Ever since I joined this site, we’ve been keeping a close eye on LEPROUS. The melancholic Norwegian prog metal group has been busy touring and giving interviews all year, but still found the time to complete a full-length album. 2015’s “The Congregation” was a hit with critics and fans alike, leaving tensions high for the followup. After a long summer of deliberation and a brief chat with singer and synth player Einar Solberg, I finally felt ready review it for you.
The album begins with “Bonneville,” which sounds like the name of a place in which to set a Stephen King story. It starts off with a jazzy prog rock groove like you wouldn’t believe. The whole sound is muted and quiet. Even the drums are using brushes. One would be forgiven for assuming that they put in the wrong disc… at least until Solberg‘s signature falsetto vocals come in at 00:19. The understated tone gives out a haunting feel. It immediately took away any expectations I had for the album. The distorted guitars come in halfway through and the pace picks up slightly. It’s an interesting subversion of easygoing music, to make it feel uneasy. “Stuck” is more like classic LEPROUS in terms of composition. It’s lead by strong guitar riffs and it plays with the tempo… all that good prog metal stuff. Most importantly, it has a powerful and catchy chorus. It’s this combination that fans come to expect from them. That being said, the sound is completely different from “The Congregation.” It’s not bombastic and metal with distorted guitars. The sound is about as clean as can be. Every instrument comes through clearly and is separate instead of a being a wall of noise. I’m going to have to classify this as more prog rock than metal.
The intro to “From the Flame” is reminiscent of earlier songs like “Flood” or “Slave” with just a weird synth sound and Solberg‘s vocals soloed. They keep coming to it because it works. It sounds like a plea echoing in an empty hall. Once the band joins in it creates the illusion of heaviness without actually generating any. Yes, the sound is still very clean but the song is just so damn catchy and energetic it doesn’t seem to dampen the impact. “Captive” and “Illuminate” are built around the synth. Just simple one-hand staccato riffs. The sound is a bit distorted but not overwhelmingly so. Just like the guitars, it’s pretty muted. The rhythms are very complex but all the instruments are doing the exact same thing, playing in perfect unison, so it doesn’t sound like a big soundscape but rather one united entity.
On the other end of the spectrum we have “Leashes.” Here the guitars are prominent but still simple. At the beginning it’s slow and moody, but starts to build. The chorus is loud and uninhibited. It throws everything at you. After while you can even hear a bit of cello in the background. “Mirage” is the epitome of the prog epic. It has the most bombastic sounds on the album, the trickiest time signatures, and the most energetic guitars. The grooves themselves would already have made a great song but that chorus is the best on the album. The usual broodiness takes a backseat to a triumphant and hopeful message. It confidently bellows out “I found my path when I thought that I was wrong.” It’s exactly the kind of statement that comes from having wandered in a wasteland (metaphorical or otherwise) and coming out the other end stronger than ever.
Weirdly enough, the album then takes a 180 with the title track. “Malina” is the moodiest thing on the album so far. For the most part it’s an airy cello sound accompanying more solemn falsetto vocals. They break the tension with the occasional jazz section but the general tone is still despair. Really it seems more like it should have been a 2 minute intermission instead of a 6 minute slog. Since it’s the title track I’m a bit confused as to what they were going for. More bizarre still, the next track is titled “Coma” but sounds more like the soundtrack to a panic attack. It’s the first instance of double bass being used on the record – a fast metal track full of action. For once the vocals aren’t that interesting, but the urgency and pace are interesting enough to make this a great song.
I always love a strong bass line. It lays a good foundation to a song. “The Weight of Disaster” understands this well. Much unlike the previous track, this one is slow and contemplative with a great chorus. It has one very good, albeit simple, guitar riff to it but mostly it alternates between quiet and loud. From what I can gather from the lyrics, it feels like a dip into the mind of someone who’s submissive to an oppressive force, be it a dominant person, a god, or a substance. Whatever it is, it’s something that can control you and make you do something you know is wrong. I like a song that tells a story even if that’s not the original idea. The finale is “The Last Milestone,” which is by far the most solemn LEPROUS song of all time. From start to finish, it keeps the same slow and depressing tone. It doesn’t play around with the tempo or throw any curve balls. It doesn’t even have the band, per se. What it has though, is vocals and cello, that’s it. The cellos are layered so that multiple parts can be played at once. It’s atmospheric and doesn’t have any distinct repeating melodies. It was apparently originally intended as just a string composition and finally ended up on this album. The piece is haunting and beautiful, for sure.
In the end, “Malina” is the definition of a mixed bag. It alternates between gloomy and energetic, simple and complex. The thinking behind it is prog metal but it doesn’t sound even remotely heavy. It works best as a mellow album with occasional toe-tapping high points. I can’t even compare it to previous LEPROUS albums because even though the same techniques are being employed, it sticks out like a sore thumb. However, standing out isn’t in itself a bad thing. It has it’s own mood and it’s own place in their discography. Really, it’s rare when an album only feels padded in one song. “Malina” is a great slow burn book-ended by two of the most subversive tracks LEPROUS have ever done.
Written by Vincent Parkkonen
- From the Flame
- The Weight of Disaster
- The Last Milestone
Einar Solberg – vocals, keyboards
Tor Oddmund Suhrke – guitar
Robin Ognedal – guitar
Simen Børven – bass guitar
Baard Kolstad – drums
Black Widows release third single and music video for “Schizo”; long-awaited second studio album out in October