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Leprous - Coal CD (album) cover

COAL

Leprous

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.96 | 209 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Coal' - Leprous (9/10)

It now seems strange to think there was a time I didn't understand the hype and excitement surrounding Leprous. Their first full-fledged foray into album-making, "Tall Poppy Syndrome" was met with some pretty wild acclaim in progressive metal circles. Though I was impressed with their skill and musicality, I was left wanting for a more distinct, unique style of progressive metal. Though I was certain that the band would improve and refine their craft, nothing could have however prepared me for "Bilateral". As if my imaginary Leprous wishlist had been thoroughly studied and referenced, the band's second album marked a large step towards more experimental territory and a sound of their own. Two years since its release, "Bilateral" has become one of my favourite-ever albums, and that's a big part of why I was so anxious to hear "Coal". My excitement aside, Leprous seem to have been up to some great things in the past two years; with their third record, they have fostered an even more distinctive style for themselves. Evolving their sound once again, Leprous are proving with each new album that they are the greatest band of the new progressive metal wave.

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 seems 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 latest album 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.

Fortunately, Leprous offer a handful of more traditional pieces to help balance out their experimental flair. "Chronic" is an energetic, quirky piece that would have fit snugly on "Bilateral". While "Salt" may work as a four minute extension of "The Valley", it functions excellently as a track of its own, its wonderfully ethereal chorus being one of the album's highlights. While "Contaminate Me" could have used a little variety to spice it up somewhere around the halfway point, it's a powerful way to wrap up the album, adapting the spawled- out structure of the album's longer tracks to a more severe, aggressive atmosphere. While the opener "Foe" sits at a comfortable five minute length, it just might be the most experimental cut from the album, featuring some of frontman Einar Solberg's most compelling vocal work to date. Although it probably won't surprise anyone, the weakest track here is the apparent 'single', "The Cloak". Although it works well as a break between the groove metal pyrotechnics of the title track and the masterful "The Valley", it doesn't tend to have the jaw-dropping quality of the rest of the album. The mellotron presence is very much welcome, but "The Cloak" ultimately comes off feeling like a Muse ballad more than anything else. On most other albums, it may have been a highlight, but I would have hoped Leprous could have delivered something a little bit more enticing for their album single.

The evolution of Leprous' sound on "Coal" is sure to grate unpleasantly with some listeners at first, but one thing that remains evident from the beginning is the band's standard of musicianship, which is virtually without par in the progressive metal genre today. With this across-the-board virtuosic skill in mind, it's all the more impressive that Leprous manage to restrain themselves to sporting their talents within the bounds of the songwriting. Although Leprous' sound is decidedly more experimental, comparisons could be drawn with Sweden's Pain of Salvation and their peak material from a decade past. It's possibly a less inviting dish than the albums Leprous have served in the past (at least initially), but there's no doubt that Leprous have broken into fresh territory.

It's pretty incredible how much a band can change in four years. From "Tall Poppy Syndrome" to this, the level of ambition and left-field wizardry has increased with each step. Although it will be some time before I'll truly know where "Coal" stands in comparison to the rest of the band's work, Leprous have delivered one of the most musically compelling experiences of the year thus far.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |

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