Album Review: Leprous, “Malina”

19400223_10155757797020101_7026782522941255705_oLeprous has been gaining considerable attention as of late. Since their debut in 2008 (Tall Poppy Syndrome), they have released 4 highly acclaimed albums, garnered a sizable fan-base and have become one of the most visible bands in the progressive metal genre. With each of their albums, they’ve progressed through different sonic landscapes, while still maintaining a few very distinct elements: soaring vocals, interesting rhythms and syncopation, and a flair for the dramatic. Their fifth album, Malina, is not a complete rewrite of their playbook, but more of a coalescing of their sound and a confident step forward.

The first track, “Bonneville”, is an exercise in dynamics. The song begins with a palpable tension, as a jazzy, syncopated rhythmic pattern beds Einar Solberg’s crooning. When the tension breaks at the end of the song, it’s hard not to get goosebumps.  “From the Flame” is a more radio-friendly track. This isn’t to say that it’s pure pop-metal; it’s actually highly technical and dynamic. Odd times and rhythms abound in a track that is both complex and catchy, As one who respects deeply the art of the hook, I can see that Leprous is refining their songwriting abilities.

Though the songs proceeding it include challenging musical passages, “Captive” is a particularly dizzying rhythmic exercise. I’m particularly fond of the brutal rhythmic punctuation on the chorus, as they provide a manic backdrop to Einar’s passionate singing and harmonies. Leprous records have always included really cool syncopation and I have grown to expect that from them, but this album seems to take that up to 11, with some very intense passages throughout. And as the next song, “Illuminate” proves, they still balance those intense passages with some really great songwriting. The chorus of “Illuminate” features one of the most catchy hooks in their catalog, with gorgeous harmonies over a synth-led groove that is reminiscent of a more progressive Muse.

“Coma” was one of the first songs I fell in love with on the album. This song  is a great embodiment of what I like so much about this album- it’s dynamic, rhythmically interesting, and powerful. Drummer Baard Kolstad wins Most Valuable Player for this track, as he performs with speed and intensity that is reminiscent of Deantoni Parks’ manic work on the final Mars Volta album, Noctourniquet.

This release will probably turn off a percentage of fans who begin to expect certain elements of their sound; namely, the absence of harsh vocals and the pop elements. But for every band that seeks to adapt their sound and progress forward, there will always be a percentage of fans that struggle, and with this particular album, I think that Leprous is set to gain considerably more fans than they might potentially lose.

What I hear on Malina is a band that is complex without being overly technical, catchy without being saccharine, and brooding without being whiny. While the album is noticeably less heavy than their other releases, it makes up for it in dynamic force, intensity, and strong songwriting. While I could continue to speak to the catchiness of certain songs (there are several cuts that have been stuck in my head for days), I think the album as a whole has a conceptual depth that reveals with subsequent listens.

To summarize:  Malina is a beautiful, dramatic, dynamic artistic statement that is well worth your time.

Leprous’s latest album, Malina, will be released through InsideOut on August 25, 2017. Pre-order it here.

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