The name Leprous may be mostly familiar to metal fans for being the backing band of the mighty Ihsahn, but they have in fact been around for a while now, even since before the ex-Emperor maestro released his first solo-album. 2013 sees the release of Leprous’ third album, simply titled “Coal” and those who have enjoyed their proggy meanderings on earlier outings will be overjoyed to hear the baffling and engrossing musical voyage of discovery being undertaken on this recording.
Rudimentary song structures and standard verse-chorus-verse poppy numbers will not be found here. Opening track ‘Foe’ is the kind of grandiose, pompous composition that could be played at an Olympic opening ceremony, should Scandinavia ever receive the honour. The arrangements may be strikingly simple, yet manage to sound utterly massive, calling to mind a stripped down Arcturus. Einar Solberg’s clear, commanding voice is a massive asset to Leprous’ sound, helping the listener navigate the brisk chugging and ivory twinkling of ‘Chronic’ with something approaching ease. It’s in the second part of this track that the ambition of the guitarists becomes apparent as riffs bend in myriad directions while the swelling keyboards hint at something otherworldly and magnificent.
The title track offers a dark journey into heavier territory with an abrasive groove added to the choppy guitar lines, proving that the fivesome aren’t about to zoom off into space just yet, while the languid lounge-prog of ‘The Cloak’ offers a respite from the chaos, provided you don’t find the occasional wall of noise to be off-putting. However, the wizard’s cape is dusted off on the nine-minute ‘The Valley’ with its buzzing keyboards and stuttering rhythms paving the way to uncharted prog territory, the kind of place where even Devin Townsend fears to tread. Still, Solberg’s gorgeous falsetto is a beacon amid the ruff-and-tumble and his intuitive grasp of melody is a delight to bear witness to.
Leprous are a gift that keeps on giving, as the sprawling, left-field dynamics of tracks such as ‘Echo’ clearly indicate. This is mature progressive music for a grown-up audience who demand just that little bit more from their music, and with each successive listen to “Coal”, new melodies and quirks are discovered that accentuate what the brain has already absorbed. If this doesn’t shake off the backing band tag than nothing ever will. Stunning.