Leprous - Tall Poppy Syndrome (2009)Release ID: 2629

Leprous - Tall Poppy Syndrome (2009) Cover
Sonny Sonny / March 22, 2022 / Comments 0 / 1

Leprous are a Norwegian progressive metal band led by Einar Solberg who is Ihsahn's brother-in-law and Tall Poppy Syndrome is their second album, originally released in 2009. Their music is very much like a heavier version of Porcupine Tree and, despite being fairly complex, is actually quite efficiently composed, with very little that is extraneous and redundant. The band are obviously extremely competent musicians but, luckily, don't feel compelled to prove it every two minutes and thus have eliminated any excessive wankery from their songs.

The album starts off quite strongly with the track Passing which undergoes several twists and turns, but does showcase one of the weaker aspects for me, which is the harsh vocals. They certainly aren't terrible, but they aren't the greatest either and I much prefer the cleans. As this is the only Leprous album I have heard to date, I don't know how this aspect develops on their later releases, but I would have liked to hear the harsh vocals done by someone more proficient, maybe a guest vocalist as, otherwise, Passing is a very good opener. Harsh vocals aren't a prominent feature of the album as a whole, so there isn't much damage done anyway.

The whole album is of a very high standard, but the final half an hour's three tracks elevate this to even loftier heights in my book. After opening with one of the album's heavier moments, Not Even A Name becomes a bit jazzy with tinkling piano and crooning vocals before the highly melodic (and somewhat catchy) chorus kicks in. It has quite a late-metal-era Opeth vibe, with Einar Solberg's clean vocals sounding very like Mikael Akerfeldt's although the harsh vocals are sludgy rather than death growls. The title track seems to be one of the lesser liked tracks, but I think it is my favourite. The heavy instrumentation and the spoken-word vocals combine to great effect as the band rail against the titular syndrome that society employs to keep talent suppressed and people in their place (a syndrome particularly prominent here in the UK sadly). No doubt the band drew complaints of being closet fascists or something for this, but any sane person knows that's utter bollocks. Me, I like a good bit of biting social commentary. Closing track White has a fair bit of the harsh vocals I dismissed earlier in my review, but the awesome guitar work and fantastic keyboards more than make up for that - I've always been a sucker for that Hammond organ kind of sound.

So in conclusion, I would say that initially this may not blow your socks off, but it has many hidden depths and requires several listens to get the full effect. The songwriting is stellar, with ebbs and flows, heavier and gentler sections gorgeously interposed with one another. Technically marvellous, both performance and production-wise this could proudly sit on my shelves between my Opeth and Porcupine Tree albums with no fear of being outclassed. Luckily the Tall Poppy Syndrome mustn't be in full force in Norway or this may never have seen light of day!

Saxy S Saxy S / August 12, 2021 / Comments 0 / 1

I've been familiar with Leprous for a long time now. I caught on to this band after their very successful 2013 album Coal and got to see this band meteoric rise to fame from the ground up with 2015's The Congregation. That being said, while I really did enjoy those albums, I only recently went back to listen to Leprous' older discography and, most notably, Tall Poppy Syndrome. Unfortunately for what was a relatively new progressive metal band at the time, Leprous never caught my attention in the same year veterans like BTBAM released The Great Misdirect, Amorphis' Skyforger, and Mastodon's bid for progressive album of the decade, Crack the Skye.

The first thing that I noticed was how much heavier this album is than the groups later efforts. The songwriting is much more sporadic and technical and it also features many more crunchy rhythm guitars. But it all sounds so smooth. While some of the transitions between different phrases can have a heavy whiplash factor, I am super impressed by how Leprous pulls these phrases/themes together and makes fully explored songs instead of a random grab bag of pieces thrown together. Each section is incorporated more than once in each song and in some cases, in polyphony. "He Will Kill Again" has an excellent build while still maintaining a fairly straightforward form, while songs like "Phantom Pain" and "Not Even A Name" sound humongous thanks to some killer bass grooves. And the closer "White" does not overstay its welcome despite an eleven-and-a-half minute performance.

But Leprous has always stood out for me because of the vocals from Einar Solberg. The natural charisma that is used as he alternates between stupendous melodic singing and the harsh screams is commendable. There are countless metal bands who wish they had a vocalist that could pull off both as wonderful as this! Speaking of those harsh vocals, this is something that has become far less prominent on subsequent records. So hearing them as frequently as they are on Tall Poppy Syndrome took a little bit of adjusting to get used to. But over multiple listens, I think I like them even more! 

The two biggest faults this album has going for it are the length and some of the synth choices. The former is pretty obvious; songs like "Dare You" sound really good and have some fantastic hooks/grooves, but some of the middle sections feel like they meander and could have been cut, and the outro of "Not Even A Name" is played out as well. As for the synths, they sound incredibly late 2000s; most notably on the bridge of "Phantom Pain". I didn't like it when bands like TDWP and other adjacent Warped Tour metalcore bands used it and I'm not going to let it slide here!

Overall, I did enjoy going back to this older, heavier version of Leprous, it still maintains many of the integral songwriting techniques that are present on later records, but pulls them off with more gravitas, and the great production to back it up. I'm not sure it will ever eclipse Coal in my mind, but it does make quite the intriguing case. 

Daniel Daniel / August 05, 2021 / Comments 0 / 1

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.


Release info

Release Site Rating

Ratings: 6 | Reviews: 3


Release Clan Rating

Ratings: 4 | Reviews: 1


Cover Site Rating

Ratings: 6


Cover Clan Rating

Ratings: 2

Tall Poppy Syndrome
The Infinite

Progressive Metal (conventional)

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