Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Leprous - Coal

Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

In 2011, Norwegian outfit Leprous took the progressive metal scene by storm with the release of their third full-length effort ‘Bilateral’. While their first two releases (2006’s ‘Aeolia’ and 2009’s ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’) did attract some attention, it was ‘Bilateral’ that really had many sitting up to attention and taking notice of the band’s unique take on the progressive metal sound.
Two years on, and Leprous (Who comprise of vocalist/keyboardist Einar Solberg, guitarist Tor Oddmund Suhrke, guitarist Øystein Landsverk, bassist Rein T. Blomquist and drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen) are back with their long awaited fourth full-length effort ‘Coal’. And once again, the band have pushed their sound forward, and delivered another absolute stunner.
A good example of the band’s move forward into new territory can be heard on the opening cut ‘Foe’. While much of ‘Bilateral’ was unpredictable and left of centre, ‘Foe’ showcases a more straight forward approach to song structures, with the bulk of the guitars and drum patterns relying on few chord changes. While it all sounds a bit simple and repetitive, the band manage to avoid the mistake of making the song sound too monotonous with the instruments playing off against one another to forge what is an unmistakably catchy and rhythmic groove, while Solberg’s captivating use of powerful layered backing vocals and keyboards alongside his incredible lead vocals add a layer of mystique to what is already a very unique sounding song. In short, while the song appears to be fairly straight forward in design, there’s a lot going on in the background for those who wish dig a little deeper.
The second track ‘Chronic’ is an energetic and heavier sounding track that is introduced by a mix of piano and fast paced drums, and complimented with the interjection of heavy riffing and Solberg’s mix of clean and growled vocals. Chorus wise, the song is very catchy with its basic lines reinforced throughout the song, but not to the point where the song overstays its welcome. The subtle strings (Arranged by ex-Emperor front man Ihsahn) are well done and add a theatrical flair to proceedings, while the progressive slowing down of tempo towards the end of the track does bring to mind the somewhat avant-garde direction the band took on the former album.
While hints of ‘Bilateral’ could be detected in ‘Chronic’, the title track ‘Coal’ could have easily slotted on the album without any trouble whatsoever. The song retains a heavy metallic sound for the most part, and tends to twist and turn in several different directions throughout its seven minutes. Needless to say, it’s a firm favourite on the album.
‘The Cloak’ is something quite different for ‘Coal’ with its ballad like direction, and quite possibly the one track that will throw most. But if anything, the track allows Solberg to showcase his amazing voice, and allows the band to showcase their ability to write a song that relies heavily on vocals and atmospherics rather than odd time changes and angular riffs. ‘The Cloak’ is a great song, and a welcome breather around the album’s halfway mark.
Clocking in at nine minutes, ‘The Valley’ is a moody and breathtaking mix of soaring choruses and grooving passages of stilted guitar work that seamlessly drifts in and out of shades of light and dark with perfection, while the follow on track ‘Salt’ is very much an extension of ‘The Valley’, but coming from a very subdued and quieter angle. But despite this, the song works surprisingly well on its own, with the pianos and Solberg’s use of falsetto vocals the track’s real shining ingredients.
At close to ten minutes, the slow paced and rather darker sounding ‘Echo’ is perhaps one of the only tracks on the album that could have been cut down a little in order to get to the heart of the song. As a song, there are plenty of strengths on show, but in terms of length, the song quite simply drags a little beyond its welcome.
Finishing up the album is ‘Contaminate Me’, which is without a doubt the album’s heaviest and most brutal sounding track. Not surprisingly, Ihsahn’s guest vocal adds an edge of venom to proceedings alongside the relentless Meshuggah like guitar chords and rhythms, but the band’s firm grasp on melodic choruses isn’t diminished a bit – even if the tail end of the track does regress into avant-garde territory for the most part.
Overall, while Leprous have taken a slightly different path of song writing to that heard on ‘Bilateral’, they’ve managed to pull together another first class slab of progressive metal in ‘Coal’.
For those who understood and appreciated what Leprous were trying to achieve with ‘Bilateral’, you can expect ‘Coal’ to have the same effect. This will no doubt become one of my favourite progressive metal albums for 2013.

For more information on Leprous, check out – http://www.leprous.net/

© Justin Donnelly

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