Album Review: LEPROUS Malina
For awhile, I've noticed a small, niche group of progressive acts that are accepted in the metal community, yet I have trouble considering them to be heavy. Bands including Haken, Caligula's Horse, etc. definitely have moments of intensity, but appear more accurately labeled as rock when paired beside other prog metal bands such as Tool.
Leprous is certainly a band that is included in the aforementioned demogrpahic as their releases consistently sound more like experimental and progressive rock than that of metal. Of course, there's nothing wrong with leaning towards the rock side of the spectrum, I just feel it should be made clear that when entering an album like Malina, one should not expect heavy Opeth or Dream Theater riffs. And considering this release is more within prog rock territory than metal, I believe the criteria differs to an extent where I'll critique the band's melodic and rhythmic innovation rather than heaviness. Before entering these eleven tracks, it's important to acknowledge Leprous' background in that their notoriety was built being Ihshan's backing band (although nowadays his live act has shifted). Lastly, this is the band's fifth full-length LP and first release to include guitarist Robin Ognedal since the departure of Oystein Landsverk.
"Bonneville" opens the record calmly and to be frank, a bit disappointing. Although the track had an experimental flow, it gave off more-so a Radiohead vibe than the appealing innovation that the band was executing on The Congregation. And for anyone in the same boat as me, I can assure you that the album becomes stronger in later songs, but this was truly a weak choice to begin the record. The following piece, "Stuck," picks up the pace a tad, but it isn't until "From the Flame" that the band really hits their stride with a concrete vocal melody reminding me of The Mars Volta at parts. Unlike a majority of the songs on here, this one feels to have a purpose and solid direction. Other highlights include the contagious build-ups and payoffs on both "Leashes" and "Mirage." The last several tracks were more low-key and held cinematic qualities at times, especially on the title track and closing piece, "The Last Milestone."
In comparison to the band's back catalog, I find Malina to be more synth and vocal-driven compared to the guitar riffage presented successfully in their last release. Although the change in focus may have placed a slight damper on the music, I do think that this record is possibly one of the best showcases of Einar Solberg's vocal range and harmonization. As I stated in the beginning of this review, I understand that this record leans more on prog rock than metal and I therefore must critique it differently. With that being said, I will agree that the band made steps forward on experimental fronts and I respect their lack of complacency. Malina certainly does have a growing likability when not in a metal mindset, but I think it'd be best to stop referring to Leprous' music as "progressive metal" as this record is clear evidence of the band drifting farther from heaviness. This album may not be entirely void of metallic elements, but it is undoubtfully representative of the band's shift towards a different goal musically.
Part of me enjoys this album, but at the same time, a good amount of the songs didn't evolve to what I was exactly hoping for. And perhaps that's partly what Leprous was aiming for as part of their "progressive" identity, in the sense that the progression is unpredictable, yet unfortunately the result was underwhelming. I'll admit, I found a good chunk of the tracks which I initially believed to be passable to have more intricate vocal melody and atmospheric touches that were quite beautiful after perhaps the fourth or fifth listen. Overall, Malina was interesting and possessive of some eyebrow raising perks, but was altogether less powerful than previous releases.