LEPROUS Albums Ranked

LEPROUS Albums Ranked

Leprous have recently announced the release of their fifth (technically sixth) studio album titled Malina. The record is out on August 25th via InsideOut Music.

Since breaking onto the scene, Leprous has gone through a not-unnoticeable development in their sound. With only five releases under their belt, the Norwegians have come a long way since their inception in 2001.

While waiting for Malina to drop out, we have revisited the band’s catalog and ranked their previous work. See what we think below.

Aeolia (2006)

Aeolia sees Leprous following somewhat in the footsteps of Dream Theater, only without the same devotion to instrumental indulgence. What Leprous aims here for is highly vocal-driven progressive metal, something they still aspire to today, in some regards. As the vocals are arguably the most important aspect of Leprous at this point, it should be noted that Einar Solberg has an excellent voice, and is able to pull off some jaw- dropping vocal acrobatics, without losing any of the emotional intensity.

Halvor Strand‘s jazzy bass lines also stand out as one of Aeolia‘s better aspects. In short, it would be difficult for just about anyone to say bad things about the way Leprous plays. The band’s performance is largely what holds Aeolia together. Although this is a full-length, it is described on the band’s website as a ‘demo’, and rightly so; it has a very muffled production, often to the point where the warmth and detail of the guitar performances are obscured. Aeolia is certainly listenable in regards to the sound quality, but it totally lacks the studio dynamic I would hear even on their second album, Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Of course, everything about an album boils down to the composition and songwriting. With Aeolia, it is something of a double-edged sword. Most of the musical concepts here have plenty of potential, and some of Einar‘s vocal melodies are almost painfully catchy to listen to (the chorus of “Black Stains” will testify to this). Where Aeolia goes wrong, however, is its predictability. Once the layout of Leprous‘ music is digested, it becomes easy to tell where melodies, ideas, or even entire songs are going to go, long before they’re done. Perhaps it doesn’t help that the production dulls the range of sound, but the dynamics in these songs feels bland. Paired with an inconsistent flow and unsteady use of ideas, Aeolia comes across as being an album with plenty of potential, but misses its mark.

Tall Poppy Syndrome (2009)

While not well-known at this point by many, with 2009’s Tall Poppy Syndrome Leprous delivered a familiar style of dark melodic progressive metal, with overtones of classical music clearly heard in the songwriting. As with many similar bands, Leprous‘ highly impressive technical abilities are among their greatest strengths. Through tight, often melodic writing, the band’s skills are still able to show. Leprous are always sure to include an ample dose of beauty and melody to metal, especially through the vocal work, which is quite simply brilliant. Solberg‘s higher register vocals may remind some listeners of Pain of Salvation‘s Daniel Gildenlow, and the comparisons to that band probably won’t stop there.

Perhaps the best thing that Leprous does here isn’t necessarily the songwriting—which is strong albeit derivative—but moreso the brilliant way in which things are arranged. The background vocals are enriched with lush harmonies, and intelligent riffs that play over each other. However, much like other bands like Circus Maximus, the music itself may be great and the band may be as talented as any other in melodic metal, but the lacking originality is what really holds back the band from reaching a level of mastery they can truly call their own.

As with any excellent album though, the promise and potential shine through clearly here. Put simply; Tall Poppy Syndrome is one of the best melodic progressive metal albums released in the new millennium, and it’s a needed step in the band’s growing discography.

Coal (2013)

Though I’ve never once had the fleeting impression that Leprous might follow up Bilateral with a subpar album, I was self-aware of the exceedingly high standard I would hold the new record up to. After hearing Coal, it seemed impossible to meaningfully compare the two albums. Leprous have once again maintained an incredibly high musical standard, with regards to both the composition and execution. However, though it’s clear that Coal is cut from the same cloth as Bilateral, the tone and mood have evolved significantly. While the second album revelled in being all-over-the-place and pleasantly quirky, Coal puts a much greater emphasis on atmosphere and focused compositions. There remains a playful, catchy element to the music, but the tracks here come across more directly and purposefully than before. Neither approach is inherently superior to the other. The songs on Coal have less surprises and twists to them, but the epic payoffs have never tasted so sweet.

Many of the songs here unveil a more static side to Leprous. By “static,” I do not mean dull by any means, but rather emotionally unchanging. Coal earns points for variety as an album holistically, but it’s as if each track focuses in on one particular atmosphere, and fleshes it out until it reaches a critical mass. More often than note, that atmosphere is one of sombre reflection and melancholy; quite the departure from the zany antics of Bilateral. Though Leprous have very little in common stylistically with Summoning, the approach and structure of the compositions here is reminiscent of Summoning‘s Old Mornings Dawn in the sense that there is a notable emphasis on realizing the potential of a handful of really strong ideas, rather than filling out the album’s length with a bunch of smaller-sized components. Tracks like the breathtaking “The Valley” and gorgeously morose “Echo” spend much of their time building up to a rapturous climax. The arrangements tend to dwell on certain ideas for longer than one might tend to expect from a “progressive metal” release, and though I might have missed that “everything but the kitchen sink” approach of Leprous‘ earlier work, it’s a joy in its own right to see an idea develop and mature within the context of a track.

The Congregation (2015)

Much like their considerably more uplifting British counterparts in Haken, Leprous have paired their startling quality with a prolific work ethic. Every two years, the band have taken their sound a step further, and two years after Coal, The Congregation brokers no exception to the pattern. Whether or not the album was going to be fantastic wasn’t even a question in my mind; rather, I was more intrigued by how they might change their sound. If Bilateral was defined by its sporadic urgency, and its follow-up Coal responded in turn with greater focus and minimalism, then The Congregation may be seen both as an advance on this trajectory, as well as an acknowledgement concerning things Coal didn’t do as well as its predecessor. Namely, the new album brings a revitalized emotional immediacy to Leprous‘ music, and in this respect I am more affected than I have been by an album in many a while

This is a masterpiece of a sort, to be sure, and though it bears strong resemblance with Coal, the vocal few who rightly declaimed the band’s last album as a weaker offering than Bilateral might find themselves pleasantly surprised here. No, The Congregation doesn’t strike me with the same impetuous spontaneity as Bilateral, nor does it keep my left-brain quite as much on the edge. However, I also think that repeating that same formula would have proved fruitless, both on this and Coal; being sporadic and jumpy is a trait of youth, and Leprous have long since matured as a group.

This matured Leprous—occasionally better likened to an avant-garde, theatrical Anathema than the metal of their heyday—was proudly introduced on Coal, but it’s only on The Congregation that the emotional resonance has built up to match their obvious technical abilities. So many of the ways I would describe the last album could again apply to this one: heavy, but not for the blunt force of the parts so much as the way they are used. Vivid and occasionally dissonant instrumentation, like an unchained King Crimson. Secretly more groove-oriented than any prog rock band has any right of being, and, not least of all, indelibly fuelled by the voice of frontman Einar Solberg. All of these might go on to describe The Congregation even moreso than its predecessor, but the amplification of Coal‘s best elements has resulted in a much different tone and experience. The Congregation may be the most emotionally hard-hitting album of Leprous career thus far.

Bilateral (2011)

The most evident development for Leprous in their early years has been largely in terms of ambition; what they are willing to do with their sound. There have been some steps taken toward a more sporadic style. on 2011’s Bilateral the songwriting is more packed with ideas; some of them quite experimental and unexpected, although the memorable melodic component of Leprous is not toned down at all. Bilateral is quite a bit to take in all at once, and I am finding that it is very much a “grower” album; the constant flow of ideas can make it a little disorienting at first, and while the flow between these ideas can sometimes be a tad off-putting, the sheer excellence of the melodies and newfound weirdness makes Leprous all the more interesting of a listen.

As one might judge even by the surreal album cover (whose artist is also known for composing some of The Mars Volta‘s artwork), Leprous was not afraid to try new things here. The title track contrasts remarkably layered vocal hooks with a mellow section of deep electronics. “Painful Detour” is a slower, powerful song that gives the “epic” impression of Muse as it hits its climax. “Thorn” even shows the band’s friend Ihsahn doing a quick vocal cameo before letting a trumpet solo pop up for a moment. All of these things come as a huge surprise at first. While I would say at this point that Leprous has found their own sound with this album, they do remind me of a younger Pain of Salvation here, in the sense that they are a prog metal band that is focusing more on emotional impact and surprises rather than the sort of power-metal derivative that many newer prog metal bands go for. The Pain of Salvation comparison hits its peak with the vocal technique of Einar Solberg, whose diverse vocal register and complex ad-libbing accents his performance in a way that really reminds me of Gildenlöw.

Bilateral is an album that tests what you know about progressive rock and music in general. It ambitiously strives to do all it can within the confinements of its ten songs, with its instrumentation being some of the best the genre has ever offered up. And if the album art is any indication, it’s also one of the most random and unpredictable albums you’ll ever hear… in the best kind of way.

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