[20th May 2013]
03. The Cloak
04. The Valley
07. Contaminate Me
Norwegian progressive metal band Leprous have been gaining a lot of attention in recent years. They gained recognition as the backing band for Norwegian metal legend Ihsahn, and have also released a couple well-acclaimed studio albums on their own, gaining separate fame for forging a brand of progressive metal that borrows from the masters, while infusing it with various other ideas from black metal, as well as adding their own very unique flavour and atmosphere. Coal, Leprous’ third full length studio album and follow up to the widely loved Bilateral, is yet another instalment in their evermore legendary catalogue.
The first thing that jumps out about Coal is that it is very much focused on atmosphere, where Bilateral was more focused on technical playing. I can’t really speak for how it compares to Tall Poppy Syndrome, since I haven’t really spent much time with that release. Coal, however, may just be Leprous’ best work to date; it uses hypnotic rhythmic patterns and drumming to build its heavy, swirling cloak of sound. More than once, one gets an almost-Devin Townsend vibe from the music in the way the rhymths and riffs are constructed – and Vocalist Einar Soleberg even sounds a little bit like Devin, especially on “Coal”.
On the subject of the instruments, the guitar tone is outright amazing. It is very different from most progressive metal bands, who tend towards a harder and harsher sound; Leprous, on the other hand, have chosen to go with a feathery, warm, and even comforting tone. It still can be heavy and hard when it needs to be, but does it politely and without knocking all your shelves down. Soleberg has an absolutely gorgeous voice, and he uses it to its full potential; a highlight for him being “The Cloak”, a slow, brooding number that really showcases his abilities. The keyboards on this album are not overt like some prog, but rather nice and subtle. They do their job quietly, without the listener even really noticing, but they add a wonderful texture to various passages. Occasionally, such as on “The Valley” everything else backs away and lets the keys shine solo.
The technical ability of the band’s musician isn’t all that apparent, but upon listening closer, one gets a feel for how good these men truly are. Rather than going with over-the-top technically-minded music, they let the subtle nuances of their brilliant songwriting shine through more; it is still obviously difficult, but not as obviously technical. There is a lot of interplay between the two guitars, the bass, and the drums, and even the keyboards a little bit. It isn’t just progressive for the sake of being progressive though, as Leprous work in several catchy hooks, both in terms of vocal melody and in instrumental use. Also of note is an appearance from the legendary Ihsahn himself, who makes an appearance on the album: providing guest vocals on “Contaminate Me” during the utterly scorching second half of the song.
Leprous’ Coal is yet another in a long line of fantastic prog releases we’ve been gifted with this year, and it is one that stands near the top of that list. It is unique, it sounds beautiful, and it has really tight, expansive song-writing with some excellent musicians to pull it all off. Coal is definitely among the finest albums to be released in 2013 so far, and certainly will give Leprous even more acclaim. Real highlights include “The Valley”, “The Cloak”, “Chronic” and “Contaminate Me”, but the truth is that all the songs are great. Any self-respecting progressive metal fan should give this a listen at least, if not more. It may take a bit of time to grow, but it is time that is worth it.