Sound — 8
Leprous are a musical export from, er, merry old Norway, founded in 2001 and bringing forward a very unique take on progressive/avant-garde metal during their career. This is album number five, and if I remember correctly, their previous album "Coal" got a very mixed reception upon release. Consider me a sort-of first time listener in that respect, as I've only previously heard "Bilateral."
Leprous are perhaps most famous for being Ihsahns backing band for his solo albums, and that's mostly what I remember them for as well. However, they are their own band, and honestly, it's hard to remain as unique as they do when we have 50-billion metalcore bands sound exactly the same as each other.
What makes Leprous immediately stand out is that their instrument setup is rather standard (guitar, vox, bass, drums, keys) but each part is twisted to some degree. It gave me the "ooh, ahh" impression upon first listen. The guitar tone, for instance, is very stripped down and sharp sounding, while the guitarist plays really precise, jagged riffs that aren't "aggressive" so to speak but they're just enough to push you out of a comfort zone.
It works with the actual musical content very well, which itself is also just a little bit weird. Staccato riffs that have masses of dynamic space, almost like an indie rock track, but played in non-standard time signatures and with rather complex grooves. Massive synth backdrops that thicken aspects from the musical narrative to the build/release mechanic that Leprous is an avid employer of. Very emotive chord structures that hit right at the heart, the kind that torture the "sad" sounding aspect of the minor keys, to the point where any "positive" sounding chord or melody is like some kind of opiate. My favourite examples of this are "Third Law" and "Slave," the former for its more relatable proggy chord progression and the latter for its almost ballad-like feel and structure.
The drums are very intricate and detailed: it would take many listens to properly get to grips with the groove patterns. Its thinking music, which is what I really like about it, and the moods feel very intimate thanks to Einar Solberg's impressively dynamic performance.
Some more modern influences aside ("Red" for instance, sounds like a strange mashup of Animals As Leaders filtered through the Leprous sound), this album sounds comfortably unique, even if it's not quite the "Bilateral" some fans might have wanted.
Lyrics — 8
I think the vocals might be a make-or-break point for some. Einar Solberg, and I really cant emphasize it enough, has recorded a truly magical performance here. His tenor vocals soar above everything, in an almost liquid fashion, which contrasts nicely against the staccato syncopation from the rest of the band, cue cheesy metaphor: "It's like water on rocks, brooo." I think they're fantastic but they're probably not... "metal" enough for some, I'd imagine. There's the odd black metal-ish burst of harsh vocals, and they're pretty good as well, but they're almost an afterthought, because the few songs they feature on, they don't really contribute a lot.
Lyrically, I can't speak of any clear narrative theme but the lyrics feel personal, melancholy... they're highly emotive to say the least, and fit the musical mood very well. An example from "The Flood":
"Tie me down
If I reach for sunlight
Lift me up
As I scrape the ground
Cut my cord
While you see me climbing
Let me drop
To where I won't be found"
Overall Impression — 7
I only kind-of-liked "Bilateral" but I'm really into "The Congregation" as a concept. It's not flawless, however. I think overall, there's a very strong first half, and then the last four or five tracks taper off in strength, to the point where I'd still recommend the album but there's the caveat that it might not carry its initial momentum. Also, you'll probably want to go in with a pinch of salt anyhow, prog metal is prog metal.
Songs to look out for: "Third Law," "Rewind," "Red," "The Flood."