Contortionist‘s milestone début release Exoplanet! Please enjoy their musings about one of the greatest achievements of the djent/modern progressive metal era.
The Contortionist’s Exoplanet occupies a special place in my heart, and I can recall so many amazing memories which played out to the rhythms this exciting new band presented. I cannot recall how I discovered the band, but I entered their universe after the release of Exoplanet. Blown away by their complex, contrasting style of metal, similar to my favourite bands at the time (Between the Buried and Me and The Dillinger Escape Plan). Their music spoke to me on other levels too, having recently ended a misguided stroll into the realms of deathcore à la Whitechapel.
Exoplanet is stunning from start to finish, it’s the bands Magnum Opus, one of the shining stars from the glory years of djent, and everytime I revisit it, it reignites emotions that I’ve either locked away, or long since grown out of. The roar of Jonathan Carpenters voice, the thunder of the heavily distorted guitars, the unbelievable atmosphere created throughout songs such as “Flourish” and “Oscillator” make this album perfect, and one which will be cherished for years to come.
The unique and complex concept of the album made it a true journey, and one you can experience over and over. An epic space odyssey which was doomed to fail might sound clichéd, but it feels so right mixed in with the crushing vocals provided. The guitars go from being evil as fuck, chugging away at your soul to soaring, anthemic and post-rock influenced climaxes, which helps tell the story and excite the listener. The drums, too, not only drive the songs but take centre stage in some sections, making this an all around stellar effort.
Listening back, it gets me sad thinking of how much for the worse the band have changed, with the punishing vocals and interesting contrast traded in for dull dreamscapes, but at least this album is immortalised. That is, of course, if you refuse to listen to the hatchet job Good Fight re-released a few years back, the forced sub-drops something to forget in a hurry.
Some of my musical highlights are laden in this album. The ultimate post-rock climax in “Flourish” is not only one of the best and most vividly inspiring pieces of music I’ve ever listened to, it’s also one of the most beautiful and calming, too. The brutal breakdown in “Vessel”, followed by the anthemic climax, is just another example of the incredible songwriting the band were capable of, and the final three-part closer to the album is so hard to top. Endings to albums like this are hard to come by, ones which leave you wide-mouthed and shell-shocked as to what the fuck just hit you. This is essential listening for any metal fan.
Exoplanet was an explosion in several different ways. I remember the time when djent was in a kind of incubation period. Obzen had allowed Meshuggah to break down whatever walls of popularity they hadn’t already breached, and bands such as Skyharbour, Periphery, and Vildhjarta were using youtube and earlier guises of social media to offer us snippets of their talent. A good friend called me up in excitement about a phenomenal game-changer he discovered on myspace called Animals As Leaders.
Now you could argue at this point that The Contortionist weren’t really djent. But I like to merge them within the story of all the other bands I mentioned because they carried the same prophecy: something new was coming to metal. A bold declaration of technical proficiency, crossed with blistering heaviness, crossed with emotive pitch-perfect cleanliness, made to a whole new tone and time signature. And Exoplanet embodied all of these things on an intense level.
Earlier releases from The Contortionist, namely the Apparition EP, acted as the prototype for what was to eventually become Exoplanet. So at this point their identity was clearly defined. The introductory riff on “Primal Directive” and that astounding opening shred to “Flourish” were instant assurances that there would be no half measures. Every component, be it heavy or progressive, was done to the extreme. The low end was real low, the growls were real demonic, the beauty amidst the beast was positively radiant, and so forth.
Exoplanet was also to be unique within The Contortionist’s own catalogue. The musical balance tipped more towards the cleaner side in 2012s Intrinsic and went cleaner still from there on in. Later works such as Language and Clairvoyant are remarkable in their own right, and snippets of their gentler nature can be heard on Exoplanet. But the heaviness that this debut album brought to the table? Well…gone but not forgotten. And I believe that many subsequent bands owe it a debt.
The Contortionist’s Exoplanet is probably the main (if not the only reason) why I started working for It Djents over five years ago, as it was the first album that awakened my interest in the progressive side of metal. It was my very first contact with a band outside of the standard, rather generic metalcore/deathcore spectrum I was living in a few years ago, so this album, although it might sound pretty cliché, literally opened my eyes and changed my perception of music.
The whole concept of the album, may it be musically or lyrically, still amazes me today and makes me fall in love with it over and over again. It’s one of the most coherently written albums I ever heard, and even after all these years of constantly jamming it, it has yet to bore me. Exoplanet is simply a perfect hybrid of heaviness and beauty, always allowing the listener to catch a breath during its atmospheric interludes. The songwriting in general is exceptional; the whole album is a perfect example of how less can sometimes be more. There are no overly flashy parts or blatant showcases of the bands’ skill, just an overall perfectly well-executed total work of art. Songs like “Vessel”, “Flourish” or “Oscillator” are so well-written that I would easily prefer these songs over other bands’ whole discographies; that’s how much I love this album!
The album is peppered with so many musical highlights that it would be impossible to narrow them down in this little article, so I will just romanticise about my favourite moment of them all: the outro solo of “Oscillator”, which might as well be my favourite musical moment of all time. The slowly building climax during the mellow interlude, flowing into the simple but effective (and incredibly atmospheric) guitar solo gets me every single time. I’m getting goosebumps just writing about it.
In my opinion, Exoplanet is the best album of the whole modern-progressive-metal movement, and it will basically be impossible for any band to ever create something better than this masterpiece.
That’s all for now folks; I hope you liked what you’ve read! Why not tell us what you think of this momentous release while you’re here? Also, do you have any suggestions on bands/records we should include in this feature? Leave it all in the comments!
See you all in a fortnight for another classics review! Until then, stay safe out there, and as always…
…thanks for reading!