August 2021 Feature Release – The Infinite Edition
So just like that we find that a new month is upon us which of course means that we’ll be nominating a brand new monthly feature release for each clan. This essentially means that we’re asking you to rate, review & discuss our chosen features for no other reason than because we enjoy the process & banter. We’re really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our chosen releases so don’t be shy.
This month’s feature release for The Infinite has been selected by shadowdoom9 (Andi). It's 2009's classic "Tall Poppy Syndrome" sophomore album from Norwegian progressive metallers Leprous.
Thanks Daniel for accepting my feature release submission! Here's my review summary:
I had no idea what the phrase "Tall Poppy Syndrome" means until some pre-review research. Apparently it's a social phenomenon where people are criticized because of their genuine talents elevating them above and from their peers. That's what Leprous was doing with this album but guess what? Very few progressive peers despise that and they succeeded in the elevation! Resembling a combo of influences such as Opeth, Winds, and Porcupine Tree, the appeal of Leprous is undeniable. You can never place the band in a specific genre other than progressive metal. The band's progressive metal material is a well-crafted mix of odd structures, clean vocals, time changes, complex rhythms, and contrasting heaviness, all in dexterous writing. The band's most appealing moments are the heavier ones, but those are only employed sparingly while helped out by the cleaner sections. Sure it would be awesome if the music was more crushing, but that would make the material less memorable and more likely to suffer negative effects. One moment they briefly unleash early Dimmu Borgir-style melodic black metal with frantic screaming vocals and speedy tremolo, and the next there's melancholic jazzy progressive rock/metal. With that ebb and flow of those two styles, it sure gives Leprous the originality it has, all leading up to a glorious 11 and a half minute closing epic. It's pretty clear that I'm one of the very few people who love Tall Poppy Syndrome more than the other Leprous albums, or even most other progressive metal albums. This is quite a polarizing album but it immediately shows me the best forms of art. If you want to be more open-minded and look for something unique and less mundane, this is the album for you!
Recommended songs: "Passing", "He Will Kill Again", "Not Even a Name", "White"
For fans of: Haken, Opeth, late Porcupine Tree
This was a great selection Andi. I hadn't checked it out before but I ended up really loving it so thanks for bringing it to my attention. And for the record, us Aussies are very well versed in the concept of the "tall poppy syndrome". It's in our DNA over here. Anyway... here's my review:
I was a little late to discover the wonders of Norwegian progressive metal high-achievers Leprous to be honest. When I returned to metal in 2009 I was simply too focused on making up for lost time in the extreme metal space & it seems that “Tall Poppy Syndrome” may have floated by right in front of my face without me ever bothering to look up. It wasn’t until 2013 that their “Coal” album saw me getting onboard the Leprous train & the experience impressed me enough to entice me into checking them out on their first Australian tour three years later when they co-headlined with Perth’s Voyager at the Factory Theatre here in Sydney. Leprous were really solid in a live environment too but didn’t play anything further back than 2011’s “Bilateral” & that may well have contributed to me never having felt the urge to venture any further back into their back-catalogue which, as it tuns out, is a real shame given the results of the last couple of day’s listening sessions.
“Tall Poppy Syndrome” certainly gave me a solid nudge but I wouldn’t say that it knocked me off my feet on first impression. I was undoubtedly struck by the overall class of this record however I didn’t find myself reaching for elite level comparisons until subsequent listens & I think that has a bit to do with the fact that it relies so heavily on a few highlight pieces. The 63-minute, eight-song tracklisting is extremely consistent with the shortest & most laidback inclusion “Fate” representing the least impressive of the eight tracks but still being quite enjoyable. It’s interesting that Leprous have opted to hold back on drawing from their best material until a good fifteen minutes into the album though & I think that’s one of the reasons that it took me a couple of listens to see my feelings reaching their fullest realisation as I found that my initial impressions were already set by the time I got to those tracks the first time around & I needed time to let it all settle in my brain before being open to the finer nuances that became more evident with a great level of exposure. The first two tracks are both highly professional & are really very strong in their own right however they simply don't prepare me for the wonderfully constructed & more obviously hook-laden pieces from a little later in the tracklisting with “Dare You”, the title track or “Not Even A Name” all being superb pieces of progressive metal that saw my score rising into the stratosphere.
You won’t see the wheel being reinvented here by any means & the tendency for people to want to toss around terms like “avant-garde” are completely misguided, as are the references to progressive rock as there’s not a single track here that branches outside of the metal spectrum. “Tall Poppy Syndrome” is simply a very high-quality progressive metal record that presents its influences fairly openly for all to see but manages to match its more widely celebrated peers pretty comfortably in the process. It’s not hard to identify the sort of Dream Theater-isms that have been essential ingredients in virtually every clean-sung progressive metal release since the early 90’s but there are also moments when Leprous flirt with the more extreme territories that the band’s Norwegian homeland has built its reputation on. Opeth is clearly the biggest influence on “Tall Poppy Syndrome” though & it’s the moments where they drift closest to their Swedish idols’ sound that I get the most excited about to be honest. The title track is a great example & I often caught myself wondering whether a good half of its huge appeal is due to a sense of comfort built on familiarity or nostalgia.
I’m not sure that Einar Solberg’s vocal hooks are as consistently potent as they would become in later years (particularly on their classic “Live At Rockefeller Music Hall” double album which is my all-time favourite progressive metal release these days) & this would see me holding back from fully engaged worship for a period. However once Solberg starts to nail those melodies I find myself getting dragged in pretty quickly & it was really hard not to let those few genuine highlight tracks guide my rating to be honest, particularly given that the rest of the material is so blemish-free & invariably displays an undeniable class in its execution. Eventually I just gave in as it was clear that my subconscious had strong enough feelings to warrant it. Above all else, it’s important to note that Leprous never forget about the importance of song-writing & composition within a progressive structure. In fact, they get the balance of technique & accessibility just right on this occasion & in doing so create a stunning piece of art that will stay with me for some time yet.
For fans of Opeth, Haken & Ihsahn.
I used to be a pretty casual Leprous fan when I found their 2015 album The Congregation and played a ton of songs from it on my radio show back in college. They were a band that I really liked, but I never really raved about them in the same way as other Progressive Metal bands. The Congregation showed them pivot into a less Metal and more progressive/art rock direction, and as I've gone back through their discography it's been interesting to hear them have more bite in the past. Obviously Daniel showing me their live performance album netted them a 5/5 and that performance had mostly songs from The Congregation and Coal, but the live setting and performing live with Ihsahn gave their sound the out-of-studio punch it needed to be absolutely phenomenal. What's interesting about that live album is that is features zero songs from Tall Poppy Syndrome, and from what I've read the band hasn't played anything from this album in a very, very long time, making a lot of these tracks seemingly forgotten by the band.
Which is an absolute shame because Tall Poppy Syndrome is easily one of Leprous's best works, maybe even their best in my opinion with Coal coming in extremely close behind. "He Will Kill Again" is phenomenal in almost every way. It really showcases the entirety of Leprous' sound, from the haunting intro, to the heavy riff, to the more progressive vocal melodies and harmonies from Einar, to a very good payoff towards the end. The few slower parts drag a bit, since the band seemed to not be too overzealous with Einar's writing at this point, but those parts are very few and far between. I think that Tall Poppy Syndrome strikes an amazing balance for the band especially since they were early in their career, since Bilateral and Coal begin to shift the focus towards Einar and being more "artsy" in general. Just see Daniel's writeup for pretty much the rest of my thoughts, he nailed it without me really sitting down and analyzing this to come up with a different avenue to give this album more praise.