Some bands truly set the bar so high that future albums have the nearly impossible task of overcoming and progressing upon their predecessors. It’s almost unfair in some ways. Leprous is one of those bands that continues to change and morph into new forms, and each album really has been better than their last, despite the quality of all the albums they’ve made. Their new album “Malina” is set to release August 25, and it again shows the band taking a new shape, but can it also best their previous albums? I think the answer is a resounding “yes”.
Leprous has seen several line-up changes throughout the years, and this time is no different. The band consists of Einar Solberg on keys and lead vocals, Tor Oddmund Suhrke on guitar and backing vocals, Baard Kolstad on drums, newcomer Simen Daniel Lindstad Børven on bass, and newcomer Robin Ognedal on guitar. The band has been hinting that “Malina” would sound different than their past albums, and that is indeed the case.
If you were worried that Leprous was abandoning their metal roots, have no fear. While this album is indeed softer and does have more musical space to it, Leprous has still kept their signature stuttering attack style, though many times it is through well-crafted licks from Tor and Robin, rather than what I would call a metallic riff. Baard’s thundering drum style is as stunning as ever, and Simen’s bass might be one of the best performances on the album due to its variety and ominous tone. So, the music is definitely Leprous through and through, but there seems to be more finger work and more of a rock feel to it. For sure, there is more melody than ever, though, with Einar being free to abandon harsh vox completely to explore a his huge range.
“Malina” also has this cinematic feel to it, mainly because of the addition of cello on some of the tracks (courtesy of Raphael Weinroth-Browne). The cello is layered again and again to sound like a whole section, and the results are always classy and so gorgeous, but not over-utilized. It’s not just the cello, though, it’s also the space and progression inherent in the music, too, that creates this spacious atmosphere of story progression and climactic moments. I honestly didn’t know how orchestral tones would fit with Leprous, but the band pulls it off with flying colors.
I also noticed the band is utilizing some quirkier tones on this album that do remind me of their good buddies in Haken. They have almost this video game quality to them, which obviously I love. “Captive” and “Illuminate” are good examples of this sound. So, overall, the album has some different tones and is less texture driven than other albums, like “The Congregation”. While the band maintains their signature sound and their odd time signatures; there is more variety, more accessibility, and the vocals are more melodic and prominent. For me, all those changes are good things, and I love the tightness of their new rock sound.
The album begins with “Bonneville”, a song that requires digestion time. It features such a strange time signature that it might take a few listens to get into groove with the song, but once you do you will find that it all makes sense. There are several highlight songs that follow. “Stuck” is one of my favorites the band has ever done. It has this light-hearted air to it that contrasts itself to the darker lyrics and the ultra-serious cello that appear in the last half. The song transitions from this bouncy guitar lick to a majestic and explosive emotional plea near the end. “From the Flame” is the single off the album, and it’s one of those songs that embeds itself into your psyche every time you hear it. It’s catchy as hell and grooves so unbelievably hard. Most singles get a little tiresome because you tend to hear it more, but this song just blows me away every time.
Favorite tracks are quite common on this album. “Leashes” continues the use of cello from “Stuck”. It has an ominous, almost sacred sound to it that is augmented with the menacing cello layering. “Mirage” is definitely a different track that will probably be my favorite someday. It still features the Leprous style we know and love, but it almost feels pop-influenced and it definitely feels like something totally different from what they’ve ever done. It’s “out there”, though, contrasting those pop vibes with deep guttural riffs played against light-hearted programming and a softer tone overall. It explodes near the end with lots of quirk and haunting melody.
The album ends with “The Last Milestone”, which is a great example of the cinematic feel of this album. It is again unlike anything Leprous has done, as the song is most properly dubbed “classical” in its genre because it is purely cello with Einar’s operatic vocals. I think this track could be divisive for fans. Some fans are probably looking for the metal edge or the epic ending to the album, but this track ends the album with an emotional, Romantic, fragile song that feels like the calm after a storm. The story behind the album is one of melancholy and searching one’s soul, and this final song is an appropriate end to a deeply emotional album. It’s almost like the lyrics on this final track are surveying the damage that the storm left, and pining about new beginnings. It’s a truly gorgeous way to end this album.
What are my immediate thoughts on this album? The die-hard metal fans in the Leprous fan base will probably say the band has gone soft or mainstream, but that’s just typical of snobs that don’t actually want the progression that they preach so much. This new sound is fresh, it has subtlety and a more eclectic nature, it is a natural progression on the path the band has been following, and the results are stunning and truly gorgeous at times, which isn’t an adjective I’ve really used for their work in the past. So, while their past albums are still badass, this new album represents a more mature direction that embodies fine art and truly tight composition skills. “Malina” is the best Leprous album yet and a great place for prog rock fans to jump onboard.
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