2017 will be a good year for Progressive and Alternative Rock and Metal. And I have a feeling that some of them players will end up on the 2017 Top 10 Records list. Increased sophistication seems to be the game these days too. Away from heavy-handed djent-ism to more refined shores. So much so that some bands lose their metal chops and reinvent themselves in pop and some tastier versions of rock. The last example is the late To The Bone from Steven Wilson. And no, it did not go pop, but sports some sort of Progressive Rock of the poppy kind. Not bad at all.
To change direction like that is like taking leave from your trusty and favorite New York steakhouse and be adventurous. Try some Nouvelle Cuisine. You know, these guys serving you next to nothing on big white plates with a pretty decoration. Dishes served with paired wine in dining rooms decked out in coldly calculated comfort that chill your soul. And then they charge you a gazillion of hard earned dollars for it. Very avant-garde and for food nerds of the wealthy kind.
What has that to do with Leprous and their newest full length Malina? Well, in a sense music in general and metal in particular is nourishment for the soul. You got the mainstream pulling all the same levers all over again, even if they don’t work. Then you find the goofy nerds trying some avant-garde stuff. And some progressive folk are prone to experimentation. Only the part with the gazillion of dollars does not work too well in the music industry. At least not for most.
The first avant-garde dafuq moment happens when the first track Bonneville jazzily departs from central station. Crazily tilting in all directions, it is nevertheless a technically interesting entry point into an album that will remain technically challenged. And what a departure from The Congregation and its endless repetitions down djent lane.
Yet, Malina is a mixed bag. A bag of fleas of sorts. On one hand you will find a lot of the freshness of Guilt Machine‘s On This Perfect Day. But for parts of the album only and moins the flow of the latter. On the other, the record positively drowns in overly lush technicalities that only the musically adept will really appreciate. And this is why this album will drive very diverse views of itself.
The technical nerds will gush over the polyrhythmics, syncopation and other specificities Leprous serves them with. Whereas the gutsy crowd will be lost at sea. In search of melodies of the progressive kind, metal or not. Just that the compass lost itself somewhere and safe harbors are nowhere in sight.
And really the album resembles the fate of Western Lies of Dirty Sound Magnet. Stellar beginnings, only to descend that slippery slope to technical hell straight after track #3 or so. And this will lose the viscerally minded fans like the RMR deck crew. Those folks do not take kindly to avant-garde bullshitting around the scenery.
Yet truly, Leprous’ wonky world is captivating. The aforementioned Bonneville really sits at the top of the track list for a reason. A certain wow factor installs itself straight away. Things cannot be as bad as some of the contemporaries seem to suggest. Right? Well, encouragement follows with the somewhat poppy Stuck. And by this moment it is clear that Leprous is no metal no more. And this is fine by yours truly, whilst a fair portion of the fan base might lament the loss of a good metal tune. Yet after a still pretty catchy From the Flame, Malina starts to head South.
And rapidly so. Okay, apart from duds like Mirage or the slightly better Malina (the title), tracks like The Weight of Disaster offer encouragement. But this track’s title is really ominous in a way. Because the last official song fittingly named The Last Milestone really takes the cake. And this in a way that not even rampant dorkiness can explain. Heedless wailing around the soundscape by one Einar Solberg like some minstrel in pain in an orchestral, almost classical setting. Violins and all screeching away. By Thor!
I really tried everything. Blasted the record off boom boxes, high level equipment, the car sound system, ear phones good or bad. But to no avail. Even listening to Malina a felt gazillion of times in an attack of the Stockholm Syndrome did not do the trick. It just does not improve.
So, Malina is really a record between a rock and a hard place. In technical terms much better than The Congregation ever was, its pretensions and aspirations are sky-high – and never satisfied. The metal firmly out of the way, Leprous can convince with some real pockets of excellence. Otherwise the record sort of disintegrates into a hell of its own technical prowess. Which renders the tune often meaningless and difficult to stomach. So, navigating away from the djent-heavy Gehenna of repetitions in the former album into a heap of pop induced Progressive Rock did not do the trick.
Malina is indeed a gourmet menu for the nerdy connoisseur of musical intricacies. Fed in small courses of ever-changing rhythms, painted and decorated in cold colors of a highly developed technicality. But missing the warmth, emotion and vibrancy their brethren were able to project at the same time. And this is a real shame.
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