LeprousI first became acquainted with Leprous’s quirky brand of prog metal in 2010 at ProgPower Europe. Everyone there was struck by the originality and freedom of their music. “The Congregation” is the Norwegian band’s fourth album.

“The Congregation” is extraordinary. There’s no template for a Leprous album. The visions, moods, sounds and structures are unique. This album is 65 minutes of grippingly oddball output yet it digs deep into the aural senses and you don’t want to miss a second of it. The drum patterns are sublime. There are off beat sound effects, electronic waves but of a kind which captures the attention by virtue of their shadowy and suggestive darkness. The singer’s high-in-the range vocals may not be everyone’s cup of tea and even has an element of the guy from Sparks but whether the instrumental mood is frenetic like “The Price” or emotionally intense like “Rewind”, it works. Each track is a dramatic performance. Progressive vibes kick in constantly but the reality is that each track twists and turns.

“Normal” is not a concept here. Eccentricity blends with the captivating structures. Stutteringly strange patterns develop into an irresistible wider expanse. Such is “Red”. “Slave”, a powerful and atmospheric ballad goes beyond conventional boundaries and wraps us up richly. At first it’s as if it were made for Conchita Wurst to sing, such is the strength of emotional power and clarity, but then it turns nasty and violent before returning to the enormity of this multi-coloured epic ballad. This cannot be ignored. The structural richness is again exemplified on “Moon”, whose shimmering riff and edgy tension generate a stunning atmosphere. Oceans of emotion emerge through all this haze. That pattering drum bewitches us before we are taken into prog heaven. Leprous just stretch further and further from conventional territory and delight us in doing so with their creativity and imagination. The music, which sways and surges seamlessly between heavy prog attacks, irregularity and epic moodiness sends out sharp signals that we should sit up and listen. This journey ends with the sullen “Lower”. It’s like a dripping tap eroding your brain as the vocalist carefully explains the descent. It oozes a sense of isolation and loneliness. As it expands into controlled emotion, it proves that for all the disparity of styles, the surreal atmospheres and seemingly insane irregularity, there is one constant: the gripping drama.

This is not music as anyone else would know it. There’s no fear, it’s original, it’s eccentric and Leprous are willing to try anything to reinforce the mood of each of these extravagant and luxurious performances on “The Congregation”. It’s all helped by a superb sound quality which highlights the flickering shadows and deep-felt insecurities which seem to be at the heart of this album. There’s interest in every nook and crannie. As a result each listen is a new exploration. Such drama lends itself to live performance. Leprous are playing at ProgPower Europe again later this year. I’m so glad I have already booked my ticket.

(9.5/10 Andrew Doherty)