Progressive Rock is the Philosophers Stone of musical genres. Through its successful practice the leaden normality of workaday Rock is transmuted into a glowing, almost otherworldly form. No other style manages the merger of commonplace and grandiose with quite the same professional completeness. And in a world where Rock has become a defunct form, useful only for nostalgia and reminiscence, Leprous are one of the few bands to keep alive its vibrant and challenging ethos.
The Congregation is their 4th full length and while unmistakably Leprous, the sound has moved on from the pomposity of 1970’s theatrics to the fledgling groove of 80’s electro-rock. While still full of the flamboyant melodrama which fuelled their previous efforts, its focus has shifted from bleak, rhapsodic anthems towards a more sincere emotional approach.
They entwine a belligerent use of repeated motif with a quasi-Operatic structure which at some points is almost too emotional for its own good. Each track seeded by a beautiful moment of genesis which is then over-painted by layers of mesmeric dynamism that only obscures the gem of its conception. All of this is performed with passion and originality, but the soundscapes it creates left me feeling that I couldn’t see the syncopated wood for the arpeggiated trees.
The Synths are noticeably higher in the mix than on Coal and the choice of sounds selected underlines the advancement of 1980’s music in the influences brought to bare. Indeed there are times when The Congregation sounds like Muse playing Depeche Mode songs, with all the over-blown self-satisfied drama that entails.
Perhaps it is the extended nature of the tracks which are preventing me from enjoying it in the same way I did its predecessor. Coal presented itself as a precise, exacting document of definite objective; with every note vital and each word utterly necessary, but The Congregation feels as though it has been become a little bloated. With elongated bridges sounding like rehearsal room jams rather than pre-defined routes with an acknowledged destination.
But, I hear you cry, this is high flown Prog-Rock. It isn’t intended to be succinct or restrained. And you know what you are utterly correct; it’s puffed up, self-indulgent, reliant on extravagance and unashamed of all of these excesses. Leprous create grooves they way dwarves mine Mithril; with a rapacious hunger glowing behind eyes raised in the dark. And their application of these grooves is every bit as hyper-inflated as you might imagine. But just like the dwarves, who delved too deep, Leprous might be guilty of ignoring restraint in favour of glory.
If you are already a fan of Leprous this will satisfy and delight, however if you are new to them I would recommend indulging in their back catalogue before working your way steadily towards this magnum opus, which for all its moments of brilliance and facets of glinting genius is perhaps a little obtuse for the uninitiated.
– John Whitmore