Leprous, a band who've previously vowed never to make the same album twice, remain true to their word with the latest instalment in their self-styled, inimitable progressive journey. 'Malina', their sixth full-length studio record, is Leprous through and through while, simultaneously, sounding distinct from all their other albums. Quite a feat, no? It's familiar, yet unpredictable. Immediately accessible, yet refreshing. Emotionally absorbing, yet affectively complex... and with an affective profundity that flows through songs' veins with a natural flow.
This album's predecessor, 'The Congregation', which I scored a still very respectable 8/10, felt like a minor dip in songwriting quality within the context of Leprous' own high standards of their work at that point in time. Some of the arrangements felt a little 'stilted'; a little too 'prog', if you know what I mean. Veering ever so slightly towards a more generic prog sound during some of the tracks, than the organic and genuinely progressive musical aesthetic I'd come to expect from the band. I've been a huge admirer of these Norwegians since their sophomore album, 2009's 'Tall Poppy Syndrome', so I felt justified in making such a comparative judgement. But, enjoyment of music will always be a subjective phenomenon and, where I failed to fully hook onto 'The Congregation', many others did, declaring it their best work. Each to their own.
Fortunately, and with the utmost satisfaction, I can happily declare that songs on 'Malina' have a far more free-flowing dynamic than its predecessor. And, moreover, it reasserts everything I adored about Leprous in the first place. Its unpredictability is as emotionally exciting and invigorating as it is cognitively stirring. Its genre-defying, parameter pushing impetus never feels forced or for-the-sake-of; songs' progressions have an organic flow throughout the entire album. Songs are tangentially progressive in the most natural of ways... and compositions' stylistic tangents and transitions are blended into one big emotionally immersive whole. I feel far more emotionally connected to 'Malina' than I ever did to 'The Congregation'. It drew me in from the very first few bars of opener, 'Bonneville', and held me under its affectively captivating spell until the closing moments of 'The Last Milestone'. Welcome back, Leprous!
In one sense, despite the general (and, depending on your own interpretation, misleading) "progressive metal" label so many peeps seem to apply to Leprous' music, 'Malina' can't particularly be construed as a metal record, per se. It's an album where metal has been deployed as one of many elements that these Norwegians have used to colour their sonic canvas to express and suggest all kinds of emotional twists and turns in the songs. That's kind of always been the case, anyway, although metal features very little on 'Malina'. If at all, it could be argued. Sure, Leprous sporadically beef up their guitars at key choice moments, and there are discernible heavy crescendos in the music, but these feel like heaviness for affect, rather than any notion of genre affiliation. 'Malina', quite simply, comes under the genre of 'fantastic music'.
There's a more synth/electronic feel to parts of certain tracks but, again, transitioned to/from and blended to perfection within the compositions they appear. The instrumentations are all about overall affect, rather than, "here are some guitars playing a guitar part"; "here's some wild drumming" etc. It's all about the whole and the varied, potent emotions conveyed by such. And, talking of "the whole", 'Malina' has been flawlessly mixed by Jens Bogren... the Swede proving himself, once more, why he's the "go to" man for many a band. And David Castillo's production is also magnificent. The overall sound of the songs have a nice amount of polish, while preserving a dynamic, live, raw edge. This album sounds "alive"!
It would be odd to discuss highlights on an album for which I've awarded full marks. Obviously, the entire record is one big highlight. But there are a few moments of true sublimity I feel need a mention. The lengthy outro of 'Stuck' has some beautifully integrated strings over a pulsating bass/synth backing, that builds into a heavied-up exit. Beautiful. And 'Mirage' has a kind of surreal darkness about its intro, before developing, through naturally flowing transition, into a more upbeat number, but with a melancholic undercurrent... darkly dissonant eccentricity briefly resurfaces mid-song... a bit more optimism, before the 1+ minute outro that combines all the track's flavours. Wonderful stuff.
I need to mention Einar Solberg's vocal performance, too. Just when you think you've heard him sing his best (and Leprous' previous albums have some seriously incredible singing... where he's got better and better throughout the years), he seems to have, somehow, upped it a notch for 'Malina'. His falsetto is particularly heartfelt on this new one ('The Last Milestone' is a shining example of such, where his voice is at one with the instrumentation), and the explosions of emotional intensity when he lets rip with his clean voice is magnificently powerful. Incredibly moving.
'Malina' is, in short, a genuinely innovative masterpiece that offers up an emotionally immersive experience for those who favour aesthetic affect over progressive effect. Leprous have survived their recent lineup changes, and are at their musically most potent with this new one. Phenomenal stuff.
Review by Mark Holmes
25th August 2017
3) From the Flame
10) The Weight of Disaster
11) The Last Milestone
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a genuinely innovative masterpiece that offers up an emotionally immersive experience for those who favour aesthetic affect over progressive effect."