Friday 5th February 2016
Manchester Academy 2
The Contortionist: 5/10
If there was ever a gig that proved that performance was as every bit as important as musical talent in a live setting, then this show was the one. The Contortionist are, musically, an incredible band—I consider their 2014 album Language to be a progressive metal masterpiece, yet I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by their live show. The reason for this was obvious from the onset: there was no interaction with the audience.
The Contortionist’s frontman, Michael Lessard, seemed entirely disinterested in his audience. He looked robotic on stage, and often stared blankly across the venue and twitched at random. This made the performance as a whole, somewhat uncomfortable. The most offensive act happened during the intro to ‘Ebb and Flow’, an extended instrumental piece, where the vocalist turned his back to the crowd for about two minutes.
It is generally through the frontman that the audience is able to engage with the band, but with this one, it felt as if there was an invisible brick wall that prevented the fans from feeling connected with their performance. Songs that should have had people jumping up and down were met only with weak head-nodding.
But musically, the band was phenomenal—Lessard’s vocals sent chills down my spine during the closing track ‘The Parable’. The drummer and guitarists unleashed ridiculous polyrhythms across the board. In fact, my only complaint sonically about the show was that the vocals were mixed a little too low and tended to get lost under the thunderous instrumentation. The Contortionist is a band that puts out genuinely beautiful material on their albums, but in a live setting they just lacked any kind of connection with the crowd and made no effort to seem like they wanted to be performing at all—it felt like it wasn’t much more than a glorified rehearsal.
TesseracT, on the other hand, brought life back into the venue in spectacular fashion. Amongst the ever-growing Dent and Progressive Metal community, the British five-piece have always been an important name in the discussion as pioneers of the genre, and they live up to this reputation onstage. Opening with ‘The Phoenix’, frontman Daniel Thompkins amazed the audience with his unfathomable vocal talent, nailing and holding unbelievably high notes that, for most, would have been completely impossible outside of a studio—a feat rewarded with raucous applause and cheers.
The passion and energy Thompkins conveyed through his vocals and stage presence—in addition to the spectacular use of lighting—transformed a live show into a theatrical performance. TesseracT is a band that brought opposing elements together to form an amazing musical experience and enthralled the audience with a bewitching, Asian-influenced, clean sections, sending them into a frenzy with monstrously heavy and intricate polyrhythms.
While TesseracT’s latest album, Polaris, has its fair share of heavy grooves on tracks such as ‘Dystopia’ and ‘Hexes’, most of the mayhem was summoned forth from previous albums. ‘Deception’ and ‘The Impossible’, from their debut album One, introduced the crowd to the “djenty” chugs that have come to define the genre. The centre of the crowd expanded out into a dedicated space for the mosh pit, which only momentarily paused to appreciate the introduction of Altered State’s three-part epic ‘Of Matter’, a track that the crowd was treated to in its 14 minute entirety.
The band closed with ‘Acceptance’, a track that I feel perfectly encapsulates the beauty, intensity, and technicality of TesseracT’s music—a blend of guttural growls and gorgeous harmonies, of absurdly distorted breakdowns and delicately crafted arpeggios, of sheer technical ability and musical genius. I came away from their show genuinely upset that it was over. So if you have the opportunity to see Tesseract live then seize it; it’s an incredible experience.