Leprous - "Coal" (CD)
"Coal" track listing:
1. Foe (5:15)
2. Chronic (7:19)
3. Coal (6:50)
4. The Cloak (4:09)
5. The Valley (8:59)
6. Salt (4:30)
7. Echo (9:41)
8. Contaminate Me (9:02)
Reviewed by xFiruath on June 4, 2013
How do you follow up a masterpiece like “Bilateral” (reviewed here)? It’s an album that this reviewer still spins several times on any given week, so needless to say, expectation for the follow-up “Coal” was quite high. While there’s still some avant-garde awesome to be found on the release, unfortunately the disc as a whole is a stellar flop, especially in comparison to its nearly flawless predecessor.
Rather than repeat the same formula from “Bilateral,” there is a noticeable shift in sound for “Coal” that consists of simplified instrumentation and a much stronger focus on vocal harmonies, even to the point of using the vocals as another instrument. The crooning clean vocal line of “ah-ah-ah” will become like an old friend by the time the album is done, or perhaps that acquaintance who just doesn’t get social cues and never leaves when he should.
That’s the album’s crippling problem: repetition to a self-destructive degree. One guitar note and drum beat gets repeated for four minutes straight. The same lyrical line or “ah-ah” vocal delivery gets repeated for two or three solid minutes. The audience gets to hear the unending “ahahahahah,” including a second and third layering of vocal harmony of the same melodic cry, from 3:10 of “Foe” until the track’s ending at 5:15. The idea of using the layered vocals as replacements for instruments is one worth exploring, but listening to the exact same vocal line over and over for almost half the song is simply tedious and an exercise in auditory masochism for the listener.
One of the highest points of “Coal” is easily “Chronic,” which includes all the elements Leprous does well – until the band decides to return to beating a dead horse for the ending. The song features the building melodies, the mix of harsh and clean vocals, and the band’s trademark oddity and disregard for standard song construction. The ending tanks it all though, as the same notes, chords, and lyrics are repeated ad nauseam from 5:00 to 7:19, with the baffling decision to progressively slow down for the last minute to just really hit home how much Leprous needs the audience to hear these exact same sounds again and again.
At only four minutes long, “The Cloak” doesn’t have time to repeat the same elements enough to get annoying, making it stand out even if it is the album’s least heavy offering. There are also times when Leprous works the new style to its advantage, like the galloping beat and half-screams embedded over all the “ah-ahs” on the title track. “The Valley” changes things up by utilizing a stuttering style with stilted guitar chords and alternating drum beats, resulting in a strong offering overall that doesn’t become overbearing even at nine minutes. The opposite of that is “Echo,” where the repetition is on full blast and 10 minutes frankly should have been shaved down to five or six.
There’s no doubt about it; “Coal” is an incredibly progressive release, but progressive music means experimentation, and sometimes experiments fail. The new sound itself isn’t the problem, but it’s the unending repeating of the new sound that takes an otherwise interesting album and makes it a chore to listen all the way through. That being said, fans of melodic vocal melodies will likely want to give this one a shot anyway, as will the die-hards who need more Leprous or want to catch the Ihsahn guest vocal appearance on the closing track.
Highs: The album tries new things and shakes up the formula from the last release.
Lows: Unfortunately, those new things are repeated...and repeated...and repeated. The phrase "beating a dead horse" doesn't even begin to cover it.
Bottom line: Leprous experiments with new sounds, and then repeats them over and over to an amazingly annoying degree.
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