Review Summary: Progressive metal has become generic? The guys in Leprous would like to have a word with you.
There are many words that come to my mind when I think of Leprous, but a few that I feel aptly describe the band’s music are intense, experimental, and refreshing. I was absolutely blown away by the first two records, and I consider Bilateral
to be one of the finest progressive metal albums of all time. The trajectory with which the band was musically progressing was spine snapping. Something had to give, and it eventually did with Coal
is not a bad album by any means. It is enjoyable on many levels and possesses the intrinsic progressive spirit of the band, but it didn’t melt my brain like the previous two albums did. Now with The Congregation
Leprous has achieved its most natural progression yet.
Some words that come to mind after multiple listens of The Congregation
include “controlled” and “moody.” With Einar Soldberg (vocals, keyboards) beginning to compose the majority of the music from Coal
, he had already asserted his desire to make more focused music. That trend began with Coal
and has continued on The Congregation
. There seems to be a conscious effort to trim any excess instrumental sections and to avoid deviating too much from the song’s core direction.
Einar’s vocals seem to be the focal point of the album. He seems to have composed the music to be a foundation for his stellar voice. Even though Einar hasn't added many new characteristics to his vocals apart from his new vicious growls, he still manages to give a great performance. He shows his large range and depth throughout. There are intense choruses and catchy vocal melodies sprinkled across the album, supported by great harmonies as always. The relatively conservative musical approach means there isn’t too much flair in the guitar or keyboard playing. That's not to say there aren't technical or intricate parts, just that there is a larger focus on melody and groove. The drumming is quite good and rhythmic in nature, with Baard Kolstad giving a dynamic performance that complements the music. The bass has performed a sort of “disappearing act” on every album, and it has outdone itself on this one. There are hardly any memorable bass lines that stand out unfortunately.
Overall you get the impression that the instruments are there to fulfill the primary purpose of the album, which is to compose memorable songs. They definitely succeed in meeting that objective. No instrument overshadows another, with a fine balance being achieved. However I can’t help but feel that if guitarists Tor and Oystein had been more involved in the songwriting, they would have added more dimensions to the songs with their intelligent guitar work. I was expecting more variety in the guitar tones and technique. Then there are a few moments where the music could have been elaborated on. On the plus side though the guitar tones employed are good, and again both 6 and 8 stringed guitars are part of the sonic arsenal.
Don't expect many radical moments that have been a staple of the band’s sound. While the music has experimental elements such as the sludgy riffs on 'The Flood' or the unconventional tom-tom heavy grooves on 'Triumphant' and 'Within My Fence', they aren’t as off kilter as those on the previous albums. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are also moments which showcase Leprous’ uncanny ability to meld seemingly unrelated musical styles, such as 'Rewind's' final section. Although there aren’t too many other sections in a similar vein, on this album you get explorations of ambiance and odd rhythmic patterns instead. These are very effective in their own right. The production is reminiscent of Coal
, although with a little less punch, and the musicianship is as tight as you’d expect. The mix can feel unbalanced at times though unfortunately.
Ultimately, once you accept the band’s more refined direction on this album, it begins to make sense in the context of Leprous' ever evolving discography. The Congregation
highlights the moodier side of the band and shows a band that is maturing and solidifying it's identity. I admire the band’s ability to never repeat itself and to truly embody the word "progressive." The reason Leprous stands out in the progressive scene is because it has so many flavours to its music and isn't afraid to challenge itself. The Congregation
ends up being another fine edition to Leprous' catalogue and ensures that the band remains head and shoulders above its peers.