CD Review – Leprous – Aphelion

You have to admire bands such as Leprous that are steadfastly impossible to categorise. When it first hit the music scene a little over a decade ago Leprous was assumed to be a progressive metal band. Nothing wrong with that in any way, but the band doesn’t subscribe to the notion that you should be categorised musically at all. The group didn’t reject progressive metal, but thought the demands of its music would and should draw in influences from far and wide. It never wanted to make music aimed at a specific coterie of fans but to reach new listeners whilst taking their older fans along with them on the journey too.

It is fair to say that the band has now moved a long way away from being a progressive metal band. Whilst there are echoes of that style woven into the music – the propulsive drum patterns, the riffing, the powerful technical heaviness of musical passages – the band now employs the genre jumping gymnastics that its songs require. The djent element of the metal days is still in evidence, but it shares house room with electronica, chamber rock, soundscapes, and down-right catchy pop as befits the particular mood and demands of the songs. It does not sound like vintage progressive rock with time warped instruments, but it does share the magnificent eclecticism of that era. It is contemporary progressive rock in the broadest sense of those words.

As the world faced covid lockdowns Leprous found itself with unfinished business. There was material left over from the band’s previous album, Pitfalls. The group’s original plan was to create an EP out of this material but ideas expanded and expanded and Leprous found itself with enough material to create a full album. There seemed to be a marked clarity for the band. Frontman Einar Solberg explains; “We didn’t really plan to do an album right now. Like many bands, we were planning to do an EP but then we thought, ‘What’s the point?’ and decided to a full album. The whole point with this album is that it’s relatively intuitive. All of the songs have been written in completely different ways. Some songs have been relatively improvised in the studio, other songs have been written like before, where I sit and write at home and then we meet up to work it all out. Some of the songs, we’ve even included the fans in the writing process, so it’s a very different album. It’s a song-by-song album. I wouldn’t say that Pitfalls was a concept album, for example, but it feels a lot more like one than Aphelion does.” 

For the none astronomers out there, aphelion refers to the point when an object’s orbit in the solar system is at its most distant from the sun, and deals with similar subject matter found on Pitfalls, namely Einar’s struggles with the mental health issues of depression and anxiety. Given the sombreness of the subject matter some of the images are quite bleak, but on this album, Einar airs the sense of learning to cope with such feelings and suggesting the beginnings of improvement, of not letting the illness control your life anymore.

Achieving consistency was a problem while creating the album. The nature of work for most people changed with the corona-virus epidemic, and musicians were affected as much as anyone. Aphelion ended up being recorded in three different studios: Ghost Ward Studio in Stockholm, with long-time collaborator David Castillo at the controls, in Norwegian studios Ocean Sound Recordings and Cederberg Studios, the latter with Christer Cederberg. As with Pitfalls, Aphelion was mixed by Adam Noble, who has worked with Placebo, Biffy Clyro, Nothing But Thieves, and others and then finally mastered by Robin Schmidt whose credits include The 1975, Placebo, and The Gaslight Anthem amongst others.

The resulting album is a heartfelt and often emotional response to Einar’s situation, but rather than being dour and grim with a series of fraught images it is almost a story-telling type explanation of what depressives may go through. Yes, some of the imagery is a little cold but overall, the songs are an honest iteration of the issues of an illness.

The songs reflect the character of this mutability. The opening track, Running Low, is quite dramatic and at times quite strident whereas Out of Here lets you take a bit of a breather, before Silhouettes draws you in with its powerful intricacies. Castaway Angels is a mellower introspective song with an engaging soaring section. The tracks are vibrant and shifting with an almost schizoid need to change. There is an array of instrumentation deployed. Besides the usual band line-up, the inclusion of strings adds a lot of poignancy to some of the songs, and the brass group Blåsemafiaen bring a lot of colours to Running Low and Nighttime Disguise. Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello catches the attention with some tasty work.

There is a fine balance between the guitars and the keyboards on the album. Tor Oddmund Suhrke’s guitars are busy and intricate whilst Einar Solberg’s synths are inventive and atmospheric. It would be wrong not to mention Einar as a singer though. His tone and vocal acrobatics make his larynx an instrument in itself, and it is important to the band sonically. It provides the band with another outlet and adds a lot of the emotion. It is hard to judge whether he is playing different characters in a song, or using his voice to point out the different aspects of an issue via a confessional narrative. In either case, it works.

Leprous are a unique band creating poignant emotional music which is never so avant-garde that it leaves behind the catchiness of popular music, but is inventive enough to be artful. Time will tell whether this album stands as the group’s definitive work, so we should sit back and listen to an idiosyncratic band in full flow. There is much to admire here and, if you become engrossed, it is an emotional listen. A career high.

1. Running Low (6:30)
2. Out of Here (4:16)
3. Silhouette (3:45)
4. All the Moments (6:52)
5. Have You Ever? (4:42)
6. The Silent Revelation (5:45)
7. The Shadow Side (4:29)
8. On Hold (7:48)
9. Castaway Angels (4:53)
10. Nighttime Disguise (7:04)

Mediabook CD & Vinyl bonus tracks:
11. A Prophecy to Trust
12. Acquired Taste (live 2021)

Einar Solberg – lead vocals, synth
Tor Oddmund Suhrke – guitar
Robin Ognedal – guitar
Simen Daniel Børven – bass
Baard Kolstad – drums

Henriette Lindstad Børven – violin
Ellen Fjærvoll Samdal – violin
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – cello
Karen Suhrke – cello
Pål Gunnar Fiksdal – trumpet                                                                                                    Blåsemafiaen – brasses

Release date: 27th August 2021

Label: InsideOut Music

Available as: Ltd. CD Mediabook, Standard CD Jewel case, Gatefold 2LP+CD, Digital Album Release

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