Leprous Review: Join The Congregation
In this, the year of our Lord 2015, what does the term “progressive metal” mean to you? Do you think of mellowed-out bands creating faithful facsimiles of 70s rock? Do you think of Meshuggah rip-offs with whiny castratos on vocal duty? Do you think of kitschy synth-work over bloated instrumental masturbatory sessions?
Leprous play progressive metal, and they are none of those things.
Progressive metal has become a somewhat pointless catch-all term. The argument could be made, however, that none of the bands currently categorized as such are really doing anything all that progressive. Playing your instruments well is admirable, but this trait can be found in many subgenres of metal. Similarly, expertly crafting songs is not exclusive to prog, and it itself should be a standard, not some forward-thinking concept. On The Congregation, Leprous do both, and so much more.
In order to understand The Congregation, one could deconstruct the album to its constituent parts. One would find guitars that play staccato, nearly percussive strings of notes that form alien battering ram riffs that in theory sound strangely out of place on a prog album. In another light, in another tone, the dissonant guitar chords themselves could even be labelled skronky. Similarly, one would also find a lush, earth-shaking bass tone that deftly maneuvers from lead instrument to second percussive unit, jarring and clashing with guitar lines and synths. The keys themselves are thankfully used not solely as an accompaniment to the guitar (as is often the case with prog), but rather to give tone and feeling to each song, to create an emotional backdrop for each experience.
If one were to take the album apart to investigate it piece by piece, one might find drums that show a shocking amount of restraint for a prog album. Fills are expertly timed, kicks are used sparingly, and rhythms are as simple or as complex as the song itself demands. When aggression is needed, drummer Baard Kolstad attacks mercilessly, but when tact is key, he knows how to dial it back. One would even find the impressive vocal efforts expected on a prog album, though Einar Solberg transcends those boundaries and confines with his shockingly heartfelt and vulnerable performance. Despite his soaring range and powerful vibrato, Solberg sings with more humanity than most metal vocalists. Repeat listens will reveal sharp breath intakes, slightly dropped syllables, and a near-tangible feel to the syallabic notes that he uses to add depth to each song. His voice at times seems almost mismatched when the band is cracking the earth with diamond-tipped focus, but it all inevitably comes full circle. When extreme vocals rear their heads (on “Rewind” and “Slave”), they only lend greater diversity and strength to the songs, propelling the tone into dire territory.
One could spend days analyzing each facet, each note choice, each eccentricity of every player’s part, but this is not the proper way to absorb this album. Though each instrument’s part feels discordant, even at odds with what the others are doing, it all meshes in a way that feels seamless, timeless, perfect. Songs whose descriptions sound like Frankenstein monsters on paper flow in an enthralling stream of liquid silver that bubbles, sizzles, pops, pools, and waterfalls. Even taking the songs individually, as unique and diverse as each is, would be tantamount to removing a chapter from a gripping novel. Yes, each page itself compels you to keep listening, but examining the art in whole is the only means by which you can gain insight into the peerless scope and grandeur that is the entire work. The Congregation is cohesive and consistent in a way that Coal only hinted at, each song offering a new twist or a new hook that builds upon what has come before it.
Interestingly, just as each song unifies the disparate elements into a cohesive and potent tale of starts and stops, restraint and improvisation, force and gentleness, so also is this album a unifying force for different genres. Those who bathe in the fetid waters of dissonant metal will find jarring chords and furious counterpoint. Those who seek the melodic will be soothed by Solberg’s sonorous cooing and elevating high notes. Those who seek expert songcraft will find it in spades. There is something here for nearly every fan of nearly every metal subgenre, no matter what each listener seeks. This album caters to individual listeners while conforming to no single stereotype. Now isn’t that progressive?
My only complaint with this album is that the last two songs, “Down” and “Lower”, while still good, suffer under the weight of the album’s own grandeur and fail to provide as convincing a climax as found on “Moon”. Still, this is only a minor complaint for an otherwise stellar album. Join The Congregation.