Thursday, May 14, 2015

Album Review: Leprous - The Congregation

Over the last few years, Leprous has made an astounding leap into the upper tier of progressive metal bands, both through their own work, and by being the band standing behind Ihsahn's abstract offerings.  Leprous has established an identity that is fully ingrained in metamorphosis, changing their sound with every record, and taking to heart what progressive music was once all about.  "Bilateral" sounded nothing like "Coal", even if both of them were critically acclaimed.  Myself, I found both records to be interesting, but not cohesive enough to really love.  "Coal", in particularly, was an album centered around a particular atmosphere that felt too cold, too empty, and so the album was one that disappointed me mightily after all the praise I had heard being lavished on it.

This time out, Leprous turns the tables yet again, by creating an album that was written on computers, and only afterwards translated to the real world through instruments.  What that does is detatch the artist from the music, rewriting the very neural patterns that create the songs.  In other words, it lets a songwriter be someone other than themselves.

Some of this nature comes out in the first song on the record, "The Price", which was also the first single.  The song opens with a series of guitar stabs over a drum beat that pounds away in a jerking, completely abnormal time signature.  A normal human mind, sitting down with a guitar in hand, would never have thought that part up.  And then when the riff abruptly shifts into a muted chugging, it does so with no transition at all, a nod to the cut-and-paste nature of digital work.  But those aren't criticisms, because the song also features an engaging chorus, and might be the most agreeable Leprous song I've heard.

"Third Law" follows, and is similar in construction, but lacks the fire to make much of an impression.  It is likewise based around a pulsing guitar riff, but there isn't a strong hook buried in there, which leaves the song sounding exactly like the worst fears of a computer-generated record.  The seven minute "Rewind" spends its first two minutes with little accompanying a drum workout, but even when the bands comes in to flesh out the sound, the song goes nowhere.

Like the two albums before this, Leprous is a band that obviously has a world of talent, but fails to put together songs that are truly memorable.  Breaking down the instrumental pieces of "The Congregation", there are moments that are spectacular bits of progressive metal, but they're contained in songs that flounder without momentum, build to nothing, and are devoid of strong vocal melodies.  Without those things, it is the kind of hollow, soulless music that brings out the worst of prog.

It would be easy to blame these things on the method of composition, to write this off as an experiment that didn't quite pay off.  But this album is not as wildly different from "Coal" as you might be expecting.  The basic tones and feeling are very much the same, as are the results.  The conclusion to be drawn is that Leprous has a very pronounced way of writing songs that isn't going to change, no matter the method or inspiration they are following.  What that means is that fans of "Bilateral" or "Coal" will still find everything they like about Leprous on display here.  It also means that people who struggle to connect to Leprous' music will continue to do so.

There's a divide between the critical mindset and that of a music fan.  As a critic, I can hear what Leprous was going for here, I can hear the intricacies of the composition, and how they are challenging themselves to play music that otherwise would not come to mind.  I appreciate all of that on a philosophical level.  But there is still a part of me that is simply a fan of music, and that part of my brain can't be as generous, because while Leprous is doing some interesting things with this record, they simply don't write songs that I find compelling.  "The Congregation" continues my ambivalence towards Leprous, and makes me believe my feelings are never going to change.

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