Review Summary: Sounds like Opeth making sweet love to a Norwegian lady and having a child with duplicate genes.
Progressive extreme metal. Generally this means the blending of black/death metal with outside the box influences such as progressive rock, jazz, flamenco, and basically any other genre you can think of. The Scandinavian region is particularly inclined towards this style. Sweden has Opeth and now In Mourning. Finland has Ikuinen Kaamos and possibly Amorphis although they continue to go softer with each release. Denmark (debatably) has Mercenary. And now Norway has Leprous. Although technically, Enslaved fits the bill just as smoothly. Let’s get to the belle of the ball shall we? Leprous is a Norwegian progressive metal band that owes just as much to King Crimson and Pink Floyd as they do to Opeth and Pain Of Salvation. Forming in 2001, Leprous have released just one album in an eight year span. However, the quality of musicianship displayed on their debut album Tall Poppy Syndrome more than makes up for the long wait.
Like fellow Viking raiders Opeth, Leprous share a penchant for soft to heavy dynamics and light to dark shades of melancholy and aggression. Mostly because the two bands share the same influences (whether it be by coincidence or design) in 1970’s progressive acts such as King Crimson and Pink Floyd. Leprous are more than a Opeth clone however, they often display bouts of outstanding brilliance and a personality of their own through excellent musicianship and songwriting. Amongst the fluctuation of clean guitar melodies and lumbering riffage lies a skillful clean to harsh vocal performance with spellbinding piano melodies outlining the progressive structures. Oh, and they’re not afraid to throw in some (most likely keyboard produced) organ sounds for good measure. Like In Mourning, Leprous impress you with their abilities to craft magnificent opuses despite having only released one full length album.
In terms of greatest metal guitar performance in 2009 I feel hard-pressed to pick a band other than Leprous who features an extremely talented duo in Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Oystein Landsverk. Their vision for creating elegant melodies and heartfelt soloing fail in comparison to their prowess of harnessing the almighty riff. Opening track “Passing” rages with dirge like vigor before seamlessly shifting to mellow strumming and clean vocals. Their ability to weave in and out through heavy and melodic sections comes off as child’s play, easily rivaling Opeth’s finest moments. With front man Einar Solberg’s (Emperor) enchanting piano melodies either outlining the guitars or taking the lead, the band’s melodic prowess strengthens tenfold.
The vocals aspect is clearly the last piece of the puzzle that needs to be improved on in an otherwise outstanding band performance. The vocals both clean and harsh are divided between main singer/keyboardist Einar and guitar players Tor and Oystein. Unfortunately, none of them conjures the grand majesty of Maikel Akerfeldt. Often the smooth crooning of Einar comes off as irritating and cheesy. There are exceptions though as the opening track offers the album’s most enjoyable verses and choruses while “Not Even A Name“ quickly follows suit for second best track. In the album closer “White“, a distinct Garm influence is heard offering a pleasing sound to the ears. The shouting is also quite unnecessary. Fortunately there isn’t enough of it to detract the overall strength of the record. Growling albeit sparingly used is more effective than the metal core-ish shout in providing the balls out metal sections.
Drumming is stellar thanks in part to Tobias Andersen and his consistently efficient style of play. Opting for a no blast beats in your face diet, he holds a steady rhythm and provides a steady stream of double bass. Capable of standing out on his own, Tobias generally just complements the tempo shifts and stop start rhythms resulting in a solid team effort rather than trying to stand out. Also worth mentioning is his cymbal tapping duet with the piano in the track “He Will Kill Again”. Amazing. Solidifying the rhythm section is bassist Halvor Strand. Emitting a solid heavy tone, his earthy protrusions add another layer of “interesting” to the densely layered atmosphere.
Production is once again quite shocking for a debut. Professional grade mixing was given to Tall Poppy Syndrome and it shows. The melodies are pristine, the vocals are powerful with the lyrics delivered intelligibly, bass and drums are tightly wound, and the heavy riffs are slathered in grease oil yet still retain some extremity. I suppose it’s fitting considering the professionalism found in every other department for the record. Overall, Tall Poppy Syndrome is one of the coolest debut albums that I’ve heard in a long time. Well, at least since 2008’s Shrouded Divine. Featuring memorable songwriting and impressive musicianship, Leprous are poised for bigger and better things in the future. Fans of Opeth, Pain Of Salvation, Ulver, Ikuinen Kaamos, and In Mourning need apply.