There is a constant tug-of-war in the progressive music community, especially among the more popular bands in the genre, the push-and-pull of being as esoteric as possible and adopting a more standard poppy arrangement. Though Leprous may be accused of veering dangerously close to capitalizing on the lowest common denominator demographic with their newest effort “Malina”, this is by no means a weak record. Malina is the sonic onion whose beauty is only obtained by working through all the layers.
My experience with Leprous before this review was The Price from their 2015 record The Congregation whose verse riff was off-kilter enough for my internal body rhythm to completely reject it. It was only after a couple of listens that I began to wake up to the genius of that song. Rewind from the same record was absolutely hectic, and built up to be almost claustrophobic with its intensity, and will always be among my favorite tracks by these Norwegian progsters.
With Malina, Leprous decided to go for more straightforward arrangements in their verse-chorus song structures and shorter song lengths. This makes Malina a great gateway record to this band, or even this genre as a whole. However, this does not take away from the masterful composition that makes Leprous as quintessential to this genre. Though Leprous have never been the band that relied on heavy-handed wankery that many other prog bands are guilty of being. Their beauty is in the subtlety of technicality. Malina is chock-full of natural sounding syncopations and off-timed signatures that blend together to an almost standard structure. Never has an album quite made me want to sit up and count measures and be amazed by how well-crafted yet absolutely cheekily they throw in unconventional time signatures. For example, in their first single From the Flame, the verse structure is in 13/8! A casual listener would not notice that as easily. Captive opens with an absolutely bombastic drum solo set in 17/16, which gets reduced to a standard 4/4 by chopping off the “extra” beat. I gave up trying to measure Mirage because there were just too many time signatures for my non-Berklee trained ears to catch! New to this record is the addition to longer string arrangements, which can be gloriously experienced via the grandiose outro of the single Stuck and the album closer The Last Milestone.
Only superlative musicians can bring us such a cohesive progressive record which the listener can get lost in. Whether it is bouncing to the pseudo-percussive guitar work by guitarists Tor Suhrke and newest addition Robin Ognedal, or grooving along with those delicious bass lines by Simen Borven, Leprous works with the artistic restraint of a veteran maestro. The real standout performances in this record are the vocals and the drums. Vocalist Einar Solberg is absolutely swinging for the fences with his vocal performances. We get the whole gamut of his range of vocals; from tender croons in the title track Malina to the powerful, anthemic proclamation that is the chorus of From the Flame to the pretty-boy poppy tones in Stuck, Solberg handles his duties with effortless panache.
In my opinion, the Zeus of the Leprous pantheon has to be the drummer, Baard Kolstad, who may well be among the best (or at least, my favorite) drummers in the progressive rock/metal scene today. His drumming on the aforementioned Rewind off The Congregation is nothing short of maniacal, and he doesn’t hold back while providing catchy off-timed rhythms through every track in Malina. Numerous fills adorn this album that cannot be described as anything short of floral. The snare intro for Captive is breathtaking. I almost believe that unlike other prog bands, the Kolstad and his drums lead the charge in Leprous.
Overall, Malina is the musical equivalent of showing your favorite math problem to your “metal is just noise” girlfriend!
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Notable tracks: From the Flame, Stuck, Illuminate
Leprous – Malina (CD) / Inside Out Music / 11 tracks / http://www.insideoutmusic.com/artist.aspx?IdArtist=488 /