LEPROUS was always a divisive band, but with the upcoming release of their sixth album, Malina (August 25, InsideOut Music), expect that sort of controversy to move firmly within the band’s fanbase. While the band has always made stylistic shifts from album to album, and while Malina is absolutely in the mold of The Congregation and Coal, the bits that separate it from those two are going to really rustle some jimmies. I’m not going to pretend this is for everyone, or that those who are just sitting around waiting for another Bilateral could be convinced to enjoy it, but it is an incredibly great album: unique, well written, exciting and impactful.
What’s going to get people upset is that the harsh vocals, which we’ve heard less and less of on each album, have been entirely done away with. There are no cameos from Ihsahn and no real suggestions that LEPROUS were once famous as a backing band for a black metal artist. Even guitar distortion, a fundamental truth for metalheads is heavily drawn back and gone entirely for much of the album. LEPROUS has always been careful to market themselves as moving forward and that’s what they’re doing here in the logical progression from Coal and The Congregation.
Instead, the buzzword for the album has been “organic,” taking advantage of the full, natural sounds of their instruments, in particular leaving room for an outstanding bass performance from Simen Borven. It also gives them space to do bigger chords and accommodate the guest violin stylings of Raphael Weinroth-Browne. And it’s still heavily rhythm-oriented, with “Illuminate” sounding very much like the LEPROUS interpretation of HAKEN’S “Initiate”. It’s an outstanding, and incredibly catchy song.
While the album as a whole is intentionally ‘lighter’ than its predecessor, it’s still roughly the same balance of heavier/lighter/faster/slower songs. Sometimes they take a more circuitous route to that heaviness. “Coma” which reminds of The Congregation’s “Moon” could be a fairly drawn back, symphonic ballad except drummed Baard Kolstad was told to bring out his tech-death chops. It works.
There are also moments where it’s obvious that the quest to find ways to sound proggy and heavy without their typical sonic toolkit turned up some really unique and awesome material. “Mirage” is my favorite song on the album, and is built on a deep, three-note riff with far too weird of spacing in between for me to count. It’s a masterpiece of odd timing and sonic juxtaposition that’s indebted to their distinct blend of repetition and deviation.
The record ends on two songs that are, within the context of the previous ones, polar opposites. The first, “The Weight of Disaster” is the closest song to full on progressive metal, with a sound palette not far off from Coal, and Einar Solberg finally letting loose the full strength of his voice in similar fashion to “M.B. Indifferentia” or “Acquired Taste” from Bilateral. The closer “The Last Milestone” then features only Einar the aforementioned Weinroth-Browne, trying their hardest to sound… sort of sad and bittersweet. It’s a nice touch, but I much prefer the title track for croon-y Einar. There’s also plenty of cool low-key prog moments that I can’t aptly describe but you should pay close attention to.
Malina won’t disappoint fans who have come to expect memorable and distinct sonic experiences from LEPROUS, and even if it’s not my favorite collection of their songs, it’s still a more than worthy addition to their canon, and proves that they’re as creative and ambitious as ever.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Bonneville”, “Illuminate”, “Mirage”, “The Weight of Disaster”