Their experience as the backing band for Ihsahn (of Emperor fame) may have given Leprous an advantage. I, for one, took extra notice of them once I became aware of the Ihsahn connection. But if an association with the ‘nobility’ of Norwegian metal has gained Leprous some extra attention, it is well deserved.
The Congregation is the band’s fourth studio album and their best to date. There’s a hungry intensity here that isn’t new – the sound is distinctively recognizable to anyone already familiar with Leprous’s work. But without a detailed re-examination of their back catalogue it’s hard to say what it is that sets the new record apart. Nevertheless, with one or two listens, The Congregation comes across clearly as a collection of songs that simply ‘work’ and work extraordinarily well.
If you prefer a visual introduction, the video for opening track “The Price” is available online (see below), but I would recommend beginning with the complete aural experience. The liquid resonance of Einar Solberg’s voice is likely to be the first thing that hits you, unless your ear is particularly attuned to instrumentation (and admittedly, if you don’t like this sound right off it could take you a while to appreciate what’s going on here). Solberg’s role as the band’s synth player is prominent as well but more deeply imbedded within the songs’ instrumental matrix.
Though Solberg, as vocalist, clearly stands out, every member of Leprous is key to The Congregation‘s success. In terms of rhythm especially, these arrangements demand a high level of expertise and degrees of restraint that make the rare explosive moments all the more powerful. If you haven’t fully absorbed this fact throughout the album’s first seven tracks it should become overwhelmingly obvious with “Slave.” Here the pulsing momentum slows for what seems like the first time, but it’s only to prepare you for the harsh yearning that quickly growls its way to the surface.
The beauty of it is that “Slave” is climactic but not a climax. There’s no point on The Congregation after which Leprous allows the energy to recede or slip away. The three songs that follow are equally captivating (oh, the toms at the end of “Moon”!) – to the point that as soon as the album is over I feel compelled to start listening to it all over again.
In the tech metal precision of Leprous’s sound you might be tempted to hear a hint of trendiness, but don’t be fooled – these guys have carved their own path. If there is one album from the first half of the year that you listen to in 2015 (as ridiculous as that would be), make it The Congregation. It’s worth every second and more.