If you discovered Leprous with their previous album Tall Poppy Syndrome, you can safely pick up Bilateral because, being familiar with the band, you should know that you can expect something similar yet at the same time something different. That is to say the differences are there, but at the root of it the band is still the same band you discovered and came to love two years ago.
Bilateral is harder to review because I've had it for only a little while now while I had years to fully absorb Tall Poppy Syndrome. In general terms, the new album delves into more experimental territory, exploring the depths of progressive rock with myriad sound textures, varied instrumentation, and stunning musical performances. Compared to its predecessor, Bilateral is definitely less heavy but it still retains the band's heavy/light characteristics in its varied song selection. The use of growls has noticeably dropped as well. Actually calling them 'growls' may be a stretch, as the aggressive vocals presented on this album are more akin to those on later-day Agalloch or Novembre discs more so than Enslaved, who Leprous is likened to mostly (maybe because both bands are from Norway). The only song that utilizes significant amount of aggressive singing is "Waste of Air" with its complex intro, pummelling drums, and off-the-wall arrangement.
Other tracks feature the aggressive singing style sparingly: "Restless" sets jazzy drums against a powerful clean voice that is both very deep and affective. The production also highlights gorgeous distant vocals humming a sweet melody over a simple, two-note guitar chord. Sonically, the song recalls Devin Townsend's Accelerated Evolution until the harsh vocals kick in. "Thorn" suggests it was a leftover from Ihsahn's After album. Actually Ihsahn makes a brief guest appearance on this one. The song constantly shifts between catchy vocal parts to slowed-down jazz sections to aggressive singing, and the drum tone is excellent.
The album's more atmospheric statements also indicate where they may be headed on their next couple of discs. Given the nature of these tracks, I actually wouldn't be surprised if the band abandoned the aggressive vocals completely after a few more releases. I can sense a distinct Kevin Moore vibe (think Chroma Key and OSI) in places here: "Forced Entry" boasts a wicked, complex riff with a cool bass solo that belongs more on a freestyle jazz disc than prog metal, but the detailed mix also opens portals for spacey instrumental parts with Moore-like keys lingering over them. Also, the more ballady "Mb. Indifferentia" recalls Moore in that it features semi-sung vocals. I am talking about his apathetic singing style, like he'd rather not be there. Finally, on the heavily bass-centric "Mediocrity Wins," vocalist Einar Solberg emotes spoken lyrics over a subdued guitar guitar arrangement and haunting keyboard lines, which wouldn't be out of place on OSI's underrated masterpiece Free.
Those expecting heavy onslaughts of riffs with exploding shrapnels should look into the band's earlier discs as well as some Enslaved material. They won't find it here. That said, the band does know how to groove and lay down some pretty hard-hitting riffs. The synchopated riffs of the uber-eclectic "Cryptogenic Desires" sounds like something Mike Patton would sing. It's actually the groovy side of Faith No More (listen to the bass!) injected with the unexpected nature of Mr Bungle, and yet, it doesn't quite sound like either band. The final track is also the best on the album. It is the perfect amalgamation of the band's current musical vision realized in a little over eight minutes. The song packs the harmonic brilliance of the best songs on Tall Poppy Syndrome, psychedelic guitar sounds that are still paralyzingly heavy (think The Mars Volta), and stirring ambiance-laden passages filled with nifty improvised extensions, interesting lead solos, and unforgettable melodic signatures. This is the kind of song I expect Leprous to write more on their upcoming release, for this is the sound that sets them apart from all these other awesome musicians mentioned in this review. It gives them their own voice.
The stereo mixing is phenomenal. Anything inferior would make these songs suffer sonically.