Leprous – Bilateral – 4.5/5
The wrath of progtober – the term I'm now using to describe the wealth of progressive albums I'm discovering in october of this year – returns with another entry that could so easily have snuck under the radar, and not just because I have no idea how to explain them other than “Extreme Avant-Garde Prog.” Their very existence is a bit of an unusual creation, formed largely by the mastermind Ihsahn (Emperor, Peccatum) – who contributes his own vocal lines in “Thorns” – to perform his solo material live. It was only once they met that something must have clicked in their mind as it wasn't long that the band Leprous was formed on the side, writing music of their own choosing, and now with a decade of experience together under their belts, they emerge triumphant with a second full-length release they have a damn good reason to be proud of.
Elements remind me of everything from Muse, Mr. Bungle, Meshuggah, Animals as Leaders, Opeth, Cynic to Kalisia and beyond; to describe this as some form of Avant-Garde is not a small stretch because – like artists such as Gonin-Ish and the aforementioned Kalisia – there is no one band that I can readily compare them to. And surprisingly, for a genre named “progressive metal,” this is quite a rare thing, but even rarer is that it never feels as though elements vanish or are forgotten. Rather, it feels as though they've carved a sound for themselves that is entirely their own and that any comparison is just a futile attempt to give an indication of what to expect. It's at times epic and swooping, aggressive, calm and melodic; it grooves and growls; is both at times electronic in a dystopian sense and organic in a very human fashion; incredibly technical in both the individual lines and the manner they harmonise with one another, and despite the often short track lengths there is so much packed into each composition as it flows seamlessly from end to end that you could listen to it a dozen times and still hear something new.
Every musician has been hand-picked for their knowledge of their instrument and the full breadth of its capabilities; the bass lines don't just plod along but they explode with an effigy of funk-filled slap bass, grind like the grooviest of death metal and melodically saunter along to the other instrumentation; the vocals vary in a manner that only the most versatile vocalist could hope to compete with, singing Muse-like soprano lines, deathly mid-ranged growls, epic soaring lines and passages to make Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) proud; and the guitars do nothing to hinder all these efforts, mixing things up by knowing exactly when the track requires a technical twang, a psychedelic touch, or a hard hitting grind. It's a supergroup formed from complete unknowns who have been working together for over a decade in the shadow of Ihsahn that have now been unleashed unto the world as a force in their own right, just waiting for the masses to discover them.
In fact, the only comments I really have against it is the tracks themselves sometimes feel a little too individual and disjointed, too close to stand alone tracks than a cohesive album, and that when being bombarded by so many different elements it causes something of a 'sensory overload' forcing you to tune out. Initially there's almost something of a battle of wills, the album pummelling you with new lines like a fireman's hose aimed at a teacup, and it's all you can do not to break down and put on something easier to absorb. An easy album to initially listen to, this isn't. In fact, it took me a couple of attempts to get past the first couple of tracks, at which point I suddenly started wondering what I'd been missing all those other times. Once you finally break that initial barrier you won't be able to stop yourself from putting it down, and by the time I'd finally finished it end to end I quickly concluded that this was possibly the best new album I've heard all year.
Highlights: Honestly, the whole thing is consistently golden.