Ah, that “first review of a new year” smell. There’s nothing quite like it, and I’m so happy to be back amongst this merry band of characters for another year in metal. Perhaps there’s something ironic about looking forward to the year ahead by worshiping the past, but hey: old school death metal worship seems to be particularly trendy at this point, so it makes sense that there are a ton of bands on the scene who are looking to make good on the circular nature of heavy metal music. Enter Leper Colony and their debut album…well, Leper Colony.
While the band Leper Colony might be new on the scene, the gentlemen who make up Leper Colony are no strangers to the metal world. The trio of Marc Grewe on vocals, Rogga Johansson on guitars and bass and Jon Skäre on drums hail from well-established bands like Paganizer, Morgoth and Consumption. The Swedish supergroup come together on Leper Colony to pay homage to the classics of, where else, but Florida, the home state of Death, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and so many more household names in death metal. Not content to simply copy a sound though, the band takes the classic churning, pulsating USDM sound and adds to it a healthy layer of thrash and modern techniques to liven up the sound and appeal to more than just oldheads. The goal is to not simply be an imitation, and in that much, Leper Colony succeeds. There is obviously plenty of worshiping at the temple of Schuldiner, as in the angular, jarring and unconventional main motifs for “Rapture Addict” and “Surgical Undeadvors” (side note: what a truly excellent song title), but the band is at their best when they really let loose and lean into the thrash elements of their sound. The mid section of opener “The Human Paradox” and the solo section of “Rapture Addict” are two of quite a few standout moments where the band completely lets loose and plows through with the force of a runaway bullet train. These are the most successful moments of the album, where the band truly feels like they are taking the comforting, warm-sweatpants-out-of-the-dryer aesthetic of Florida death metal and stretching it to new places.
It’s also worth taking a second to mention that Leper Colony do my favorite thing in all of music: there is a track called “Leper Colony” by Leper Colony on the album Leper Colony. Kudos for going for it, and not just any track, but a full blown death metal ballad of sorts. There is a lot to like here, but Leper Colony is not without its modest criticisms. This album is chock-full of riffs; like, a lot of riffs, in quick succession, and while the riffs are heavy and catchy and inventive and all the things you want them to be, there are some spots where I feel like the band is trying to do too much in too little space for it to be entirely effective. Sometimes I really want the riff they start to keep going, and when the band bounces between ideas without settling on anything in particular, I feel like the album falls a little flat. This is more of a problem for me in the front half of the album; Leper Colony kinda takes off in the back half. Similarly, Marc Grewe switches up his vocal style a lot and performs in quite a wide range, which is to be commended, but when you try to do a lot, you always run the risk of something not landing right, and in this case there are some spots on the album that just don’t deliver. If Leper Colony were to focus on doing less and making the things they do just a little tighter, their future endeavors are going to absolutely crush.
Leper Colony is a really impressive take on the classic Florida sound that features fresh elements, done by people who genuinely show their love and appreciation for the seminal grandfathers of the genre. While not without some shortcomings, this is still a highly enjoyable album that unabashedly scratches the itch that we all get deep in our souls for classic death metal. At the end of the day, I’m not looking for perfection; I’m looking for something that is a good time and that kicks my ass in a very specific way, and Leper Colony does exactly that. It’ll be interesting to see what else comes out of this project and if they plan on expanding their sound or doubling down.