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Leprous - Coal CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.00 | 411 ratings

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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 fucking 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 fucking 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 shit 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.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Gallifrey | 5/5 |


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