You've possibly encountered Leprous as the music makers behind onetime Emperor frontman Ihsahn. However operating under their own steam this Norwegian outfit are a different prospect altogether and an eclectic and difficult one to tie down at that. At first glance the band's fourth album Coal is really rather stand offish, feeling cold, remote and more than little snarlingly in your face. Taken in one initial sitting it can actually become a little overwhelming; layers of lush vocals, rushes of distorted guitars, thunderous beats, gentle strings and the occasional strike of piano, refusing to let you in as the album avoids truly revealing itself. However even as you are left shaking your head wondering what just went on, you know you've been oddly hooked and that you'll be heading back for more in an attempt to unravel the mysteries. And unravel you will, but only as you begin to head towards double figures in attempts. The opening pairing of "Foe" and "Chronic" follow a similar path to the melodically aggressive and inwardly theatric musings of Devin Townsend, with all sorts of emotions stirred together to make you feel relaxed, uneasy and fascinated. The themes are grand and the production suitably OTT, but the songs, through stunning arrangements and an ability to know when too much is just enough, simply do not suffer from their everything and the kitchen sink approach.
"Echo" fuses early Marillion keyboard washes to plaintive vocals, while a burst of almost U2 like guitars severely alters the focus, although it is, as he does so often on this album, singer Einar Solberg who allows Leprous to sidestep most comparisons. In fact hearing his voice emotionally fall apart as he repeats "See how the formula turns into coal" at the tail end of the album's title track is a genuinely unnerving experience. This is man living through his words.
The changes in focus keep on coming, "Salt" being beautifully melodic, "The Valley" an uncompromisingly dark slice of electro-pop, where clamouring staccato guitar and drum blasts become quite disorientating - especially through headphones. The closing attack of "Contaminate Me" where Ihshan guest growls does manically and crushingly push things in a direction neatly sidestepped elsewhere, with the results being a touch more generic. Although the sheer breadth offered up elsewhere possibly highlights this to an unfair extent. The song itself is good, but the vibe and decision to place the track last on the album does give it the feel of trying to appease those who may have only jumped onboard the Leprous ship through their previous involvement with the guest singer.
Coal is an excellent album where you learn to expect the unexpected. It also finds Leprous making serious strides compared to their previous output. However remember patience is the key here, as you'll need to dig deep to reveal the full measure of Coal. A chest full of sickly, dark sparkling treasure is the prize for doing so.
4. The Cloak
5. The Valley
8. Contaminate Me
Added: June 30th 2013
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Leprous On InsideOut Music
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Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-06-30 09:03:42
At times while listening to Coal, the latest from Norwegian band Leprous, I felt as if someone had secretly slipped an early '90s Marillion CD into my player. Just when the band lull you into dreamy neo-prog slumber as on "Foe", they come crashing right back with the progressive black metal beast that is "Chronic", and you just have to wonder 'what the hell is really going on here'? That's the thing with these guys; they don't really fit into any 'box', and despite all the work they have done with former Emperor mastermind Ihsahn over the years, they have still stayed true to their own musical path, whatever you deem that to be. Parts of this album are almost operatic in nature, cinematic in scope, pastoral in spots, definitely progressive, and definitely with a wealth of extreme metal ferocity. Don't expect it to all makes sense at first, but hey, that's the great thing about progressive music, as it sometimes takes a few listens for all the layers to reveal themselves. If you can't appreciate the complex, staccato riffing and myriad of vocal styles on the epic sounding "Coal", then perhaps this sort of thing just isn't for you. At times here I'm reminded of some of Devin Townsend's material, especially some of his work with Strapping Young Lad on the heavier songs, but on the more melodic tracks there's a definite Townsend solo band feel. Certainly not what you'd expect from a Norwegian act with so much black metal history in their blood.
Good stuff once again from this very underrated band.
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