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Leprous - Coal CD (album) cover

COAL

Leprous

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal


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Second Life Syndrome
COLLABORATOR
Post/Math Rock and Crossover Teams
4 stars I'm not a huge fan of Leprous. I somewhat liked "Poppy", but the lack of melody at times burned out my brain. I wasn't a fan of the harsh vocals either. But, I did appreciate the originality and the cool grooves.

After hearing that this new album is more melodic, I gave it a shot. It certainly is more melodic. I was massively impressed with the interesting arrangements and structures in this album. Some songs are very delicate, such as The Cloak. Others sound more like behemoths of sound crisscrossing and playing with each other. Melody is almost always in the mix, and it plays well with the strange riffing style and the ethereal vox. This is no ordinary grinding tech metal album. In fact, I don't even like tech metal. But this album is just so much more interesting.

I was surprised at times that the vocalist reminds me of Jonathan Davis of Korn. Weird, I know, but I couldn't shake it, especially in the final track. I also noticed how each song really grows on you before you've even listened to the track in its entirety. "Foe" just sounds so strange, but half-way through, I "got it". The same thing applies to "Chronic" and "Coal". Leprous obviously tried to create something completely different here, and I applaud them for that. This is not music that I will listen to countless times, but because it is very good and especially because it is very different, I will give it 4 stars.

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Send comments to Second Life Syndrome (BETA) | Report this review (#963372)
Posted Tuesday, May 21, 2013 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover Team
4 stars There is no doubt that when these guys released 'Bilateral' in 2011 that they created a lot of noise in the prog scene, literally. Here is a band that is happy, really happy, to be a metal outfit and tour with bands like Amorphis, Therion, Opeth, Pagan's Mind et al yet also have one foot firmly in the prog camp. And if you didn't know, these guys have acted as fellow Norwegian Ihsahn's backing band so they really have no qualm with producing music at the heaviest and most complex level. When I started playing this two bands sprang to mind immediately, and the more I played it the more I was convinced that I was right. Here is a band that takes the melodic soundscape of Muse, and then mixes it up liberally with Devin Townsend to create something that at times is almost breathtakingly beautiful and yet at others is a wall of sound as they crank up the energy and the volume to 11.

There is no doubt to my mind that this is metallic prog metal of some class and power, yet I am sure that it will upset some listeners who feel that prog should be more sedate and not in your face quite so much. But if prog is about progressing and pushing the boundaries as opposed to regressing and attempting to be a clone of the great bands that have gone before then this is it. This is modern, with the odd nod back to King Crimson, and is very much modern metallic progressive music for the 21st century. The more I have played this the more I have enjoyed it and while I think 4*'s is the right mark for now, ask me again in a few months and it may have made it up 5. If you want a dynamic soundscape then this is it. www.insideout.de

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Send comments to kev rowland (BETA) | Report this review (#970755)
Posted Tuesday, June 04, 2013 | Review Permalink
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.

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#972903)
Posted Friday, June 07, 2013 | Review Permalink
EatThatPhonebook
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 8/10

Leprous' Most Emotionally Lush Album.

Along with just a handful of bands all over the world, Leprous is one of the game-changing legacy-carriers of Progressive Metal. Their style is distinct, but unafraid of revealing influences such as Pain Of Salvation. Behind their backs, they only have three albums; the debut, "Aeolia", is somewhat of a forgotten LP, but the latter two are the main reason the band is now at the center of the stage for many Metal and Progheads. 2011's "Bilateral", album number three, is most definitely the most ground-breaking and mature, and stood out as one of the key albums of this new wave of Prog Metal.

"Coal", against most odds, maintains almost all of the "Bilateral" qualities intact. It blends the same ingredients, and molds them with a new formula. The most noticeable new change is how the band has put Einar Solberg's voice even more up-front than usual: he sings almost all over the place, delivering beautiful, extended falsetto vocals, as well as melodic phrases that serve a given song as a completely independent additional instrument. In songs like "Echo" and "Foe", it is most apparent. This is for the most part Einar's album, even because the keyboards have most definitely toned-down, resulting in an overall drier atmosphere. This is not necessarily a fault of course, since Leprous' intent naturally was to craft something punchier, more straight-forward and song-based, rather than a moody album.

This leads to the song-writing. Looking back at 2009's "Tall Poppy Syndrome", it is amazing to see how far ahead they've brought themselves since. There is not one single track that fails. "Foe" starts the album off perfectly, boasting one of the most memorable and relevant vocal performances by Solberg; "Chronic" and the title track are easily the busiest and heaviest tracks, showcasing incredible interplay and progressive song structures; "The Cloak" and "Salt" are calmer pieces, both of them strategically well-placed throughout the album, as they generate a nice change of pace for the LP's momentum. "The Valley" is a long-winded, multi-faceted masterpiece, with perhaps one of the best hooks that the band has ever come up with; "Echo" is of a similar nature, but with a much more dramatic, slow tone to it. It is by far, the moodier and more emotional piece of the album, which is saying a lot. The album ends on a very heavy note, with guest vocalist Ihsahn killing it with one of his most fear-inducing performances: "Contaminate Me" is a throw-back to the band's more extreme roots, ?as a matter of fact Leprous used to be Ihsahn's backing band- nevertheless Leprous is able to sound as if it was brought up in a new, original fashion.

"Coal" comes so near to the levels of "Bilateral", and is once again striking proof that Leprous are one of the very best Metal bands out there. The best part of it is that they sound as if something even greater will eventually be in the works.

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Send comments to EatThatPhonebook (BETA) | Report this review (#976024)
Posted Tuesday, June 11, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Ok...If I must admit...these guys have been below my radar for a very long time. I was aware of the praise their first 2 albums got, and always had a slight interest in them, but whether it was a lack of interest in prog or infatuation with something else, I never gave these guys any attention. So...after all these years, I decided to finally give these guys at least some looks and peeks. And low and behold, I'm incredibly impressed and regretting not giving these guys a listen when they first appeared on the Prog music scene.

The best quality about this band is the unique sound that the band offer. When it comes to music in general, I like it when bands are able to shake off stigmatized genre labels, allowing the band to adopt their own sound. When it comes to describing the band, I like to think of them having the perfect elements of standard progressive metal and post metal. There is the technical side to the music but there is a lot of atmosphere throughout these tracks. Another positive is the songwriting, which is really strong on these songs and is a big positive on this album.

The real highlight that this band has to offer is the vocals. Vocalist Einar Solberg really shows off the diversity of his vocals. In many ways, he reminds me of a younger Devin Townsend. At times his vocals go from the most extremist of screams to a more beautiful sombre tenor with at times operatic warbles. A weird comparison I've heard is The Darkness...and vocally at times, Einar does hit very high notes which I've heard Justin Hawkins from The Darkness been able to tackle (especially on their last album "Hot Cakes.")

Now for a little history lesson. These guys used to be Ihsahn's (Emperor front man and overall genius) backing band. He also produced the album and lended vocals on some songs. Now, I didn't know this until today...but I can't say I'm surprised. In fact, with this album, these guys have been able to outshine their former boss, and upstaging Ihsahn really isn't an easy thing to do.

The album opener "Foe" is a real shock. A big rhythmic kick in the face. A song that really grabs you by the balls, and sets you up for an amazing ride.

"Chronic" is a track that really surprised me. A brilliant build up throughout the verses, the chorus comes in and takes you by suprise. The difference in tones really adds to the interest of the song.

The album's most impressive moment has to be "The Valley." A brilliantly arranged song with some really impressive vocals. The chorus is catchy as hell, and will be stuck in your head for days. The breakdown in the middle and arrangement throughout is very impressive and pretty enjoyable.

The albums single, "The Cloak" is a very odd but really enjoyable tune. Almost ballad like, Einar shows of some really beautiful vocals. It is rather cheesy at times, but it's also really unique and really enjoyable.

The albums last song, "Contaminate Me" features the band's old boss, Ihsahn. And I have to say...Ihsahn has really impressed me. Being a big fan of Emperor, I have always been a fan of his vocals...and on this song he really goes into very extreme territories with his vocals, and even takes away the focus from Einar...which is a very hard thing to do.

The only negative that I would have with this album is that the first half overshadows the second. Now, this doesn't mean that the other half isn't good, it's just that the first 5 songs really are the greatest moments. "Salt" for example has some really nice Opeth like melodies and has a pretty nice arrangement. The same goes "Echo" although the only gripe I can hold would be that it's length may be a bit too lengthy and a good bit could have been cut out. Also, the booklet of this album annoyed me, because the artwork seemed to blur out some of the lyrics...which was a slight annoyance.

The bonus track "Bury" also easily could have been on the album as a single track, and I would have enjoyed the album, maybe even a little bit more. An almost Dillinger Escape Plan sounding track, this could have been the albums single.

In conclusion...I'm impressed. These guys are going steal and obtain a lot of attention in the next few years, and it's because of this album. I haven't heard the first two yet, but I will listen to them soon, and anything they release in the next few years, I will definitely buy.

8.7/10

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Send comments to arcane-beautiful (BETA) | Report this review (#987990)
Posted Friday, June 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Leprous are not a band who stands still; comparing this album to 2009's Tall Poppy Syndrome reveals substantial and well-honed artistic growth. The influences of the likes of Porcupine Tree and others which could be heard on the earlier album are now much more difficult to detect, Leprous' sound having taken on a unique cast which pits them as true originals. The closest comparison I can think of is "what if a more tasteful version of Muse went prog metal, having listened to heaps of Porcupine Tree?", but even that doesn't encapsulate all the dimensions available here - for instance, it would obscure the extreme metal eruption of the magnificent closing track, Contaminate Me. Magnificent stuff.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#1091673)
Posted Wednesday, December 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
aapatsos
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal and Heavy Prog Teams
3 stars I have come to learn about Leprous in early 2013, having listened to a few impressive samples and later in the year to this, fourth, album by the band. One thing is for sure: their sound is generally outside the norm, experiments freely and has character.

The initial impression I got from "Coal" was that of awe, listening to this powerful combination of Devin Townsend soundscapes, pounding heavy mid-tempo riffology and atmospheric experimentation. On the other hand, extremely melodic refrains and well-crafted harmonies provide the softer side and (arguably) keep the balance. With an average track length of 7 minutes, there is much on which to ponder, however Leprous don't always provide the necessary variety to make this a remarkable release. There are sporadic moments of glory and some majestic tunes that are genre-defining but the overall package lacks, I feel, the consistency and quality. The first three and last track are rather heavy-experimented tunes, often with Townsend-type chaotic moments, while tracks 4-7 are far more melodic, almost splitting the album into two different types of songs. In addition the indie/Muse influences on tracks like 'Chronic' slightly dilute their effort.

My preference in "Coal" tends towards the more melodic aspect, with 'The Valley' and 'Echo' being the highlights of this release. An interesting release but not a top-10 album, "Coal" will appeal to friends of experimental progressive metal. I look forward to exploring in depth all their releases as the glimpses of the highest quality are on this album, albeit not enough.

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Send comments to aapatsos (BETA) | Report this review (#1102530)
Posted Monday, December 30, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars A marriage between traditional prog metal and that atmospheric direction that the more adventurous black metal bands have taking recently. A true marriage, half-way, not just a black metal with progressive structures or prog trying to seem cool. Tracks are divided between more metallic numbers, at the start and end, and more laid back in the middle. From prog metal side it has powerful production values, off-beat rhythms and a show-off-y vocal, when its normal. From other side of the coin, it retains riff-based atmospherics, non traditional structures and occasional Cookie Monster vocal.

Even if I appreciate the more distinctive style here (some ideas similar to recent Haken release), it doesn't mean I like the end result. Songs lack variation inside, usually centered around one or two repetetive melodic ideas, that in a post-rocky fashion are tweaked slightly along the way, but not nearly enough to justify the 7-minute length. There are no "wow" moments that would make say, like, wow that's impressive. And then there's the squeeze-the-nuts-of-the-Cookie-monster vocals. Luckily, its mostly guest-done, courtesy of Emperor's vocalist.

All in all, you've go to hand it to Leprous guys, each album shows evolution. For better or worse, up to individual tastes. Compared to previous, Bilateral, Coal is more streamlined, but less diverse.

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Send comments to Progrussia (BETA) | Report this review (#1133605)
Posted Tuesday, February 18, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Coal Syndrome

Definition: when a new album from a band you consider highly does not reach your high expectations, but even after time and learning that the album is actually very good, you still feel disappointed in it.

I think my review for Dead Letter Circus' The Catalyst Fire sums up my feelings about Coal pretty well, with a few differences ? the main one being that I had no expectations for that album, but I was hoping for a 10/10 masterpiece from this. Every time I come back to this record, no matter how much I have learn to love it, I still feel ever so slightly disappointed, because it could have been better. Coal certainly has the melodic material to constitute an album as good as Bilateral, but it missed the mark on so many tracks, and many moments here feel half-assed, as if Leprous were writing on autopilot. But as my ever-increasing rating for this album implies, I really, really like it now. Every time I hear it, I still slightly wish they had done things differently, but I can't deny that this is a logical continuation of Bilateral.

Many people have noted the 'static' element that Coal holds, and that may have been what made me so disappointed at first. The songs here don't push too many moods at once; they don't fly from ridiculous to ridiculous; they are more concise and focused, staying on one mood or melody for longer times, and building the songs to crescendos and endings as opposed to puzzles of fiddly bits. I would argue that Bilateral still did this better ? a track like "Forced Entry", even if it is dozens of melodies thrown together, still feels like it has a concise direction. Coal boasts three 9-minute tracks, and of them, none of them really feel their length. "Echo", the longest one here, builds entirely around a rather basic melody, but with its beautifully subtle chorus, creates a fantastic mood that it drags out to the end of oblivion. Whether this is a good thing or not is up to you, and I'll admit ? I didn't really like it at first. Even now, the midsections of "Echo" and "The Valley", and the final two minutes of opener "Foe" still get on my nerves a bit in their repetitiveness. I can appreciate focusing on build and theme and mood, but sometimes it's just too much, and no part of me really wants to hear Einar sing the same few notes in 7/8 for two whole [%*!#]ing minutes. And the fact is, by the time they're done, all sense of mood from the fantastic first half has vanished, and the intro to "Chronic" is nowhere near as punching.

But I'll try and stay away from being too negative about this album, because the fact is that now I really like it, and I do believe it holds a good place in the Leprous discography, even if it is the weakest of their studio albums. As I mentioned ? for the first three minutes, "Foe" is absolutely glistening. I have praised Einar's voice to the end of the universe in my review for Bilateral, but I feel this could even be his best yet, creating such a punching feeling over the syncopated guitar and drums. He sings so high up in his range, yet every syllable smashes the note in the face with a mallet, to the point where "punchy" doesn't even cover it. The song's chorus is another testament to the great vocal technique that he began on Bilateral, although it is the only true appearance of it on this album. The way he melodically screams "sentiMENTAAALL" is as spinechilling as it is impressive, but I still can't help but complain about the way the song ends (again).

On the whole, Coal features a series of tracks that don't really achieve masses on their own, but add to a bigger picture in their own way. There's no denying that I would be impressed like hell by this album if I hadn't already heard their other stuff, but in comparison, I'm used to hearing a Leprous song have 15 fantastic hooks, not just one. The album really hits its stride with the title track though, although "Chronic" is decent, it feels a bit like a Leprous-doing-Leprous song. The Title track here, however, is unlike anything they have ever done, and honestly unlike anything I have heard in metal. The song is insanely groovy, putting all its energy around that toe- tappingly good beat that never dies throughout the track's rather lengthy (for a song of its sort) duration. Some of this track could even be called quite djenty, if Leprous had not opted for a far more bearable guitar tone. The song is undeniably one of the heaviest songs the band have ever done, but for once I'm actually loving this metal side. I complained on both the previous albums about the guitar tone, but here, it's just so damn groovy. The tone is thick and chunky, dark and murky, and is accentuated perfectly by some of the best drumming I have ever heard.

Oh yeah, I should really mention the drums, because they are one of the things that make this album, and not just because of how they're played. The title track, after its first chorus, spins into a ferociously intense 'breakdown', with guitars being chopped and edited and spiraled in circles, and those drums playing all sorts of spastic tones. It's seriously such a thing to behold, the way these drums make chaos into unfiltered awesomeness through their tone and placement. The snare and kick both have such a round and punchy sound that meshes with the guitar tone so well. The other time when the drums come forward is during the rather divisive closer "Contaminate Me", which received my award for best drum performance of 2013. From the glitchy grace notes that adorn the snare during the verses to the sprawling and chaotic smash-fest that comes under Ihsahn's black metal rage at the end, this song is created almost entirely to showcase how [%*!#]ing good these drums sound, and even though I wasn't a fan of this track at first, I can't help but be enthralled by the sounds on offer here.

Musically though, this track is very divisive for me personally, and is the first Leprous track since Aeolia to really embrace their avant-garde metal side full-on. I think the reason I was a bit shocked by it at first was that it really didn't sound like a Leprous song, but I sort of came to the realisation that if I had heard it on one of Ihsahn's solo records, I would be impressed. I'm still not completely sold on it, and it's almost entirely down to the man himself. I want to love his vocals here. I mean, this is basically Leprous going full avant-garde black metal for the first time, and Ihsahn, the king of black metal, is taking the lead vocally. And honestly, I didn't mind his part in "Thorn" from Bilateral, and on his solo albums his screams are pretty inoffensive, but holy [&*!#] I can't stand his vocals here. But it's like he's not trying. I know that Ihsahn can hit that glory spot in his screams, the "crisp" and "crunchy" texture that he gives them, but a lot of these screams are without that, he's gasping for grip on that harshness, and many of them sound like a dying pig, or like a cool 13-year-old who is trying to learn how to be kvlt. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of the ridiculous drums and guitars and Ihsahn screaming "CONTAMMINAATEE MAAAYYYAYAYYYAY" in the most menacing way, but I really just wish he hit the notes a bit better. As much as I love the idea of this track ? and if I had read "Leprous ends this record with a 9-minute epic that starts of melodically then spirals into atmospheric avant-garde black metal chaos with Ihsahn screaming feelings everywhere" I would have been very excited, but this just doesn't hit it.

Of the less metal tracks here, every song has a chorus or lead melody that is really fantastic. I mean, this is Leprous, and they've always had strong choruses, but my problems lie in that the songs lean on them way too hard. Both the epic "The Valley" and ballad track "The Cloak" have stunning choruses that would rank among the best on the previous two records, but the rest of the song always seems to be building to it instead of finding its own identity, and no matter how good the choruses are, they cannot hold aloft a whole song. "The Valley" utilises a dreamy and atmospheric bridge that is quite nice honestly until it keeps going for 45 minutes, culminating in one of the best syncopated guitar patterns on the record, and that final chorus. Oh yeah, it's good, but take it away and the song is mediocre at best.

Coal is a very different record for Leprous. The songs all have strong centres, but the rest of the music floats around it, unlike on Bilateral and Tall Poppy Syndrome, where the songs were built out of several strong themes that could all stand on their own if necessary. I do love this record, and its purpose as "the dark brooding one" is evident, and I guess I can never complain about a band changing up their style. This album is dark and intense, it is their heaviest yet, but it is also somehow their most accessible. I know some people who have never been a fan of them come to like this album, so what do I know. Well, I know that I was wrong about Coal, as much as I am still disappointed in it. Leprous can do know wrong, and this is evidence of that.

8.5

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

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Send comments to Gallifrey (BETA) | Report this review (#1174857)
Posted Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | Review Permalink

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