Leprous – Malina

There is a trend in modern prog: some of the more popular bands are seeking to capitalize on their popularity via the age-old model of shifting to a poppier style with broader appeal – lowering their common denominator, as it were. Leprous’ debut single from Malina, ‘From the Flame’, suggested to some that the Norwegian titans might be drifting in that direction. They are certainly ripe for popularity, with their smooth and entrancing approach to metal composition and Einar Solberg’s appealing singing voice. However, I am pleased to report that, despite some of the structural elements being poppier here (shorter track lengths, some verse/chorus arrangements), there is nothing sold-out or radio-friendly about Malina. Rather, Leprous have encased their signature sound in a tighter, more organic framework that retains and enhances every facet of what makes them an exceptional band.

Leprous have never been the kind of band that will melt your face with technical wankery, but there is a stunning amount of more subtle technique in their compositions. They play with syncopation and timing in creative ways, yet it always feels natural rather than academic. For example, in the aforementioned single “From the Flame”, did you notice that the verse was in 13/8? If you were listening casually, you would probably never recognize it. They even give us a taste of 17/16 on this album, both in the opening salvo of “Captive” (which is recapped in the chorus but with the “extra” beat chopped off to reduce it to 4/4) and in the verses of “Mirage” (and possibly the chorus too, but the instrumental and vocal layers are syncopated in different ways, which makes it challenging to count the timing). One way Leprous highlights their rhythmic skills is by frequently treating the guitars as a quasi-percussion layer and allowing the keys and vocals to carry the melodies – like a highly melodic appropriation of Meshuggah’s definitive characteristic. This can be seen in the verses of “Illuminate” and “Coma”.

Ultimately, though, what makes Malina succeed is the pantheon-level performances of vocalist Einar Solberg and drummer Baard Kolstad. Einar demonstrates the full dynamic range of his voice, from tender and delicate (first half of ‘Bonneville’, ‘Malina’, and ‘The Last Milestone’) to robust and powerful (second half of ‘Bonneville’, ‘Illuminate’, ‘Leashes’, and ‘The Weight of Disaster’) – and occasionally both in conjunction (chorus of ‘From the Flame’). Harmonies are tastefully placed, used sparsely but sublimely. Meanwhile, Baard keeps things interesting on every track with creatively crafted beats. He starts off the album by hiding the snare in atypical places in the cadence (the tenth sixteenth note in each measure at the beginning of ‘Bonneville’, then later the eighth; the fourth and thirteenth in the chorus of ‘Stuck’, which is one of my personal favorite beats). He lets loose with flawless double bass rolls in the chorus of ‘Captive’ and the verse of ‘Coma’. ‘Illuminate’ starts with a perpetual-snare beat, then later incorporates some rim-sticking just to show off even more. The apex of Baard’s showcase comes in the bridge of ‘The Weight of Disaster’, almost ramping up to drum-solo-level ferocity as the song climaxes.

The other major feather in this album’s cap is the thorough incorporation of strings, courtesy of cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne. The cello gives a cinematic quality to many tracks, including the climax of ‘Bonneville’ and the closing sequence of ‘Stuck’. Two songs in particular exemplify this quality: title track ‘Malina’ begins as a lilting, ambient film-score-like piece with glassy synthesizer and sparse strings while things build later with off-kilter tom rolls and guitar. The song never fully develops into anything traditional, but it works with the flow of the album. Closing track ‘The Last Milestone’ is effectively a solo cello piece (notwithstanding some vocals and keys), which is haunting and somber; the vibe is akin to drifting through space as the last of your oxygen tank depletes, or reaching the summit of a mountain after all your companions died in a blizzard during the climb.

Leprous had nothing to prove with Malina – they were already rightly revered as masters of modern prog –, but instead of resting on their laurels, or, conversely, selling their souls for pop stardom, they managed to reinvent themselves while maintaining the integrity of their sound, securing and perhaps even elevating their place in the prog stratosphere.

Band: Leprous
Album: Malina
Release date: 25 August 2017
Country: Norway
Label: Inside Out Music

1. Bonneville – 5:28
2. Stuck – 6:48
3. From the Flame – 3:51
4. Captive – 3:43
5. Illuminate – 4:21
6. Leashes – 4:09
7. Mirage – 6:48
8. Malina – 6:15
9. Coma – 3:55
10. The Weight of Disaster – 6:00
11. The Last Milestone – 7:30
Total running time: 58:48

Baard Kolstad – Drums
Einar Solberg – Keyboards, lead vocals
Robin Ognedal – Guitars
Simen Daniel Børven – Bass
Tod Oddmund Suhrke – Guitars

Filetype listened to: MP3
Bitrate: 192 kb/s CBR
Sampling frequency: 44,100 Hz, 2 channels

On July 24 2017, this entry was posted.