Fireworks

Leprous - 'Coal' Hot

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Written by Central Electronic Brain     December 08, 2013    
 
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A treasure-chest full of sickly, dark sparkling delights.

Now don't be put off by the fact that Leprous have often been known as the music makers behind one-time Emperor front-man Ihsahn. Operating under their own steam this Norwegian outfit are a different prospect altogether and an eclectic and difficult one to tie down at that. At first glance the band's fourth album 'Coal' is really rather stand offish, feeling cold, remote and more than a little snarlingly in your face. Taken in one initial sitting it can actually become a little overwhelming; layers of lush vocals, rushes of distorted guitars, thunderous beats, gentle strings and the occasional strike of piano, refusing to let you become a part of things as the album avoids truly revealing itself. However even as you are left shaking your head wondering what just went on, you know you've been oddly hooked and that you'll be heading back for more in an attempt to unravel the mysteries. And unravel you will, but only as you begin to head towards double figures in attempts. The opening pairing of 'Foe' and 'Chronic' follow a similar path to the melodically aggressive and inwardly theatric musings of Devin Townsend, with all sorts of emotions stirred together to make you feel relaxed, uneasy and fascinated. The themes are grand and the production suitably OTT, but the songs, through stunning arrangements and an ability to know when too much is just enough, simply do not suffer from their everything and the kitchen sink approach.

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'Echo' fuses early Marillion keyboard washes to plaintive vocals, before a burst of almost U2 like guitars severely alters the focus, although it is, as he does so often on this album, singer Einar Solberg who allows Leprous to sidestep most comparisons. In fact hearing his voice emotionally fall apart as he repeats "See how the formula turns into coal" at the tail end of the album's title track is a genuinely unnerving experience. This is man living through his words.

The changes in focus keep on coming, 'Salt' beautifully melodic, 'The Valley' uncompromisingly dark, clamouring staccato guitar and drum blasts becoming quite disorientating. The closing attack of 'Contaminate Me' where Ihsahn guest growls manically, crushingly pushes things in a direction neatly sidestepped elsewhere, the results being a touch more generic. Although the sheer breadth offered across the album possibly highlights this to an unfair extent. The song itself is good, but the vibe and decision to place the track last on the album does give it the feel of trying to appease those who may have only jumped onboard the Leprous ship through their previous involvement with the guest singer.

'Coal' is an excellent album where you learn to expect the unexpected. It also finds Leprous making serious strides compared to their previous output. However, remember patience is the key here, as you'll need to dig deep to reveal this album's full measure. A treasure-chest full of sickly, dark sparkling delights is the prize for doing so.

Steven Reid

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