2017 ushers the return of Norway’s progressive wizards, Leprous, on their 5th full length album Malina. On this outing, we see the band taking a step further into the direction explored on The Congregation (2015) but expanding upon it tenfold by moving into at once a more cinematic and somehow slightly more accessible sound with dizzying and even spectacular results.
To start, all the hallmark angular/syncopated guitar riffs, minimalist keyboard layers/textures, and of course bombastic polyrhythmic drum parts are in no short supply on this record. However, the main differentiation found this time around must be the slightly less overtly heavy tone via “drier” and less distorted guitars. There is barely any tremolo picking or “chugging” parts but in all honesty, it’s not really missed, and is certainly not radically different than what was featured on The Congregation. Leprous has always been able to sound devastatingly heavy without restoring to the atypical guitar techniques employed by 99% of other bands. Rather, the dense layers that evolve over the course of each song, coupled with the voicings from the keyboard parts and bass make Malina just as heavy as their previous efforts albeit in a different and refreshing way.
The album moves and evolves in a much quicker rate compared to The Congregation. With slightly more focused song structures, the tunes never meander enough to become dull or redundant. We are given the tasty bits with enough frequency to keep us satiated yet always hungry for more. There is an immediacy found in Malina’s material that was somewhat lacking on the previous album that is more akin to earlier albums like Tall Poppy Syndrome or Bilateral. Surely Baard Kolstad’s drum parts help in this regard, as he resorts to less tom driven beats to more traditional grooves this time around. The only lull has to be, oddly enough, the title track “Malina.” The minimalist approach here is taken to its extreme, ultimately leading to an anticlimactic resolution, leaving the tune feeling a little flat. Especially in comparison to the amazing follow up track “The weight of Disaster” that simply oozes classic Leprous.
Inar Solberg’s vocals have always been a strong point within the band hierarchy and unbelievably this album sees his performance elevated to even higher levels. Here we see his vocals often taking center focus, with layers of harmonies often capable of giving you goose flesh. Tracks like “From the Flame” with its shouted pop like chorus, catchy “woah oh oh’s” on “Leashes”, and countless other moments really showcase the vocal dexterity of Inar’s vocals. But no other song exhibits the vocal prowess more apparently than on “The Last Milestone.” This track is emotionally devastating: Against a chamber music cushion, Ignar’s soprano vocals soar to operatic heights, collapsing and cascading upon harmonies with himself. Even without the actual band present, this is arguably the heaviest track on the album.
A lot has been made at the slightly less “heavy” and accessibility of Malina. While in certain places on this record that may hold true however, this is still incredibly complex, dense, dark, and deeply emotional music. Rest easy, these guys aren’t going to be opening for Coldplay anytime soon. That said, hopefully this record will expand their ever-growing fan base as a band of this caliber certainly should be more well renowned. Current fans of the band and those who enjoy music with substance that can challenge the listener should take heart to this record. While I originally thought Malina should be a self-titled album signifying a new direction, at its core this record is what Leprous has been and what they always will be: Brilliant progressive music.