One of modern prog's best are back with their fifth album, and it is one of their best to date. Norway's progressive metal quintet have been on a roll with their last few record being nearly flawless. Hell, the Metal Archives database has the last two albums both with over ninety percent, and those reviewers hate a lot of metal. It was no surprise that their fifth album would also be a win.
In the ever ironic twist with progressive bands, they often reach a point when they find a sound that works and get comfortable in that sound then no longer progress. Leprous certainly has a sound that is truly their own, but wisely the band still tries new things on The Congregation. "Within My Fence" has an album funky swagger to the most prominent riff, and the swagger gets the Leprous stutter as the song carries out. A personal favorite on the album, "Red" has very Muse-like synth-work weaved seamlessly into the mix and I could see this song working well as a crossover to a not-so metal audience for the band. "Slave" has some rather epic 80's atmosphere to it that has been bringing that recent David Hasselhoff single to mind. I must say that Leprous needs more dinosaurs and ninjas in their imagery though. Finally, "Lower" turns all the symphonic keyboard, catchy choruses, and sky high epicness to 11 as they present what I'm torn between calling a "great song", or "their greatest song."
Songs like "Triumphant" and "Third Law" do feel familiar, and remind me greatly of Coal's "The Valley," but the re-purposing of what worked really well before is done well. I feel like bands like bands like Between The Buried And Me, Protest The Hero, and others do this technique also. They all use the familiar to bridge long time listeners to the new ideas. Leprous has always been a band that is incredibly rhythmic. Each chord hits like a punch because their rests are just as sudden and abrasive as the band takes their listeners though polyrhymic adventures. Much of this album retains this trademark, but the band excellently veers to and from this path they've lain throughout.
Ever since the release of Leprous's first album, Aeolia, the band has been evolving. While never a stranger to melody, the band has been transforming into a rather unique rhythmic, progressive metal outfit that employs clean vocals almost entirely. In the rare moments when harsh vocals are utilized, the end of the band's collaborative efforts with Ihsahn (having been his live band for several years) becomes glaringly obvious. While the Emperor frontman wasn't the only one screaming on previous releases Coal and Bilateral, his growls were the strongest. Vocalist Elnar Solberg seems to be channeling their former partner, and his screams are successful, but he has such a strong and dynamic singing voice that I'd wish he just sung entirely. "The Flood," "Moon," and "Red" are perhaps his strongest performances ever. His falsetto game is strong and sure to get some ladies going. If he were to ever decide to leave the metal game, I could see him becoming a respected singer in theater.
The band certainly owes some of their audience to the exposure given by Ihsahn, myself included, but now that his endorsement/appearance/whatever you'd want to call it is absent, I am still so thankful for this record. This one is the third in a trilogy of near-perfect albums.
The Congregation drops May 25th in Europe and June 2nd in North America via InsideOut.