The evolution of Norway's Leprous continues with their fifth release for InsideOut Records, titled Malina. Starting out as an aggressive progressive metal act that also originally served as backing band for former Emperor frontman Ihsahn, Leprous released a few critically acclaimed albums early in their career, with a gradual shift towards more melodic fare that seemed to culminate on their 2015 release The Congregation. Well, the band have gone even further here with Malina, an album brimming with pop sheen and indie/prog sensibilities, most of the metal elements seemingly left for dead, something that's sure to divide the fanbase but at the same time potentially opening up their music to a much wider audience.
A tune like "Bonneville", with its bubbling electronics and catchy hooks, or the soaring, violin soaked "Stuck" are as far from anything Leprous has recorded before, but let's give credit where credit is due, as this is very strong material, just not progressive metal. "From the Flame" continues that trend, as crisp guitar chords and layers of gorgeous vocal harmonies surround what is ultimately a well crafted pop rock tune. "Captive" is the first song here that falls in anything that clearly signals 'prog', the riffs heavier, the arrangements slightly more intricate, but those pop hooks are ever present. Einar Solberg's haunting vocals are spectacular on the emotional "Illuminate", complemented by spacey keyboards and groovy rhythms, while "Leashes" adds a touch more bombast in spots than the tracks that precede it. The upbeat "Mirage" gets my vote for potential best tune on the album, with a well crafted vocal hook, shimmering guitar chords & keys, and the occasional lurching, djent styled guitar riff. I only wish their was more of this type of material on the album. The title cut is one of the longer pieces here at just over 6-minutes, but it just kind of drifts and meanders in more of the same bubbling pop sense, but that all changes with the frantic "Coma", another highlight here that will remind most of the bands earlier progressive metal leanings, complete with manic rhythms and loads of crushing riffage. Some of these elements carry over on "The Weight of Disaster", but mixed with more of the dreamy melancholy that seems to have taken hostage of much of the album. Closer "The Last Milestone" tips towards the 8-minute mark, but it's mostly classical tinged pop with some gorgeous violin...metal it ain't, but it's still quite beautiful.
Ultimately, I'm kind of on the fence with Malina. There's some mighty fine material to be found here, but again, much of it is pretty mellow and poppy, the few metallic moments are surprisingly fleeting and seem just thrown in. There's a certain 'sameyness' that much of the album succumbs to, but I have to give the band credit for just going for it here and attempting something so completely different. If you love Leprous' earlier works, Malina might be a bit hard to swallow, but there's no denying that the potential for wider exposure is certainly ripe for the taking.
3. From The Flame
10. The Weight Of Disaster
11. The Last Milestone