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2011 was an excellent year for progressive metal and all its associated sub-genres. Leprous add to the brilliance on show, offering up a poignant blend of Ihsahn, Pain of Salvation, Riverside, Wolverine and even Meshuggah. The Ihsahn comparison shouldn't come as much of a surprise, with a guest appearance from the man as well as the fact that the band are essentially his backing band.
Across Bilateral Leprous display almost no regard for genre boundaries, fusing a wide and eclectic array of influence into a sleek display of musical mastery. The performances are superlative across the board, with vocalist Einar Solberg showcasing his talent with superb range and delivery. The production is nice a clear, with a fine attention to detail, atmospheric sections segue into heavier parts in an airy almost dreamlike fashion.
From the opening gloss of the title track right up to the masterful "Painful Detour" with its striking chorus, Leprous take us on a journey just under an hour in length. This journey cascades through ornate musicianship, almost suffocating segments of atmosphere, into tastefully handled heavier parts. Some of the hooks and choruses have an almost pop-like sensibility in places and their complete disparagement for boundaries really reminds of Pain of Salvation at their middle-period best.
Leprous should be high up on the to-do list for any progressive metal fan, especially fans of the bands I mentioned earlier. I really enjoyed Bilateral, and feel the album boasts a certain charm that keeps you returning for repeated listens, as much bizarre as it is brilliant; a truly special release. Of course this is quite a specialist album, and I can't imagine it appealing to many outside of the progressive circles. Still, for what it is Bilateral is truly majestic.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Well, that suggestion is perhaps too strong. Still, I feel that Leprous' sophomore album does right to the term 'progressive' metal as I keep seeing it. That is, in its literal use, meaning progression beyond the conservative styles of music, something which is phrased better in the 'avant-garde' genre, though that term would also be a bit too strong. Leprous' basis is, in fact, still metal. What distinguishes them from other progressive metal bands is that they incorporate song structures, melodies, and whatnot that are normally not found in this genre. What distinguishes them from avant-garde (metal) bands is that, at times, their music is downright, dare I say, catchy!
Let me explain that. On one hand, Bilateral features lengthy, unconventional songs (Forced Entry and Painful Detour). On the other hand, we find catchy, short songs (Bilateral, Restless, and Cryptogenic Desires). Not to say that the latter are radio friendly, as they turn out to be quite challenging when listened more closely to. This brings me to my overall feeling that this album is not too hard on the ears, but there is much to be discovered when the 'repeat all' button is used. To overuse a cliché, it gets better after several listens, and even better after that. And after...ok, I won't go there.
It's actually hard to convey my enthusiasm for this album. All of its songs offer something that makes them stand out. To name but a few, Forced Entry's guitar solo is ravaging, the way the bass line of Thorn shifts into the guitar melody, the incredible entrancing middle part of Waste of Air...rarely have I heard an album that sticks with me this way.
I think Bilateral is a step up from their previous effort, Tall Poppy Syndrome. Their skill at creating interesting songs has increased, for there is lots of diversity, e.g. the blasting opening of Waste of Air, the ballad feel of Acquired Taste, plus the instrumental qualities of all the band members have grown to new and more varied heights as well. The guitars are ultra heavy or extremely light, the drums only follow standard practice when necessary, the keyboards really add some atmosphere, and the bass is very well-pronounced. Lest I forget, Einar's vocals are exceptional - the key word is "varied" here as well, I'm afraid. He is able to produce some snarls, yet literally reaches new heights and performs some staccato work while he's at it as well. The lyrics are fairly abstract and open to interpretation, suiting the album. Highlights for me in the vocal department are the two closing songs, Acquired Taste and Painful Detour. That vocal/trumpet solo/duo hits the spot and marks this record as something fresh and exhilarating.
Leprous create interesting, varied, and somewhat technical, catchy, jazzy metal. I know I haven't heard many albums that reach this level, so if you're into that sort of thing, please be my guest and give this a spin.
2009 saw the Norwegian band Leprous enjoyed some underground success with 'Tall Poppy Syndrome', an album that impressed me somewhat, but rose to the tops of many prog metalheads' year-end lists. Suffice to say, I was not able to fully jump on the hype bandwagon for Leprous back then, seeing their music as maybe a little cheesy and being proggy for prog's sake. Nonetheless, I was made very aware of the band's immense potential from that album, and I figured that it would only be a matter of time before these Norwegians released something that would blow me away. Sure enough, come 2011 they finally have made an album that places them among the frontrunners of the new wave of progressive metal.
'Bilateral' may be something of a tough pill to swallow for those that most enjoyed 'Tall Poppy Syndrome', but for me, Leprous seems to have addressed all of the problems I had with them before, while retaining their good qualities. The most evident development for them has been largely in terms of ambition; what they are willing to do with their sound. There have been some steps taken toward a more sporadic style. The songwriting is more packed with ideas, some of them quite experimental and unexpected, although the memorable melodic component of Leprous is not toned down at all. 'Bilateral' is quite a bit to take in all at once, and I am finding that it is very much a 'grower' album; the constant flow of ideas can make it a little disorienting at first, and while the flow between these ideas can sometimes be a tad off-putting, the sheer excellence of the melodies and newfound weirdness makes Leprous all the more interesting of a listen.
As one might judge even by the surreal album cover (whose artist is also known for composing some of The Mars Volta's artwork), Leprous is not afraid to try new things. The title track contrasts remarkably layered vocal hooks with a mellow section of deep electronics. 'Painful Detour' is a slower, powerful song that gives the 'epic' impression of Muse as it hits its climax. 'Thorn' even shows the band's friend Ihsahn (from classic black metal act Emperor) doing a quick vocal cameo before letting a trumpet solo pop up for a moment. All of these things come as a huge surprise at first. While I would say at this point that Leprous has found their own sound with this album, they do remind me of a younger Pain of Salvation here, in the sense that they are a prog metal band that is focusing more on emotional impact and surprises rather than the sort of power-metal derivative that many newer prog metal bands go for. The Pain of Salvation comparison hits its peak with the vocal technique of Einar Solberg, whose diverse vocal register and complex ad-libbing accents his performance in a way that really reminds me of Dan Gildenlow.
'Bilateral' shows that even if the melodic side of prog metal has withered in recent years, there are still ways of making it sound progressive without falling into all of the prog pitfalls. Leprous still isn't completely fargone from the genre, but they have taken some adventurous steps here that really see my respect for them as a band skyrocket. 'Bilateral' is one of the few masterpieces of progressive metal that I have thus heard in 2011, and being very much of a 'grower' album, I can only see it holding its ground as the year grinds on.