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A Minimalist's H(e)aven - 100%

curtis1567, August 29th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, InsideOut Music (Mediabook)

I have very high expectations for Leprous, as do many others. All their previous albums had been stellar efforts, and to this day both "Bilateral" and "Tall Poppy Syndrome" remain in my library, listened to almost daily. Imagine my shock when I first heard "The Congregation". I found it bland and boring. I thought it was a less-than-mediocre practice in writing technical but vapid music. I was so disappointed. Was this really what the band thought was the next logical step from "Coal"?

But Leprous is a band that one does not simply give up on. So I listened to the album, over and over, hoping for a song other than "The Price" to be its saving grace. But only "Rewind" stood out; the rest of the album still seemed boring. I set the album aside, trying to forget that it ever existed.

But masterpieces don't let themselves go unforgotten! A few days later, a bunch of catchy-as-hell riffs and buzzing sounds (the band utilises these buzzing undertones throughout the album to add a moody feel) popped up in my head. I instantly knew where they came from. Upon this next listen, I was exhilarated. The lesson here is simple: Keep listening and once you "get" it, you'll live the next few weeks of your life in sheer bliss.

The album itself is truly an extension of "Coal" - a moody and mature album which explodes with the band's earlier spontaneous sound once in a while. It is a fine balance of technicality, atmosphere and catchy ideas that perfectly showcase a progressive band coming of age. While Leprous' sound has changed radically since "Bilateral", a few things still remain the same: for one, their knack for writing clearly-defined and catchy choruses while still sounding fresh and exciting. They encapsulate prog and avant-garde in a way no other band really can.

While the album initially seemed like a bunch of rather samey songs to me, I eventually caught on to a few perceived ideas: on one hand there are the punchy, technical and groovy songs like "The Price", "Third Law", "Red" or "Down" and on the other there are the moody atmospheric ones with the buzzing undertones like "Rewind", "The Flood", "Moon" or "Slave". And yet the album manages to maintain what feels minimalistic; the bare-bones songwriting is highly reminiscent of Todtgelichter's "Apnoe" in terms of atmosphere and instrumentation. Regardless of the idea of the song, all of them combine these aspects to varying degrees, to superb effect.

Lyric-wise, any other band would have rendered them cheesy, but somehow Einar Solberg manages to remove the inherent awkwardness with his powerful vocal work, which are at their best form on this album. He instead manages to manipulate the lyrics into strong and moving behemoths that complement the moody tone of the album completely. And boy, does this album flow. The harsh vocals are noticeably reduced on this album, being present on only "Rewind" and "Slave", but this does nothing but bear testament to the fact that harsh vocals are merely one of the many tools Leprous have at their disposal to craft stunning songs. The rest of the band are similarly on form, and with Baard Kolstad's insane drumming and standard, there is almost no hint that the band's previous drummer had left.

While I eagerly await the new Amorphis album, I am convinced that "The Congregation" is the best album that 2015 has to offer thus far. The slick mix, the classy and technical instrumentation and the brooding atmosphere all serve as well-controlled and focused spotlights shone on the highlight: the wonderful and varied vocal work of Einar Solberg. And while the vocals might be the star most of the time, there is plenty of space for the occasional technical show for the other instruments. The band breaks all supposed conventions of prog: they have very short songs, clear-cut choruses and a grooviness unheard of in typical prog music, yet somehow they stand victorious as the kings of modern progressive music by not defining what the genre had defined for so long and hence moving forward while the rest of their peers remained stale. All this while maintaining minimalistic moodiness! Suffice to say no other band will be able to pull off what Leprous have done had they lost two long-time members prior just as Leprous had. An experiential and enchanting listen from start to end with a delicate but accurate balance of breathing space and exciting moments.

This album, like the previous few Leprous albums, will be stuck in my library for a very long time.