Leprous – Coal
Leprous – Coal (2013)
Reviewed by Mark Nagy
2013 has been an absolutely monster year for progressive metal. Not only have the major acts all showed up to play, but they’ve been pretty impressive at it too. Additionally, there’s just been an absolute (Mountain? Ocean? You choose the pun!) of lesser acts putting out phenomenal releases. Wedged somewhere in between those categories, hailing from Norway, is Leprous. While certainly not on the same level of fame of giants like Fates Warning, Dream Theater, or Ayreon, they still hold some serious clout for their association with black metal legend Ihsahn, as well as for their previous album Bilateral, which was beyond excellent.
Despite all this, I’m ashamed to admit that I went into Coal rather blind. I’d heard of the band, but something about their black metal associations didn’t clue me into just how good they’d be. This was pretty stupid of me, given what it is they excel at. While it didn’t initially seem to be a particularly symphonic album, it certainly is. However, the presentation of elements here is so unique and so satisfying that it didn’t strike me to draw out what exactly makes it made it sound so vast. Coal is a delightfully dark and thoughtful album that’s both expertly written and performed.
Still, their association with Ihsahn makes sense, especially when I get past my hatred of the genre and think about what it does well. Coal leans very heavily on atmosphere, forging it with an array of synthesizers and piano excellence, along with an absolutely stunning vocal performance by Einar Solberg. This, along with Haken, TesseracT, and Votum, stands in the great distinction of progressive metal that is enhanced by great vocals, rather than limited by bafflingly limited vocalists (I’m looking at you, LaBrie).
That being said, progressive metal is a strange world. Leprous certainly belongs there, but where their contemporaries might steal the stage with flashy musicianship and displays of technical wizardry, Leprous simply sets the stage. The stage is rich in darkness, foreboding and massive, but inviting all the more. It’s the dark curiosity in the listener that draws them deeper into the twisted but beautiful soundscape of Coal. I can’t think of a single point where this album didn’t have me completely engrossed.
What really stands out though, even on an album that is already fantastic, is “The Valley”. Everything is present here: all musical parts neatly fitting together to take the song ever darker, and an absolutely landmark vocal performance. The chorus is downright addictive to hear, and for being nine minutes long, it feels far, far too short. I have some hesitation in calling Coal the best progressive metal I’ve heard this year, but there’s no question that it will be in tight contention for that honor at the end of the year. The album is just downright awesome.
4.5 // 5