Roundtable Review: Leprous – The Congregation
Release Date: May 25th (Europe), June 2nd (USA)
Tracks: 11 Length: 1 hour, 11 minutes
Genre: Progressive Metal
Studio Albums: Aeolia 2006, Tall Poppy Syndrome 2009, Bilateral 2011, Coal 2013
Location: Telemark, Norway
WarpRider – Leprous is beautifully chaotic. I don’t have a lot of experience with the band’s discography, but since I’ve had an opportunity to sink my teeth into Coal, I am highly intrigued and mesmerized by their complicated progressive tempos. It seems like after dozens of listens so far, there are still new things to hear. A must have for the progressive enthusiast! Why this hasn’t been in my music library until now is a question that has no logical answer. Even though Matt has discussed this band in length on Metal State, it still slipped through my fingers. The Valley is an excellent song with lots of peaceful music.
Ok, so now that I just realized I reviewed the wrong album, let’s talk about the forthcoming release of The Congregation, the focal point of this Roundtable Review. Many of the things I mentioned about Coal still apply here. It doesn’t appear to me, after initial samplings of their discography, that Leprous wildly changes their musical direction from album to album. There is a coherence to their chaotic tempos. Leprous does a great job assembling pieces of music that do not seem to belong together. It makes perfect sense how they do it and The Congregation is no exception. Their latest release being another chapter moving forward. Similarly to Coal, their new album should be part of any progressive metal fan’s library. Slave and The Price are excellently crafted songs. 4.5
RiffRaff – Back in 2011 Leprous’ album Bilateral completely blew me right away. It was that savior prog metal needed that year to keep my intrest in the genre fresh. Incredibly catchy, experimental, and Einar’s super sexy ‘I’d go gay for him’ singular voice was unlike anything I’ve ever heard, and remains so to this day. Their follow-up of Coal was a solid effort and I still pop it in from time to time. Compared to Bilateral, it got less play time mainly because, while being more refined, it felt a tad homogenized. Regardless, worthy album.
Now with The Congregation I feel that, while still excellent songwriters and performers, Leprous have yet again failed to capture that spark that made me go head over heels for Bilateral. The songs are again catchy and full of emotion and Einar’s voice has me moist around the waist, but when I get to the end of the 66 minute slog I don’t have the desire to start it back up again. Three big factors I believe hold me back from the album are 1. The Length. Unless your record is roller-coaster like Bilateral or a BtBaM record, engagement for me starts to run dry at the 45 min mark. It also leads into 2. Too many songs sound similar. Singularly, they’re really good, but the same atmospheres over and over again just bore me. 3. Where da fuck did the guitars go? Seriously, there amount of synths on The Congregation is too damn high. Tall Poppy Syndrome and Bilateral had some sick and unique riffing and whatnots on them and it really made the records more groovy than they deserved to be. On Coal the guitars started to take a back seat for more synth atmospheres, and here more often than not you get sections that are just a trifecta of synth, drums, and sexy voice. There are guitars, they just aren’t as bombastic or in your face like the Leprous I’m used to. I’m an aging metal head, I like my loud guitars.
But when this album does things right, it really does nail them. Back on Bilateral there was this song called Waste of Air and it contains one of the most nail-biting build-ups I’ve ever heard. I’ve always wanted Leprous to experiment/refine their skill at these tense situations like that more often, and here there’s plenty of it and it’s what saves the record for me. Triumphant, holy hot hell does that song live up to its name. It just builds and builds until it can’t build no more. Same could be said about the disquieting Red and Slave. While a good album, it’s not one I can wholly recommend. Maybe Leprous set the bar too high with Bilateral. Maybe I’m just a heavy metal grump who can’t get behind change. Maybe they are confusing homogenization with accessibility. If you’re already a fan, go into this record with tempered expectations. If you’re new, go pick up Bilateral and Tall Poppy Syndrome first. 3.0
Irmelinis – Until I saw them live last year I wasn’t the biggest Leprous fan, but after an increasingly dramatic and mindblowing show I feel nothing but deep adoration for this unique Norwegian band. “The Congregation” effortlessly reinforces this notion over and over, presenting massive choruses like nothing I’ve heard before, combined with rhythmic rising and falling. Being someone who prefers coherent and, in the hypnotic sense, repetitive music this new album suits me much better than Leprous’ previous works. Here we get less avant-garde and a more blackened/slightly extreme sound, heavy on the electric-atmospheric keyboards and frequent staccato riffing, along with a new drummer who puts on a fantastic performance behind the kit.
Every song feels like it has its own steadily pounding heartbeat, driven by intense and sensitive vocals, ranging from one side of the spectrum to the other. My god, that glorious voice! Listen to the pulsating The Flood for example, or the stunning Slave. I’m on my knees on the living room floor, with my arms stretched to the sky, singing along loudly with these spine-shivering choruses every time I put this album on. Epic. Masterful. 4.75
ChristopherMammal – Dear me, this looks like being the fourth year in a row that one of my very favourite monster bands delivers something different which isn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be. I know this is a very selfish reaction because “The Congregation” is a very good album, better than most albums that 2015 will yield. Yet I can’t shake the uneasy feeling that the gods are less than almighty right now. In 2012 Therion, my favourite operatic metal band, left me with the same feeling when they released “Les Fleurs du Mal,” a completely unexpected departure into reinvented French cabaret. In 2013 the giant band that disappointed me was Dream Theater, whose self-titled album was certainly good, but not a level above the other good melodic prog metal of that year. Last year it was Opeth, previously my supreme prog death metal band, with their switch to heavy prog on “Pale Communion”. Those three bands were my best at what they did. When they softened and/or changed direction, they weren’t stand-outs among other bands that played similar but better music. They left me wondering, “Is that all?” Leprous have left me thinking the same thing about “The Congregation”.
The first three Leprous albums were revelations, masterpieces, in avant-garde prog metal. “Coal” wasn’t as good, lacking some of the wonderful musical surprises that leapt vigorously off the earlier recordings. With their new album, Leprous are exploring yet more musical territory. In doing so, however, they seem to have steered away from their uncompromising avant-garde adventurism and moved closer to melancholic prog rock. In avant-garde prog metal they were unbeatable. In heavy prog, Porcupine Tree did it better.
There’s plenty of tech metal on “The Congregation”. It’s experimental without being abrasive. The musicianship is superb. Even so, it has too many moments when I wonder if I’m listening to Muse or Queen instead of my erstwhile beloved deities. 3.8
Our ratings are done on a scale of 1-5 with a 1 being an abysmal album, a 2.5 being a halfway point (an O.K. album), and a 5 being outstanding.
A Metal State of Mind Score – 4,0 out of 5