Released: 2015, Inside Out Music
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Oddly, as Norwegian prog-metallers Leprous move themselves out from under the considerable shadow of ex-Emperor mainman Ihsahn - who had utilized them as his touring band for years, up until recently, and who also is frontman Einar Solberg's brother-in-law - the band have made their most "Ihsahn-like" album with their fifth outing, The Congregation. And not necessarily from a sonic standpoint, but in spirit.
Following Ihsahn's lead of letting the music take him where it may instead of being bound by, well, boundaries, The Congregation is an adventurous and spirited album. There is a pronounced electronic/electro-pop feel here that accents Solberg's keyboards and the frenetic tempos of drummer Baard Kolstad, taking the band's still decidedly proggy musings in an almost, ironically, Muse-like direction.
The stop/start dynamics and soft/hard contrasts that have typified the Leprous sound on albums past are smoothed over to a certain extent, as Kolstad's skittering, shuffling, sometimes tribal drum beats ensure almost constant motion even in the quietest moments. The stunning "The Flood" and "Rewind" shimmer, pulse and dance atop his rhythms and the wash of synths Solberg more liberally incorporates, building and building as they go. "Rewind" concludes in a crescendo of screaming vocals and guitar churn that provides some of the album's heaviest moments, but here at least it doesn't come from out of nowhere.
The less jarring, more sprawling arrangements allow Leprous to construct some truly grandiose melodies here, playing off Solberg's towering, mostly clean vocals and ample keyboards. And it makes for a more inviting listen - though, like the aforementioned Muse, far from an easy one. Kolstad's turbulent undercurrent leaves little room for groove - and that's by no means a complaint - and the compositions are still rather epic, mostly clocking in at six minutes or more.
But the ringing guitars and rich textures of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk feel more part the greater whole here and a bit less like a blunt instrument, blending seamlessly into the complex, often ethereal soundscapes of "Triumphant," "Moon" and "Third Law" or the quirky "Within My Fence" without running roughshod over them. The muscular "Red," with its stutter-step riffs, brings more metal to the table, as does "Slave" with its thunderous midsection, but they are paired with captivating melodies and fit right into the overall structural dynamics.
While perhaps a bit more oomph might have been welcome, The Congregation is compelling album that certainly is not lacking without it. The band introduce new ingredients, tactics and presentation and are all the better for it anyway. Kudos to Leprous for moving outside their comfort zone, yet finding a place that they sound more than comfortable in.