Compared to Bilateral, the artwork for this album is stunningly gray, but ultimately just as effective. I love the imagery of the human skull resting atop coal. It’s dark, foreboding, representative of death, but also glorifying of the simplest and most reasonable way to determine a human form. From a chemical perspective coal and diamonds are no different save for one very important thing: pressure.
That’s exactly what this album is about, varying degrees of pressure inserted to the soundscape. The production quality of the album is precisely done and well accomplished, each instrument never quite overwhelms another. The samples and loops are used well used on this album (see the end of “Foe”).
The music itself is a progressive metal masterpiece: a dark, forbidding pressure filled atmosphere that breaks free in catharsis by the end of the album (Black Metal), aggressive, thrashing sounds and aural assaults (Death Metal), but, in equal measure with the heaviness, quiet, introspective moments. There are no flaws in the transitions of song to song; a listener that wishes can take this album, sit down, and start without concern for the track list and let the music go for its nearly 55 minute run time. Each song feels as if a movement within the greater piece, which is, in my opinion, the highest point of songwriting and musical ability in the art music group.
The lead track bursts in as a discordant warning siren and ends in a cacophony of Einar Solberg’s vocals. The drum track on Foe is positively epic, feeling jazz inspired in parts. The entire compositions of “Chronic,” “Coal,” and “The Cloak” are beautiful songs, each taking you on a different journey but all sharing strongly the same theme. “The Valley” comes in shortly after “The Cloak’s” silence ends, using 8-bit sounds off the synth keys (first time I’ve heard that in a serious approach to metal). “Salt” starts generating the steam again, but remains low key into “Echo” which is a well composed piece ending with a very simple music behind Solberg’s flowing voice. “Contaminate Me” is fully the hardest hitter on the album; it grabs you by the ears, forcing you to listen. Its core component explodes in shortly after 15 seconds of silence to end “Echo.” It relies off a vocal driven interplay between Einar and Ihsahn in call and response.
Okay, the above three paragraphs have basically detailed all the things that I really enjoyed about this album. I cannot yet and have not yet find a place where the band took a misstep on their approach, in the composition or the performance of this album. It is very much a wonderful piece of music by a band that, after Bilateral‘s playfulness, seemed to want to find their own voice away from being Ihsahn’s backing band. The atmosphere of this album is stern and as cold as a coal mine (which is something they intended). However, this is first album from Leprous, after having purchased Tall Poppy Syndrome (which Coal is very definitely better than) and Bilateral and streamed Aeolia, that I did not once think, even with Ihsahn’s vocals included, about this being his backing band. All those thoughts and attempts on the previous albums come together on Coal and craft a wonderful album that deserves attention for its quality.