Leprous: Coal Reviewed

Before I start this review, I’ll give a disclaimer that Leprous’ last album Bilateral is one of my favorite things ever. When I heard the first part of the beginning of this new album my first reaction was “What the hell?!” It was nothing like what I was expecting. To me, one of the main themes of this album is space, and boy do they set you up for this idea right off the bat.

The album kicks off with these gigantic “jazz chords” played extremely spaced out. Hit the chord. Leave a lot of empty space. Hit the next chord. Leave a bunch more space. This is what I mean by space on this album. Once I got into it, I absolutely fell in love with the effect. Not only was it interesting to have these stacked chords get fleshed out without the typical arpeggiation or development through sustained sound, but the space had a much cooler effect that took longer to notice.

The first song is in 7/8 time. The measure is broken up into a 2+2+3 pattern. But of course it is literally impossible to tell this from the beginning because there’s no rhythm when you put so much silence in. When the singing starts, something feels wrong because your brain hasn’t had time to process the time signature yet. It is such a great effect. Then some precision drum work starts where there is a sixteenth note pickup into the downbeat. Again, the time signature has been alluded to, but not made explicit. This drum subdivision almost gives it away, but keeps the disorienting effect going. When the vocals finally give the full subdivision it is such a relief along with the climax of the song. Then the song fades with these haunting voices which sort of taunt you with the key to understanding what just happened.

And that’s just the first track! What I find strange is that Leprous is essentially only known in metal circles. Most of this album seems to appeal much more to my old indie rock crowd than a metal audience. The second track reminds me of Greg Laswell, but played by a heavier band. Some of these songs sound like they come from a musical (see “The Cloak”). Other songs sound like they come straight from an 80’s dance band (see beginning of “The Valley”) and others yet sound like a death metal band (see “Contaminate Me”). The song “Salt” sounds like an Owen Pallett song. The similarities in the voice are disturbing. Look it up.

Going back to this space thing. The other track that this really plays a big role on is my personal favorite, “The Valley.” This has one of the coolest climaxes I’ve heard. Here’s how I think they did it. They wrote some big climactic, awesome prog-metal chorus. This let them know where they were headed. It is a straightforward 4/4 jazzy rock idea. Now they reverse engineer how to get there. They strip away various layers one-by-one and take the remaining layers and rewrite them into extremely sparse chords with tons of space between them. They make sure the strumming pattern is kind of weird, so that you can’t even really feel what time signature they’re in.

Now they run this forwards. The effect is starting from some sparse awkward feeling thing and gradually adding the layers back and making the chords less sparse until they hit that original gigantic prog-metal chorus. The effect is really quite stunning.

I could go on and on like this about all the songs. This album only came out 5 days ago, but I’ve obsessively listened to it probably 20 times already. I can already tell that this is going to be vying for a spot in my top 5 of the year. Of course, it’s too early to tell right now. I will say there are some things I don’t like on it. Some parts of the songs that I originally thought of as really beautiful breaks from the rocking out have not fared well on repeat listens. I find myself thinking that these sections drag on a bit too long. The other thing is that the last song breaks some of my rules for good metal. There is a bit too much of that double pedal on the bass drum that tries to suck the life out of everything that is trying to be done.

On the other hand some of the extended, calm, grooves that I was just complaining about are great when you really get into them. To me, this is a sign of really good music. If you can really get into it every single time you listen, then it probably isn’t all that great. When I really get inside these grooves and totally “get it” I’m sort of upset that they have to end. In that respect, they are too short. Maybe the length is just right? Too short for the person in sync with it, but in other moods they go on too long. I’m thinking of the song “Echo” where the main hook just repeats forever. But crap. I want it to go on forever when I’m into it. It’s just too much when I’m not.

Anyway, my complaints are extremely minor. I absolutely love this album, and none of the complaints are enough to get me to stop listening to it. Overall I give this a 9.5/10. Here’s a sample:

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