It is both with honor and shame that I write the first review for this album. It is an honor because I think that this band has evolved into the most prolific of progressive metal bands, and will eventually be recognized as one of the great bands of its time. The shame of writing the first review is that the album has been out for a week now in the US, and two weeks internationally; how has no one written a review for this yet? If this were a Metallica album, there would be 200 reviews by now I'm sure. I guess I am one of the lucky ones who have stumbled upon this wonderful group of musicians. On to the review:
Coal is an album that strays fairly far away from their previous works. One thing I love about this band is that all of their albums have completely different feels to them, with entirely different moods and style. While they all are clearly melodic progressive metal albums, they definitely all feel unique. For this very reason, I found that I initially wasn't fond of this album (I went through the same thing with Bilateral), because I think internally I wanted more of Tall Poppy Syndrome or Bilateral. I loved those albums, and couldn't imagine anything different. Leprous has decided to take a more stripped-down, slow-burning approach to their music this time around, and the result is magnificent. After a few spins, this album grows on you, grabs you, and never lets go. The subtle things become profound, the little nuances become brilliant, and the flow and feel of the album become so incredibly cohesive. More than any other Leprous album, this one demands to be listened to all at once. While there are many great individual songs, I feel that the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts in this case. This album is dripping with emotion, feeling, sorrow, and just carries this melancholy energy throughout. If you are not immediately blown away by what you hear, give it time to let it sink in - it is worth the time invested!
I want to comment that while the instruments are more reserved than on previous works (what restraint that shows for a young band), they are still on-point the entire album, showing stellar musicianship and they play through some remarkably odd rhythms and time signatures. The stand-out of the group on this album is definitely Einar Solberg though, the tremendous vocalist and synthesizer player. His voice has evolved so much since TPS. At first I thought he had a nice voice, being capable of doing a softer song like "Fate" and a death metal sort of song like "White." With Bilateral, I thought he took his voice to a new level, especially hitting me hard in the beautiful tracks "Acquired Taste" and "Mb. Indifferentia." There was a more soft side to him, yet the tone and timbre were simply perfect. With this album though, Einar has solidified himself as one of the greatest metal vocalists of his time. From the soft, delicate vocals of "The Cloak" to the grungy vocals in "Coal", he is all over the place on this album. The opening ten seconds of the first track, "Foe", give you a great idea of his soaring vocals. There are so many words to describe his performance on this album, yet none seem to do it justice: powerful, beautiful, emotive, etc. Even when I don't know what words he's singing, the tone and timbre tell me everything I need to know to sense what he's singing about and what feeling he has while he's singing. He's like an instrument of his own.
This album is honestly more accessible than their prior ones are in my opinion because of the less harsh vocals, and also the more simple approach to songwriting that they employ here. I think many new fans will jump on board if they hear this. The song structures themselves, however, are quite odd. Take the track "The Valley" as an example: the beginning starts normal, with an intro, first verse, and first chorus. Then the band breaks into a long musical sections that builds and builds while the vocalist builds tension with his ethereal sounding voice. By the time this ends and the chorus comes back in, you've almost forgotten what it sounded like the first time! For a nine minute song, you'd be surprised to know that it only has a couple verses and a couple choruses (with the "bridge" sort of section after chorus 1). The song "Echo" has a similarly odd structure, also spanning about 9 minutes (although this song I think is 30-60 seconds too long). The final epic song of the album is "Contaminate Me," which has a guest vocalist on it (Ishahn). This song has an incredible intro, and really could fit on Tall Poppy Syndrome as well. The only way I can describe this song is like this: dirty, disgusting, disturbing, and brilliant. What a way to close an album. Piano, violin, drums, and rabid screaming... these ingredients don't usually combine well, but Leprous pulls it off. I initially was sort of put off by this song, but I've grown to love it for what it is and what it tries to do. This is probably the heaviest song they've ever done, and it closes the album with a bang. Speaking of heavy, those who want their Leprous to be hard and intense can look to songs like Coal and Chronic as well (it just occurred to me that all of their heavy songs start with the letter "C"). There are some aggressive vocals in those songs, and an overall metal vibe to them. I particularly love Coal (ironically the first title track that I love - Bilateral and Tall Poppy Syndrome were both disappointing songs for me). This song is comprised of two parts - the first section has a "straightforward" metal feel, and the last few minutes are an amazing close to this song, with some beautiful vocals sung over ferocious yelling (not like cookie-monster screaming a la Contaminate Me, but very angry yells). The song fades with the words "into Coal" sung twice, with the instruments all cutting out the second time. I really love every second of this song.
For the softer side of Leprous, for fans of songs like "Fate", "Acquired Taste", or "Mb. Indifferentia", you will love "The Cloak", "Echo", and "Salt". "Foe" also has a very soft ending, with some very tasteful harmonies towards the end. The album, as a whole, is much softer than their prior works. I think they have strayed further from their debut album with each album, and I think they've found a great place that can appease many different musical tastes while holding onto their original sound and metal roots. They know when to put the heavy in for effect and emotion, but also can throw down a solid ballad when needed. No matter what type of song, their are always great melodies and fantastic musicianship.
All-in-all, this is probably the most complete album Leprous has ever made, with no wasted notes or tracks. Everything has a purpose, and the album flows so well. For a young band, they have already explored so many different types of metal and music in general, and I am truly excited to see what they do next. Please do yourself a favor and get this album today if you have never heard them. They are truly progressive, truly unique, and have a musical sense far beyond their years. Thank you Leprous for breathing fresh air into the progressive metal scene.
Album Rating: 10/10
Highlights: Coal, The Cloak, The Valley, Contaminate Me