Leprous have an odd claim to fame—they serve as the live backing for fellow Norwegian metalhead Ihsahn (who, in turn, is known for his time as the vocalist for Emperor). But as their own band with a modest discography under their belts, Leprous play a much more subdued, near-rock version of progressive metal, and the stylistic difference is readily recognizable on their 2013 release, Coal.
If there's anything that makes Leprous stand out above their peers, it's the vocal work. Between the incredibly sweet-sounding lead vocals and choral sections reminiscent of Spock's Beard, it's hard not to stand impressed. The vocals move anywhere between Devin Townsend-esque melodic screaming and soft, understated melodicism à la Maynard James Keenan (and that's not even counting the places where their buddy Ihsahn steps in). Despite the range and variety of the vocal work, they never seem to falter or become weak, even when the refrains on songs like "The Cloak" demand a particularly difficult range of voice. It's no surprise then that a lot of Leprous' compositions are very vocal-heavy.
Unfortunately, that also seems to be a matter of compensation, as the instrumental portion of their compositions tends to be incredibly lacking. To put it bluntly, a lot of their leading riffs and melodies just aren't that interesting, and the ones that are don't stick around for nearly long enough. The band also has this odd compositional tic of peppering downtempo sections with random spats of furiously fast chugging that seems to serve no purpose other than to act as an exercise of technical ability; songs like "Coal" and "Chronic" become much less effective as a result. Granted, some of these issues could be explained by the band's desire to build a particular atmosphere, and it must be acknowledged that Leprous are incredibly good at that—despite the dull instrumental composition, there's no denying that "Foe" is an emotionally affecting (and effective) piece. But by the end of the album, it becomes clear that the compositions are relying on style alone to compensate for mediocre writing, and that causes the album to lose much of its charm, no matter how effective its atmosphere may be.
Leprous are clearly a band with a lot of talent and flair (especially in their vocals), but Coal is just not up to par. It has some very effective moments, but they're quickly drowned out by the more numerous, tired ideas that permeate the rest of the release. I'd still recommending giving this one a try, as there is a chance you'll find it more to your tastes, but you won't be missing anything monumental if you pass this one on.
Recommended if you like: Tool, Devin Townsend, Ihsahn
6.0 / 10
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