Norway’s Leprous are the progressive metal band only fans of the genre are in the know about. With five albums to their credit, two of which can be considered bonafide classics (2011’s Bilateral and 2013’s Coal), these fellas whose claim to fame at one point was being Ihsahn’s backing band have grown to be a highly-respected unit unto themselves.
With that in mind, I was excited to hear they would be releasing their sixth album, Malina, this month, and have been listening to it almost constantly for weeks now. The band notes that the writing and recording process for Malina was longer and more of a departure from their past work, so let’s see how that works out. Change is not always a good thing.
The first thing to note is that Malina sounds fantastic. Opener “Bonneville” begins with an off-kilter rhythm and a wash of murmured vocals before building towards an early false climax. Eventually things do reach a crescendo at the halfway point, and the song displays traits of minor epicness. It’s a well-arranged number and a great start – and the mix and production are excellent, which is par for the course on the entire record.
The other song that really stands out from the pack is “Mirage,” which at just under seven minutes is the second-longest cut on the record. It is also the heaviest, most menacing track, with the band’s most effective use of keyboards and a solid rhythm accompanying Einar Solberg’s best vocal performance on the album. “Mirage” and “Bonneville” have found their way into my current rolling list of top prog songs of the year.
Sadly, those two songs constitute the highlights of Malina. Overall, the rest of the songs are nondescript exercises in melancholic sadboy art-rock, with Solberg’s wavering falsetto and questionable synth patch selections employed far too often to maintain effectiveness. In short, this is a depressing record. Album closer “The Last Milestone” is eight minutes of tedium that would have been perfect for the rolling credits of a Lord of the Rings movie, but here it is simply a frustrating end to an unsatisfying album.
Malina was one of my most-anticipated releases of 2017, and it has also become one of my biggest disappointments. Sure, it’s a lush, beautiful, expansive recording, awash in mood, but there are so few moments that grab the listener and keep one engaged, so few well-executed ideas, that I’m left with an empty, dissatisfied feeling, even after more than twenty listens. It’s back to the drawing board for a band I’m extremely fond of.
(released August 25, 2017 on InsideOut Music)