Norwegian prog outfit Leprous have been around for quite a while now and have built a pretty good name for themselves in the progressive metal/rock scenes. Their first full length album came out in 2006, and they’ve released several others since then, including 2015’s The Congregation, my #1 favorite album of that year. It saw the group branching out into more melodic and nearly operatic musical territory while refining their songwriting chops and managing to hold on to aspects of their heavier roots. Naturally, my own expectations were pretty high when Leprous announced their follow-up this year, and it’s now out in the form of their 6th studio album Malina.
The album continues the trend towards emphasized melody that The Congregation wholeheartedly embraced. The album opener “Bonneville” starts very delicately with an off-kilter harmonic guitar melody with a soft ghost note-heavy drum pattern and some atmospheric staccato synths. It’s a very beautiful opener, but it does remember to bring the heaviness in the back half with some particularly djenty low-end guitars. It’s a logical extension of The Congregation’s style, and the subsequent tracks continue like this, featuring syncopated guitar chords and tight drum grooves mixed with intricate fills on top of that. “From The Flame” in particular has a distinct chord structure/rhythm that the drums lock into pretty well at the start, and I like when the drums shift into a variation of a four-on-the-floor rhythm in the second verse. It’s a cool bit of songwriting to show off how exactly the guitars sync up with the main pulse of the song.
Perhaps the most immediately obvious addition to the Leprous formula is the addition of cellos and string compositions into the mix, contributed by Raphael Weinroth-Browne. When combined with the consistently excellent vocal/keyboard work of frontman Einar Solberg, it pushes the operatic nature of their current sound into more grandiose territory. The most stunning example of this is in the title track, which opens with a twinkling keyboard melody with some delicate violins to help amplify the vocal performances/arrangements. The song keeps at this for about 2 minutes before the drums finally enter with an alternatingly slow/fast pounding tom pattern, with the guitars following suit as the song swells and flows through loud and delicate segments, with the strings tying it all together. Special attention should also be made of the track “Coma”, which is also the heaviest track on the record. It comes swinging right out of the gate with a rapid-fire pounding drum beat and tremolo guitar pattern with a staccato keyboard melody that’s also repeated in the guitars later on. The violin/string arrangements here amplify the propelling tempo of the song, and it adds a really over-the-top dramatic and menacing tone to the composition.
There’s quite a lot to love about this album, from the intricate rhythms and instrumental interplay to Solberg’s fantastic vocal performances, and it may very well end up making it on my albums of the year list… but I can’t say it’s as good as their previous release. To be fair, that’s not the worst problem in the world. The album still stands strong on its own and continues the evolution they’ve been doing since last time in a really interesting way, but I feel like there’s a few things on this album that aren’t as tight as the record. It’s worth noting that this is the first Leprous release to not feature any harsh vocals at all, which wouldn’t be an inherently bad thing given the compositions at play here are more theatrical and melodious than heavy. However, with songs like the aforementioned “Coma” that emphasize a driving aggressive tempo, some visceral bellowing screams and growls would have gone a long way to help tie everything together. On a similar note, “Mirage” is mainly characterized with a steady tempo and a bass/synth rhythm consisting of a few incredibly low-end notes that spread and sustain in an off-kilter manner akin to a lost track from Meshuggah’s Koloss album. In fact, much like a great deal of Meshuggah’s catalog, the song knows how to balance these low-end riffs/notes with great upper-register chord progressions. There’s a great “1+2+3+4+, 1+2+3+4+5” rhythmic progression throughout the main verses that aids the djenty vibes of everything, and the song gets particularly heavy with a great ending blowout near the 5:20 mark. However, once again, there are no harsh vocals to help aid the ominous and intense vibe of much of the instrumentation.
While a good deal of the songs have a particularly dynamic flow to them and varied song structure, it feels like the songs don’t ebb and flow as well as on The Congregation. “Stuck” is one of the more straightforward tracks in the Leprous library, coming right out of the gate with a steady sound/set of riffs and drums, and it just maintains that same structure and volume for the entire duration. The same can be said of “The Weight of Duration”, which has one of the most simplistic chord structures on the album, and the song just flows back and forth between this introductory segment, a melodic verse, and a triumphant chorus in kind of a predictable fashion.
Despite these minor gripes, Malina is another satisfying entry in the band’s discography. Might have a few nitpicks with the songwriting and song structure here, but even Leprous on a decent day is still better than a lot of bands on a good day. The instrumentation and musicianship is as tight as ever, the string arrangements add a new dimension to their sound, and the drumming is even probably the tightest on a Leprous record to date. Seriously, for his second record with the band, Baard Kolstad is a great fit with the band (pay extra attention to the dynamic shuffling groove of “Illuminate” for proof positive of that). If you’ve never heard a Leprous album before, this is a pretty good jumping-on point, and I highly recommend it.
Verdict: Buy it. Allow the luscious tones of Solberg’s beautiful singing voice to wash over every inch of your being. …I have no clue where I was going with that.
Malina is available from Inside Out Music on CD, vinyl, digital download (iTunes, Google Play, etc.), and streaming services. Check out the band online on Facebook, Twitter, and their official website.