Two years on from 'Coal' and we now have Norwegian prog-metallers Leprous' fifth full length release in the form of 'The Congregation'. Already with a mightily impressively body of work behind them, I awarded 'Bilateral' and 'Coal' full marks, and 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' a very respectable 9.5/10. So it's fair to say I've long championed this truly talented band, and remained a devoted admirer of their naturally innovative proclivities and sonically tangential progressions that seem to eschew just about every genre cliché in favour of their own, unique sound. To a degree, 'The Congregation' is no exception and provides the next exciting chapter in Leprous' ever-evolving, ever-impressive canon of work.
On the whole, there's little that's predictable within each of the songs, as one would expect from a new Leprous album, and instruments are layered in ways that have just enough familiarity to enable accessible handles on their aesthetic, although also in a manner that defies conventional modes of generic expression, both within the context of their previous output and in the wider sense of music. For Leprous, once again, at the heart of each composition, attain a genuine, rather than generic, mode of attack. And it's as riveting as it's ever been... from Einar Solberg's stylistically, emotionally, and tonally wide-ranging voice, his wonderfully varied keyboard sounds, Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk ever-interesting and diverse fretboard vocabulary, and some inventive drumming from newcomer Baard Kolstad.
However, some stilted polyrhythmic and stuttered staccato arrangements that characterise a fair few passages of music throughout the majority of the album's compositions are, at times, a jarring departure from the naturally progressive flow that usually underpins Leprous' music. It doesn't necessarily mar Leprous' aesthetic per se; rather, it punctuates it all too often and stalls the potential for listening immersion in what, otherwise, could have been a more rhythmically euphonic dynamism. I'm all for bands progressing their established aesthetic on prior albums, to engender new idioms etc, but when it feels like progression for progression's sake, it's ultimately more of a generic regression. After all, polyrhythmic-rooted staccato traits have long been associated with prog as a movement of self-imitative genericism. It's almost as if Leprous composed tracks within their naturally idiomatic inclinations, but then subsequently over-thought the arrangements to add a cerebrally awkward rhythmic dimension that, sporadically, leads to a disjointed listening experience. Strange, as this is at odds with Solberg's assertion that the music was "mostly written by me on my computer, so that I this time around could use my ears instead of my knowledge as the main writing tool."
That said, the staccato-based polyrhythms, while misplaced to my ears, will undoubtedly excite the hell out of other listeners. It's more a case of marring certain songs, for me, with the passages of music characterised by such. Leprous' naturally and genuinely progressive propensity is intact at the core of each song; it's just been dressed up with technicality where technicality doesn't always belong. 'The Congregation' is still a strong album, with a near-perfect production/mix, although, for me, it's their weakest work since 'Aeolia'. But if Leprous' weakest can still score 8/10 then it's not time to worry just yet.
Review by Mark Holmes
25th May 2015
1) The Price
2) Third Law
4) The Flood
6) Within My Fence
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...the next exciting chapter in Leprous' ever-evolving, ever-impressive canon of work."