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Although music is not, and never should be confined to narrowly prescribed music genres, most genres have one or two bands that really pave the way for the rest. In the case of progressive metal, the torch was lit by acts like Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation and Opeth, and most of the bands now piled into that label are disciples of one or more of those leading acts. In the case of these bands then, the mark of excellence comes when the band is able to take the existing style and create something equally as powerful with it. Along with other young progressive metal acts like Circus Maximus and Haken, the band Leprous have distinguished themselves here not with an album that breaks any of the rules, but rather takes the existing conventions of progressive metal and bombasts them to the level of being a legitimately excellent listening experience of its own.
While not well-known at this point by many, Leprous play a familiar style of dark melodic progressive metal, with overtones of classical music clearly heard in the songwriting. As with many similar bands, Leprous' highly impressive technical abilities are among their greatest strengths. Through tight, often melodic writing, the band's skills are still able to show. Leprous are always sure to include an ample dose of beauty and melody to metal, especially through the vocal work, which is quite simply brilliant. Einar Solberg's higher register vocals may remind some listeners of Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow, and the comparisons to that band probably won't stop there.
Perhaps the best thing that Leprous does here isn't necessarily the songwriting- which is strong albeit derivative- but moreso the brilliant way in which things are arranged. The background vocals are enriched with lush harmonies, and intelligent riffs that play over each other. However, much like other bands like Circus Maximus, the music itself may be great and the band may be as talented as any other in melodic metal, but the lacking originality is what really holds back the band from reaching a level of mastery they can truly call their own.
As with any excellent album though, the promise and potential shine through clearly, and one is led to wait eagerly to hear what the talented Leprous will conjure up next. Put simply; 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' is one of the best recent melodic progressive metal albums in the style of the older legends.
The term "tall poppy syndrome" refers to a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are criticized or resented because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers. Naming the album in reference to such a term is rather ironic given the fact the material found here definitely elevates the band above many of its peers in the progressive genre. Taking elements from Opeth, Winds and Porcupine Tree, Leprous assembles these influences in an odd yet undeniably appealing manner. The eclectic arrangements, however, make it impossible to place the band in any specific genre.
The material on the album features the band - being firmly rooted in prog metal - crafting songs around odd structures, predominantly clean vocals, abrupt time changes, complex rhythms and dexterous musicianship all punctuated by contrasting heavier sections. Those moments where the band is at its heaviest typically have the most appeal, but this may be due in part to how sparingly these sections are employed on the album. Had the band come out and crushed from the get-go, not only would the material likely be less memorable but the band would lose some of what distinguishes itself from the crowd.
Gloomy opener "Passing" introduces the listener to the above formula where its quieter verses and atmospheres combine with sections of absolutely crushing melancholy. This song is rather deceptive, though, as the majority of the material here is never as doomy. "Phantom Pain" and "Fate" makes this clear as both start as a quiet ballad before moving towards completely different, though equally powerful, conclusions. The former opts for an abrupt piano line transition into heavier riffing, hammering double bass and jazzy interludes while the latter remains relatively quiet before it swells into a controlled yet robust atmosphere with an absolutely gut wrenching solo.
Keyboardist and lead vocalist Einar Solberg heavily invades the album through various keyboard arrangements ranging from lush atmospheres to classy piano lines. Although the piano is featured throughout, it is never as hauntingly effective as on "Dare You" where the instrument couples with the guitar in a mesmerizing, ambient fashion. The ebb and flow of "Not Even A Name" brings back some of the melancholic hues heard earlier combined with a frantic mix of vocals and the speediest tremolo work on the album. It is these types of styles juxtaposed with one another where Leprous gains its originality.
Further defining themselves amongst the genre, the guitar solos avoid the sweeping, tap-filled hysterics of other progressive outfits. There is just something soulful about how guitarists Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk opt for slower leads over the faster rhythms of the other members rather than more technicallydifficult, but ultimately forgettable, fretwork. Nearly every time a solo hits it makes a forceful entrance and demands attention from the listener, which is quite rare, especially in the prog genre where the emphasis is on dazzling musicianship. The album concludes with the 1-2 punch of the dark instrumental "Tall Poppy Syndrome" and the epic closer and personal favorite "White".
It is difficult to try and identify the type of music fan who will enjoy the material on Tall Poppy Syndrome. The album will likely polarize those willing to give it a shot, although the best forms of art typically induce such an immediate response. Anyone with an open mind and looking for something truly unique may just find the answer with this album. - 4.0/5.0
Originally posted at: http://www.kingcripple.blogspot.com/
This band has a fairly auspicious background if you go in the more extreme of progressive metal directions. One of the guitarists and the bassist have done live performance work with lhsahn for his solo project, while keyboardist and principle vocalist Einar Solberg was part of the touring band for Emperor during their “Promethius – The Discipline Of Fire And Demise” era. Naturally these respective bands have little to do with black metal, as Emperor is mostly recognized for through their earliest accomplishments, and more with a quasi blackened form of extreme progressive metal.
Perhaps where things contrast a bit with Ihsahs is in the form of a small smattering of melodic death metal and metalcore influences here and there, largely in the vocal performance. Einar’s vocal interpretation has a very sharp duality to it, coming off as a very similar version of a tenor voice to that of Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica, while floating between a Mikael Stanne meets a semi-NYHC version of harsh vocals. There are occasionally some guttural death grunts barked out in rhythmic unison with the harsher vocal sections, most likely provided by one of the other members of the band.
Musically this also goes through a host of differing non-metal influences, running from jazz ballad sections with walking basslines to some pretty dark sounding extreme sections. Neo-classical sections are also heavily prominent, giving a lot of these songs a theatrical sense to them that is heavily reminiscent of what Ihsahn was doing with Emperor during their semi-black/post-back pogressive mtal era. There’s a greater helping of piano and acoustic guitar work that makes this a little lighter sounding than their Norwegian elder’s latter concoctions, as well as some synthesizer lines running in and out that have more to do with Jordan Ruddess or Derek Sherinian than anyone else.
If there’s one really well known and highly visible outfit that could be compared to this outfit’s resulting sound, it would be the British pogressive outfit To-Mera, The vocal character of this is way different than Julie Kiss’ strong resemblance to Christina Scabbia, and there are slightly less gothic tinges to the lyric work, but the same general approach of marrying extreme metal sounds with lighter progressive rock ideas applies here. Leprous’ approach to songwriting is also a bit more up tempo and livelier, particularly on “Not Even A Name” and a couple of sections of “Phantom Pain”, where the band speeds up significantly and temporarily resembles late 90s Dimmu Borgir.
Altogether this is a relatively solid album, but often the extreme vocals get overdone and almost sound like extremeness for the sheer sake of it, sort of akin to Tony Kakko’s sloppy vocal work on “Unia”. Fans of earlier Opeth and Cynic’s “Focus” will find a lot to work on here, as well as people who’ve followed Ihsahn’s solo work enthusiastically. Mainline progressive metal fans of the Dream Theater persuasion may also like it, depending on how open they were to some of the changes incorporated on “Train Of Thought”. There’s better out there, particularly if you’re looking for memorable songwriting, but one could do a lot worse as well.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 16, 2009.
“Tall Poppy Syndrome” has what I like to call Limp-Dick Syndrome, so right off the gun I can tell you this here’s a rough ride. Now Leprous, a progressive metal band from Norway, seems to have some very unusual facts relating to the group’s status after just two albums: Leprous’ members are incredibly young, use geometrical technicality in their music, and were even selected to play alongside Ihshan once the original black wizards went solo and adjacently progressive. Although one could argue Leprous is fantastic on paper, one should not judge a book by its cover; “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is certainly insulting, almost to the point of unbelief. Oh yea, and if you’re looking for any musical value at all, I’ve got some very bad news for you.
You know, although it is a bad release, “Tall Poppy Syndrome” really shouldn’t be, because this band IS talented. They are oddly colorful and musically mathematical without question. However, those factors fail to overshadow the truth about Leprous’ banality parade. Of course, Leprous plays the everyone’s-the-same card and attempts this multi-cultural progressive act, usually riding on jazz sections, 80s rock alignments and other unusual textures layered across the heavy metal spirit. Now some bands can do this idea justice, but not these guys; far from it if anything. Throughout the album, there’s nothing but poor, simple riffs and nearly-invisible drumming ricocheting between some far-out identity and Leprous’ metal ideology. Obviously, it’s a massive bowel movement overall. Even better, all eight anthems stay in a formulated posture that slowly transfers random backgrounds for whatever hits the jackpot, so yea, you could say “Tall Poppy Syndrome” needs a prescription or two. The songs are transparently written poorly no matter how you see it: forcing vocals, nasty riffs, bland percussion, patterns that don’t go anywhere…yadda yadda yadda. The sad truth behind it all is Leprous actually isn’t so void of talent; they’ve got it, but they crush their style with these textures. I’d say they invested in half-assed progressive bullshit; irony though, bought some stock in “Tall Poppy Syndrome” before the crash so to speak. They are creative, talented, and philosophically secure, yet all these usually-essential factors fail miserably at treating “Tall Poppy Syndrome.”
But it’s not like the whole album is just lacking musically, oh no. For such a squad of youngsters that have captured incredible talent instrumentally and literally nothing on the writing side, what’s there to do? Well, throughout the record’s episodic sections of lethargic shenanigans, Leprous takes perhaps one or two total musical formulas per song (each one lasting about three-six minutes), hangs each one on a string and waits for the sun to dry every texture until nothing but a withered line of fried bullshit remains. Repetition is the name of the game, never ceasing but happily striding into what Dio once proclaimed at the end of his original Black Sabbath stint: it goes over, and over, and over again. Leprous makes it easy for you to remember “Tall Poppy Syndrome,” but not in a nice way. Instead, I suggest obtaining a screwdriver and keeping the sucker close once initiating listening; if things get too hot too quick, puncture your CD player. You’ll thank me later.
The album lightly transcends into an average atmosphere once the title track is locked and loaded, as Leprous pushes the progression towards the avant-garde ideology with a fruity mixture of good, twisted riffs coexisting with clean guitars, sampled vocals, and a free-floating bass; however, I once heard the good things in life don’t last. After about six minutes of we-wrote-a-good-section-so-let’s-use-it-until-the-listner-hates-it mechanisms, they break into sub-par surroundings once again under overblown conditions that just won’t subside. And that my friends, is all you have to look forward to if you’re considering entangling yourself with this dopey misrepresentation of anything progressive or smart in metal.
Perhaps Leprous achieved all their latent success through the Jackson-5 Equation: Young people + extreme instrumental talent (not that the Jackson 5 were instrumentally talented, but you get the picture) x no song-writing abilities at all = mass orgasms. Sadly, “Tall Poppy Syndrome” ain’t worth a whore on sale after looking past the senseless centrifuge that instrumentally spins without cohesion for over an hour of wasted material; it’s pretty useless overall, quickly back in the case after a single listen. But placing all second-rate satire aside, perhaps the young men of Leprous should drop the act and focus on Ihshan’s backing band instead. Sure that sounds a little cruel, but come on, who gets to play with Ihshan? Especially in this economy, these guys are lucky they can pay for CD cases.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com