Sound — 8
Leprous are a Norwegian progressive metal band who have been around since 2001. The first time they reached success was with their 2009 album "Tall Poppy Syndrome," and since then they've released two more albums, played ProgPower Europe and ProgPower USA and toured across Europe with Therion. Leprous are also known for being Ihsahn's live band. "Coal" is their fourth album and fifth release in total. If I was to describe the overall sound of Leprous it would be using the words anthemic, atmospheric, jazzy, rhythmic and interesting. It would also be impossible to avoid telling about their frequent blending of harsh and mellow moments or about their use of vocal harmonies. In short: Leprous make what I consider to be extremely progressive music and while it may not be for everyone it's interesting and unique enough to deserve attention on that merit alone. It's also a band which has embraced enough of the modern metal-sound to appeal to fans of djent-acts such as Periphery and TesseracT, but also enough vocal harmony work and progressive influences to attract some classic progressive rock fans as well. It's a mix of both without being either. Production wise "Coal" is slightly weaker in its' punch than above-mentioned "Tall Poppy Syndrome." In a way this makes the clarity of the instruments shine through almost perfectly, and kudos go to the bass sound which I really think is spot on. However, "Coal"'s weaker approach has some downsides as well. It sounds almost a bit more linear, ever so slightly synthetic and unnecessarily lacking in power in places where the mix actually could have used quite a bit more punch. There are also minor things in the sound that come across as annoying at times. The best example is in the opener "Foe," which features an awful tone that I think is coming from the snare drum. All this said it's not a catastrophe as much as it's just details in the sound that I didn't personally like.
Lyrics — 7
Vocals are a big part of Leprous sound and yet they are thank god approached and used as an instrument. What I mean by this is that they don't take over at the expense of other instruments, and often the vocals sing repeating melodies without words during the long instrumental sections, which sometimes gives a slightly hypnotic and cool effect. That said the vocal style can be a little whiny and over-the-top at times, which will appeal to some people just as it will seem off-putting to others. Most of the time the band uses traditional/clean vocals (for lack of a better word) but Leprous utilize screams as well, and there are even some very welcome guest vocals by Ihsahn on the track "Contaminate Me." The work put in by the bands three singers (background vocals included) is well performed. The only thing I can say is that while Leprous really shine with their atmospheric use of vocal layers some of their lead melodies can be on the verge of being too over-the-top at times. The best example in this case is the chorus of the song "The Valley" which is just a bit much. The track however compensates for this by having one of the best instrumental-sections on the record. I won't say much for the lyrics as they are not the star of the show for Leprous. This is not saying that the lyrics are badly written, but they're about emotions of frustration and inability to find peace. There are no themes to discuss and the lyrics aren't very thought-provoking. That said the frustration, sadness and unrest fits the music in general and the vocal style in particular.
Overall Impression — 8
What I really liked about this album was the way it seamlessly flowed together. As always Leprous had interesting cards up their sleeve and "Coal" is well worth a listen. What I had a problem with was the production that didn't dare to be quite so powerful and gritty where it was needed, and once or twice it felt like the atmospheric instrumental sections became slightly too long. For once it's actually easy to name quite a few bands I'm reminded of when listening to "Coal." I definitely detect Devin Townsend-influences in the before-mentioned anthemic sound and songwriting, especially on the track "Chronic." The guitar playing sometimes moves into Mattias IA Eklundh (Freak Kitchen)-territory in their choice of jazzy chords (on the title track "Coal" for example). The rhythmic madness has some elements of Meshuggah, the quick shifts between heavy and mellow can let ones thoughts wander away to Opeth and the the long instrumental jams with the vocals harmonies makes me think of Yes and American prog metallers Shadow Gallery. It's hard to select tracks to look out for because almost every song has parts that blow my mind at the same time as they have their weaknesses. My personal favourite however would have to be the 9 minute metal madness piece "Contaminate Me." It's a song that sounds just like I hoped the new album would sound. If one wants to get a full picture of what Leprous can sound like I would advice curious listeners to listen to "The Cloak" as a song that contrasts the harsh attitude of "Contaminate Me." This is a very solid release that just might be one of the best records so far this year and a listen comes warmly recommended.