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Leprous - Tall Poppy Syndrome CD (album) cover

TALL POPPY SYNDROME

Leprous

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.15 | 222 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This is certainly the best progressive metal album of 2009 (maybe only equaled by RIVERSIDE's Anno Domini HD) and the best discovery of the past year. That such an amazing band be so unknown as LEPROUS is can only be a sad thing, but understandable considering that they don't really fit in any of Scandinavia's most favored forms of metal: black metal and death metal (and their sometimes bizarre melodic ? "symphonic"-variations).

LEPROUS is a Norwegian band whose "Tall Poppy Syndrome" is not really their debut album. Their style bears influences from a lot of artists in the metal and rock genre, mainly OPETH, PAIN OF SALVATION, DREAM THEATER, FATES WARNING, with some concessions here and there for specific elements out of more obscure groups like SHADOW GALLERY. They also clearly have a more pure "prog" side, and PINK FLOYD comes to mind. Finally, it's evident they have heard a lot of theatrical music (maybe even opera). One of the good things about LEPROUS music is that it doesn't sound like nobody else, it sounds like LEPROUS. We can detect the influences, they're obvious. But in their amalgamation the Norwegians have succeeded where others have failed: they have acquired a sound that is their own from the start.

The first track "Passing" opens with a broad statement that sounds highly theatrical, actually conveying the idea of a big hall, maybe with an organ sounding. The sound collapses immediately into a brilliant odd-time signature riff that doesn't scream "we're special, we play odd time signatures" but that makes absolute sense from the music point of view. The music gets heavier, the singer growls (honoring the extreme-metal Scandinavian tradition) and the energy is built up. A chorus-like bridge with a short melodic line very reminiscent of PAIN OF SALVATION brings closure to the fantastic first section. We have a re-exposition of ideas until we reach a quieter, more developmental passage ( the song is really good structurally, breaking from the metal norms), and the melody of the chorus returns but very quietly, immediately reaffirmed strongly, continuing to build up tension via the contrast soft-harsh in the vocals. We can sense that some kind of explosion is coming, some resolution to the anguish that the character seems to be experiencing, and that comes after a little piano siege. The singer screams in all his harsh voice (though not with the best growling ever, if I may say), only to lead to really low death-growling that finally makes the song fall into the caverns of oblivion. The final coda is extremely theatrical, again, closing the circle.

"Phantom Pain" starts very quietly and with a long melodic line. Almost sensuous, after the violence of the last track, this beginning makes for a good balance point. The bass is the understated start of this song after the theatricals return again and in full metal spirit. The middle section of this track is quite splendid, with the keyboards relentlessly emphasizing the progression of the song over the main riff. The death theatrics come back and finally they collide with the keyboards only to resolve in an unlikely quiet piano bar-like moment.

"Dare you" is probably my favorite track of the record. Its structure is unique and it tells a musical tale even without going to the lyrics, in what constitutes true "progressive" metal. The start has a jumping, erratic riff being emphasized with more energy by the whole band. The amazing vocal section is made of tremendous energy, a simple melodic chorus that comes just when it has to, achieving full effect. The song now delves into more ambiguous territory, almost jam-like. We are descending via scales on the main instruments while the bass is soloing only for the pleasure of those who try to listen. The main idea returns in full form but now devoid of its doubt. It's not so positive now, it actually appears to be going nowhere. We return to the last section for a glorious reappearance of the vocal part. The chorus has only two appearances in the song. Yet that particular fact makes it all the more effective. The song resumes is course towards the main idea, and dies. Brilliant. Perfect progressive metal. And totally original.

"Fate" opens with the singer and a piano joining for a very nice melodic passage . The singer goes in falsetto territory with ease, and adds some special magic to the atmospheric music. The song then gets darker and heavier, and it kind of becomes generic. We come back to the peace of yore. Not the best track in the album, almost a trivial one. But the good melody and the invention in the vocals save it.

"He Will Kill Again" opens with atmospheric effects in the synths that make us dread of what is coming. But, in reality, what follows is a rather traditional prog-metal riff accentuated by keyboard chords. The vocals, though, again save what otherwise would be just a good song and make it be something better. In the middle section the keyboard plays chords like crazy in a very theatrical way, and the vocal harmonies again create a fantastic sense of otherworldliness while the guitar and bass are doing their own thing. I don't like the appearance of the flawed-growling on this track, but it kind of makes sense.

A soft tremolo riff starts off "Not even a name" with a hint of Norwegian black metal. The riff recedes and makes room for a section of a contrasting character. The main chorus attacks in almost pure heavy-metal fashion, with the vocal harmonies again adding to the theatrical effect that LEPROUS certainly loves to generate. The song is rather conventional but with simple ideas the band is capable of doing great things and never fail to sound only like themselves.

The title-track is an instrumental, 8-minute piece of which I was actually expecting much more. It's clear that, as brilliant as the musicians are, they work better in the frame of an actual song, with vocals. It's in the interaction of the vocals and choruses with the great purely musical ideas where LEPROUS shines above pretty much everybody else in 2009's metal. Halfway down the track we have some spoken vocals that don't add much. A rather forgettable track in an unforgettable disc.

The disc closer is the epic "White", which is another of the high points on this record. It opens with a long melodic statement by the guitars, a very rounded melody that sounds almost like ready to be sung (and it will be, very soon). A harsh vocal moment with LEPROUS' in-between growling is accentuated by chords in the keyboard in a very old- fashioned style reminiscent of the 70's, adding a touch of "retro" to the music. The opening melodic line returns, this time sung by the vocalist, while the rest of the band harmonizes, creating a fantastic emotional effect much like SHADOW GALLERY's best moments in "Tyranny". The bass announces the arrival of a new idea, and it gets its treatment by the whole band. The former melody returns but almost completely changed in character, now much more ambiguous, barely recognizable, in an excellent display of true musical skills (not just pyrotechnics) by the band. After a few transitorial passages, the music tends to return to the opening notes, showing how well the Norwegians have mastered tension- release building with purely musical tools. The great melodic statement of the beginning returns again bringing peace . In a rather unexpected coda, the singer and the piano have their own little dialogue. The disc ends quietly.

An almost-perfect record, I can't do anything but applaud these musicians for creating true progressive metal that doesn't play by the rules but at the same time stays within the boundaries of accessibility and harmonic "normality" that I tend to prefer. New things can still be said using regular metal language. It's only a matter of trying and understanding what to do with the riffs and melodies that come to the head. LEPROUS does that and with absolute ease.

The best album of 2009, ignored by most but revered by the few that come in contact with it. I can't do anything else but give it my highest recommendation.

The T | 5/5 |

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