On New Years Eve, I present you with my choice at Number 8 in my annual ‘Album of the Year’ countdown. Unbelievably, this is post number 23 in this series, a series that has departed from previous years in that it has been extended to a top 30 rather than a top 20. One reason for this is that I’m a masochist. The other is that 2015 has been too damn excellent to limit the output to just 20. Too many great and worthy releases would have missed out.
If you’re new to this series, please be sure to check out my picks from 30 down to 9 via the links at the bottom of this post.
If you’re a regular, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you’re enjoying the series and hopefully, you might have discovered something new or been persuaded to return to a previously overlooked record. Either way, keep the comments coming as I love the interaction and debate that such a list can generate.
Anyway, on to the main event…
In just seven short years, Leprous have gone from an unknown band to genre leaders. It seems unlikely but that, to my mind at least, is exactly what Leprous have managed. In 2008, very few people knew the name Leprous; in 2015, their name is spoken with a certain amount of awe and reverence. No-one else sounds quite like Leprous and as such, the word ‘unique’ is rightly used when referring to the Norwegian progressive metal band. Sickeningly, the core of the band remain relatively young, boding well for a lengthy career and even worse, having interviewed the band a couple of times, they are really nice people, with their feet firmly on the ground.
It is fair to say that every album differs ever so slightly from the last and so each of the preceding three full-length records offers a marginally different approach. This trend continues with album number four, ‘The Congregation’ which again treads a subtly different musical path. Nevertheless, once heard, you’ll never mistake them for anyone else. Some may raise an eyebrow or two on a first listen as this record stands out due to its increased accessibility. Leprous have always been a band that explores the darker and bleaker aspects of life and ‘The Congregation’ is no different. However, the material on this record is definitely more immediate, almost catchy with plenty of strong melodies throughout. Initially there’s a feeling that the compositions may not be quite as quirky and challenging as previous material. Rest assured that this feeling is only fleeting and is banished swiftly once the album has been repeated a few times; Leprous do not do ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ where the music is concerned. ‘The Congregation’ is definitely technical, complex and quirky but in a much more subtle and refined way.
Frankly, ‘The Congregation’ is an album that only a band at the very height of their powers and brim-full of confidence could possibly have recorded. And, in spite of a couple of frustrating line-up changes, the results are stunning.
Opener ‘The Price’ offers a near-perfect blend of quiet, introspective calm and explosive all-out metallic bombast, held together by some strong melodic moments. Vocalist Einar Solberg is one of the reasons why Leprous sound like no-one else; his is a delivery that is beguiling and powerful, verging on the surreal and almost unhinged at times. And ‘Third Law’ benefits from one of his strongest performances yet as well as a chorus which is a real delight thanks to a genuinely anthemic chorus.
It’s impossible to mention every track individually. Suffice to say that there’s not a weak moment anywhere on the record. Stand-out moments however include ‘Rewind’ which is part prog metal and part modern post black metal workout whilst ‘The Flood’ features one of the band’s strongest choruses that helps to transform an otherwise intense and claustrophobic song into a sing-along anthem that’s truly addictive. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the synth-heavy, ponderously-paced and darkly hypnotic ‘Slave’ which is breath-taking. It has a wild and unkempt beauty to it, but there’s a feeling that there’s more to come and it inexorably builds to a savage conclusion.
Oh and then there’s the simply-titled ‘Down’. It is another sensational composition that drips with genuine emotion, joining a chorus that will have you hooked and coming back for more time and time again.
What else is there left to say? I love Leprous and have done since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. If my life depended on it, I’d have to say that ‘The Congregation’ is both my favourite disc yet and the band’s strongest release to date. However, that’s like being asked to choose between the sublime and the exquisite. It’d no wonder that Leprous is one of the first names that springs to mind when I’m asked to recommend high quality progressive metal. Leprous are truly special and ‘The Congregation’ fully deserves its place in this year’s Top 10.
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30
And from previous years: