Bizarre and unique. Those are the only two adjectives that describe Leprous adequately. Sure, it’s progressive Metal, but it’s nothing like the Dream Theater clones that saturate the genre. The Norwegians abandon chugging over constantly changing meters and bouncing a million riffs around in favor of an approach that is high on both atmosphere and melody. Their brand new ‘The Congregation’ is considerably darker than their breakthrough album ‘Bilateral’ was and even darker than ‘Coal’ (no pun intended), but man, this album is an intense and haunting experience. And once again, there’s no one else doing anything that sounds even remotely like this.
In the four years since ‘Bilateral’ was released, the band has learned a lesson or two about space. As much as I loved the more hyperactive sound on ‘Bilateral’, it’s admirable how the band leaves room for the songs to gradually work towards their climaxes and that sometimes means repeating sections a number of times without boring the hell out of the listener. An impressive accomplishment in itself. Singer and keyboard player Einar Solberg is an important factor in this. He has a powerful, dramatic voice, but can also descend into theatrical madness when the music calls for it.
Riff-wise, ‘The Congregation’ is a strong album without ever being flashy. Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk leave their mark with oddly timed notes and twisted, jazzy chords. In the occasional ambient-like segment – without the aimless meandering of the genre – their delay effects work miracles. Solberg’s synths push some passages into Electro territory (the first half of ‘Slave’, parts of opening track ‘The Price’, the opening movement of ‘The Flood’) and the majority of the rhythms of new drummer Baard Kolstad is so relaxed, that we’re almost dealing with really dark progressive Rock here, had it not been for the distorted guitars.
Highlights are sort of hard to define, because each of the songs has a face of its own and quality is all around. ‘Rewind’ stands out due to its highly unpredictable structure and the killer bass line by session man Simen Børven, ‘Down’ has an instantly recognizable chorus and is therefore closest to an accessible single and ‘The Flood’ is simply absorbing due to Solberg’s synth work and beautiful vocals. ‘Slave’ combines an almost Arena Rock feel with pitch black darkness and an Enslaved-ish climax and ‘Triumphant’ combines my favorite guitar work on the record with almost tribal drumming. In the end, these are just mere descriptions of an album that should be heard in its entirity.
After the slightly disappointing ‘Coal’, ‘The Congregation’ is another artistic triumph for Leprous. One of the very few actually progressive albums in the genre. The album sounds unlike anything I have ever heard, including previous work by the Norwegians themselves. ‘Bilateral’ is – despite its greater level of complexity – a better choice to start getting acquainted with the band and while I slightly prefer it to this one, this is a masterpiece. An exercise in how layered music should be made. Yes, it’s bizarre, but it’s also listenable, because the songwriting is the only show-off point for Leprous.
Recommended tracks: ‘Slave’, ‘The Flood’, ‘Triumphant’