What you are about to hear is not the same Leprous you are used to. Well, it is, but it’s also not somehow. I realize that statement lacks some clarity, but once you hear Malina it will make a bit more sense. It’s as if you sat down at your favorite restaurant and ordered your regular meal, but when you take your first bite, it tastes different. You can tell all the same ingredients are there, but there’s some changes that you can’t pinpoint. However, if you don’t run scared from the change, you eventually realize this was a necessary improvement you didn’t know you needed.
Leprous is at their core, a progressive band. Not progressive in the sense that they can conjure memories of past progressive music, but in terms of continuously delivering ideas and listening experiences unlike anything that has been done before. Malina is undeniably Leprous. All of the fundamental elements of the band remain. The vocal delivery still contains that beloved ghastly vibrato, the drumming is equally complex without sacrificing groove, and the melodies, although memorable, still weigh heavy with melancholy. What really defines Malina as a point of interest within the Leprous catalog are the things that set it apart.
The album has a number of very distinct and fundamental differences. The first, and potentially most jarring difference is the lack of any heaviness that would result in labeling this as a metal album. While the guitars have moments of aggression, they are not distorted throughout much of the album. The result leaves the songs much more room to breathe. Unlike their previous albums, where building a song to climax was accented by heaviness, the band finds new and unexpected ways to reach those climatic moments we have come to expect from them.
Another noteworthy change is the production of Malina. Leprous seemed to have consciously turned away from the production trends of current progressive music, and instead, leaned into more of an organic sound. In addition to the production, the band also introduced a new element by adding strings througout the album. Cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne did a wonderful job of accenting certain moments of Malina with a heartbreaking texture. The newly cinematic accent of the cello beautifully enhances the vocal lines as well as creates an amazing counterpoint to the electronic elements.
Malina is an album that feels unapologetically authentic. In hindsight, it almost seems obvious that Leprous wasn’t going to be able to continue down the expected path. For a band that has never seemed to shy away from being true to themselves as artists, Malina feels like the album Leprous didn’t have a choice but to make.
Review mostly by Sean Cantor