(2011) Leprous – Bilateral: Anniversary Special

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LEPROUS is a Norwegian band who solidified their own approach to progressive metal, drawing different influences from old-school prog rock mastodons like KING CRIMSON and PINK FLOYD, modern progressive bands like OPETH, PORCUPINE TREE, MARS VOLTA, DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN, and also more melodic and less obvious influences for a metal band like MASSIVE ATTACK and RADIOHEAD. Their ability to blend complex musical structures and odd adventurous harmonies with straightforward headbanging riffs is what made these musicians renowned within rather picky and often snobby progressive metal community, and their 2011 album “Bilateral” is one of the main reasons for that.

The album starts with the title track, “Bilateral.” Structurally, this track starts with a main riff driven by a wonky synth and a bass doubling together a groove which is in 7/8 time signature. This is a smart, creative decision, because our ears and heads are used to 4/4 time and this time signature is almost 4/4 but missing one 1/8 beat, leaving the listener craving so much for that last beat. This compositional choice pays off as soon as the chorus hits, satisfying our desire to the fullest, but not for long. After the first chorus we go immediately to a breakdown and a series of rhythmically disorienting parts which unconventionally function as a ground for the second verse of vocalist and keyboard player Einar Solberg. Then we go back to reinforce the chorus and end it with Einar’s signature hysterical screams. Lyrically, this song is a very dry description of humanity’s warmongering nature. There is no statement or a point of view on that, it’s just a description of our natural tendency to engage in conflict.

The next track, “Forced Entry,” is an engaging musical rollercoaster of surprising chord progressions, nervous melodies, and chugging riffs. It definitely reminds me a lot of MARS VOLTA, something from their 2003 “Deloused in Comatosium” but with added intensity of metal and a less psychedelic vibe, although the synth on this track sometimes plays with psych-esque sounds. The song is colorful, playful, and grooving throughout – 10 minutes of playtime pass without notice and we’re off to the next one.

Restless” feels like a bit of a filler. What is lyrically a relatable song about the grind of everyday working life fails to deliver musically the same way the previous tracks do. It follows a traditional verse-chorus-verse-breakdown-chorus pattern and does it without putting any kind of an original spin on it, which is fine for most bands, but is a bit disappointing in the context of a band like LEPROUS. How ironic is it then, that the next track on the album is “Thorn,” arguably one of the best songs they have ever written. The song kicks off with Vegard Sandbukt’s haunting trumpet melody, coming from the natural reverberation of a church in Oslo wherein it was recorded. You can actually hear a bus passing outside, as the trumpet sound was caught on a mic standing near the entrance door. The verse of the song consists of a melancholic guitar ostinato, backed by a strong groove. The composition intensifies dramatically in the pre-chorus with distorted halftime stabs, contrasted by long massive vocals, then falling into a chorus that is playful and almost light in emotion (it grooves hard though!), which contrasts greatly with lyrics full of regret and despair (“regret the future, regret the future today”). The second part of the song, with INSAHN’s guest appearance on vocals, just smashes you with it’s dark and heavy intensity, yet still, that playfulness is apparent when the melodies appear and start playing something which sounds almost like a circus themed music. The outro really reminds me of the end of OPETH’s death metal magnum opus, “Ghost of Perdition.” It is a really weird song and it’s absolutely brilliant in it’s bizarre atmosphere and experimental nature.

Mb. Indifferentia” is a tune which starts as a nod to classic prog rock ballads, slowly building in intensity and density until it explodes in a massive last chorus. The song is colorful and dramatic, you can definitely see what guys were going for and it is achieved masterfully. Next up we have “Waste of Air,” a composition mostly consisting of a straight chugging riff supported by a rampant rhythm section and a weird synth solo, which mostly sits on one note and it’s diversity comes from it’s timbre. Later on, the groove turns into a blast-beat and basically that is all. I would consider this song an experiment, peculiar to listen to, but it’s probably not something you will blast in your Spotify playlists frequently.

Mediocrity Wins” again definitely has OPETH-esque vibes in it’s harmony – brooding and mysterious, filled with colorful guitar runs and subtle vocal inflections. The heavier parts of the song remind us of something industrial in character, which is an unusual combination of elements and yet they end up working together quite well. Coming closer to the end of the record, we get “Cryptogenic Desires” – this one is more reminiscent of KATATONIA in their late period. We hear syncopated torn-up riffs with despaired clean vocals; the mix is dense and filled with detail. It is a short and energetic song, but it doesn’t feel very original in comparison to the previous one. Nevertheless, it still blends in quite well the manifold world of this album.

The next song on the recording puts us in a contrasting sonic existence between a restrained piano section in 5/4 time signature and an emotional half-time chorus filled with wailing guitars and powerful vocals. In the end, we get a boost of energy with staccato riffs and a tasteful solo, all of it abruptly ending to leave us with the initial piano melody. Last track “Painful Detour” is an 8 minute composition that is filled with labyrinth-like chord progressions, dynamic ups and downs, and an overall dramatic and dark atmosphere. LEPROUS definitely showcases here their ability to keep a long form composition engaging and surprising throughout it’s entirety. I also feel obliged to compliment Tor Oddmund Suhrke’s guitar solo. It is contained yet technically brilliant, and his slightly distorted guitar sounds wonderful – great sound design. The lyrics of the song are about a sick affection to what seems to the point of stalking.

This album is not a unified conceptual work. It feels like a record put together out of very different and beloved quotes and ideas from musicians LEPROUS band members adore. And it is not a bad thing, not at all! This album finds way to surprise you and touch you emotionally, at some points really well. Some of the songs on this album you want to listen over and over again, they are really good! The record is well produced and sounds powerful throughout. You can hear how rehashing of ideas from this work helped the band to go on and find their well-established place in the modern progressive metal canon. I would consider it an essential recording to listen to for every fan of the genre.

Written by Fedor Bezrukov

Tracklist

1. Bilateral

2. Forced Entry

3. Restless

4. Thorn

5. Mb. Indifferentia

6. Waste of Air

7. Mediocrity Wins

8. Cryptogenic Desires

9. Acquired Taste

10. Painful Detour

Lineup

Einar Solberg – vocals, keyboards

Tor Oddmund Suhrke – guitars

Øystein Landsverk – guitars

Rein Blomquist – bass guitar

Tobias Ørnes Andersen – drums

Ihsahn – vocals on “Thorn”

Vegard Sandbukt – trumpet on “Thorn” and “Painful Detour”

Label

Inside Out Music

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