Review Summary: Leprous approach their fourth album with restraint and maturity, but Coal remains vibrant throughout.
Yes, Leprous is still known for being “Ihsahn’s backing band.” But if it keeps this up, that’s going to change in a hurry. With its fourth album, the Norwegian quintet has created something truly its own, perhaps comparable to acts like Opeth and Enslaved, but full of fresh intensity. There are moments that challenge you to wrap your head around exactly what’s going on, and equally numerous times that you’ll be swept away by anthemic choruses. Opener “Foe” revolves around a 7/4 time signature as the instruments run circles around each other and refuse to settle into a groove; the second half of “Chronic,” however, does the heavy lifting for you as singer Einar Soldberg intones, “Stars, they lie where we can’t keep them...” over and over, sharp guitar lines building behind him, the sound growing in intensity despite an ever-slowing tempo. Many of the songs contain a balance of styles as the band toys with the line between being soothing and stimulating.
Leprous is able to give Coal
an impressively cohesive sound despite each song veering in a different direction than the last. “The Valley” clocks in at nine minutes, tied together with a soaring chorus that gets a different rhythmic treatment each time it returns, but lies between the album’s two most subdued pieces in “The Cloak” and “Salt.” The former begins ominously with deep, burning chords but never rises above a whisper until its tremendous finale, Soldberg reaching into a dreamy falsetto for a chorus of “will you cryyyyy tomorrow, reflecting on yesterday’s action / will you cry tomorrow, draining your satisfaction"” Much of Coal
plays as if there’s a ton of energy waiting to be released, but the band is only allowing it to trickle out, waiting for the right moment to burst forth in a moment of bliss. Soldberg seems to touch upon this feeling in his description of the album: “When you are lucky enough to have inspiring and skillful producers around you, they can help you to reach…completely honest layers of your subconscious. If you manage to press the record button exactly when you perform with this kind of energy, you have succeeded to catch something pure and true.”
It’s when things do finally unfold that Coal
shines brightest. Epic closer “Contaminate Me” surges on Meshuggah-style pounding chords and syncopated drumming, showcasing the majority of the album’s harsh vocals. Synthesizer lines – used tastefully throughout the album – give the song a creeping paranoia behind the turbulent guitar and bass, giving way to chorused vocal lines in the song’s pummeling middle section. The album ends with an insane duet of desperate, atonal vocals (think Converge’s Jane Doe) and piercing violin, wrapping up the album on a viscious note. This is not to say that Coal
is without its faults; “Echo,” a ten-minute song that comes directly before, drags on too long and would perhaps stall the album's momentum if it weren’t for the killer opening of “Contaminate Me.” Fans of Ihsahn’s classic black metal works will be disappointed with the lack of...well, metal, as Leprous seems to want more to do with King Crimson than Emperor on this outing.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, as Coal
aptly straddles two musical worlds of extremity and accessibility. Rather than scaring away parents with shrieked onslaughts, Leprous prefer to make listeners earn their reward with a record that refuses to be unlocked quickly. Despite complex writing and untamed song structures, Coal
has a knack for inviting successive listens without becoming overbearing. That inspiration the band aimed for is definitely on display here, as some ingenious moments throughout Coal
’s fifty-five minutes unravel with a bit of determination. Leprous is no longer someone’s sidekick. With its fourth album, the band has shown not only talent and vision, but the patience to let those qualities bring it to the fore of progressive metal where Leprous is proving it belongs.