Malina is the new album from unique Norwegian proggers Leprous, one which sees their evolution from album to album continue. Never content with doing the same thing twice in a row, the follow-up to 2015’s The Congregation signals another shift and pushes the band in a somewhat more emotional, personal direction. The music is sombre and heavy in tone (though not particularly in style). Even by Leprous standards, and even in the album’s heavier moments, the melodies and harmonies are beautifully melancholy.
As fans will have come to expect, front and centre is the singular and powerful vocals of Einar Solberg. Those desperately hoping for a return of the eclectic screeching exhibited particularly on 2009’s Tall Poppy Syndrome may be disappointed – the band has moved away from that style to something more considered and delicate (indeed, the term “metal” has not really applied for the past few albums). But Solberg’s unique voice continues to carry weight, range and feeling.
The band’s early work on what would become Malina sought initially to refine what they had done on The Congregation, and that shows in some stylistic similarities. But Leprous quickly moved away from this, unable to stay in one place too long. There is a distinctly more organic feel here, reflected in some of the sounds and moods. Not that the synths and digital sounds are missing at all, but Leprous have consciously balanced them more with acoustic sounds which bring a certain grounding, making the music that bit more relatable. Nowhere is this clearer than the superb two-punch of Stuck and From the Flame, where a sombre string motif at the end of the former jumps straight into the synthetic introduction of the latter.
Leprous have become known from their unusual and often jarring rhythmic ideas, and these remain in abundance. But while The Congregation and, to some extent, 2013’s Coal, were somewhat focused around the dramatic rhythms, on Malina they play more of a supporting role. By comparison, vocal harmonies and melodies are at the forefront this time around, and the album contributes some of the most fantastic, rich choruses the band has produced. The shift is subtle, but it makes a difference to the feel of the album. This is illustrated well in Illuminate, where the gripping vocal harmonies almost entirely distract from the polyrhythms underneath.
Malina also presents some of the band’s most carefully developed slow-builds, particularly in opener Bonneville and title-track Malina, both of which are likely to be popular with prog fans. Closer The Last Milestone is similarly delicate, featuring no drums or guitars over its seven and a half minutes, but providing haunting melodies and a beautiful, sorrowful cello solo to finish the album.
Sonically, the album maintains the high quality of the last couple of records, thanks again to mixing from Jens Bogren. This time, though, Leprous have brought in David Castillo to record and produce, specifically to realise the more organic sound they were aiming for. Malina represents an excellent coherence of music, lyrics and sound.
Malina is another fantastic entry from Leprous, and likely to be enjoyed or even loved by the band’s fans. The more emotionally-atuned angle may also bring in new fans who have found their music a little cold in the past. Bar the occasional less interesting moment, the album is fresh, powerful and extremely exciting, and is out now.