Leprous – Aphelion
Art Rock | Progressive Rock
Often one of the hallmarks of a great band is the ability to grow and adapt. To tread new ground, try new things, but still maintain your own identity in the process. For the bands that excel best at this, you could pluck two albums from their discography at random, that are worlds apart stylistically, but which somehow still feel connected, with the band’s own unique mark intrinsically woven into everything they do. It’s a hard feat to accomplish – you need to be bold and ambitious enough to step outside your comfort zone, skilled enough to adapt to a new musical approach, and have enough of a distinct character to keep established fans along for the journey – but it can pay dividends if you get it right.
Even so, there’s something to be said about knowing when to leave and when to linger when trying on a new style. Moving on to something new often works best as an option when you’ve already explored every avenue and have left yourself no more room to grow in the current constraints. You can move on to pastures new whenever you like, but there’s no better time to expand on an idea than when you’re already immersed in it. You can’t expect to always nail something on the first try, as with all things it takes practice, perseverance and a bit of trial and error. Taking another record or two to refine a sound where necessary, following every thread until its end, is an equally important form of growth in my book.
Norwegian band Leprous have distinguished themselves in progressive circles in recent years with their appetite for reinvention. They took a bold step away from their metal origins with the more accessible Malina in 2017, the record drawing inspiration from electronica and indie rock, and made a further creative leap in 2019 with Pitfalls which stripped things back, leaned more on classical and theatrical influences, and built around a central pillar of soaring vocals. But rather than continue their onward stride, the band have instead elected to remain and refine the most recent incarnation of their sound. Pitfalls was inventive and refreshing, despite its faults, and it’s great to hear the band do some fine tuning along the same lines.
‘Have You Ever?’ offers the most overt Pitfallian fusion of electronics and orchestration, as it blends futuristic flourishes with middle Eastern inspired strings in slick cinematic fashion. Dark, sleek and mysterious, the instrumentation would feel right at home on the soundtrack of a spy thriller. Once again, frontman Einar Solberg leaves you awestruck with his unerring and astounding vocals. Like a radiant one-man choir, his suitably celestial performance on the slow burning balladry of ‘Castaway Angels’ could charm the very birds from the trees. While on the opposite end of the spectrum, the final moments of closing track ‘Nighttime Disguise’ sees the band make a fleeting return to their heavier roots, with the unexpected snarl of harsh vocals adding some real grit and venom to the track.
There are plenty of moments that let you marvel at how an actual human being can have a voice that remarkable, but the instrumentation is also far more engaging and dynamic this time around. ‘All The Moments’ true to its name has a lot to offer, from the opening slide guitar reminiscent of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Even Less’ to its sparse ambient gothic piano, while ‘The Shadow Side’ boasts an incendiary guitar solo at its zenith. But it’s drummer Baard Kolstad in particular who gets some well earned time in the spotlight. His wonderfully expressive build-up on the aforementioned ‘Castaway Angels’, and the way his frenetic fills interplay with the razer-sharp riffs on ‘The Silent Revelation’ with such intricacy and precision, being notable highlights.
Aphelion doesn’t iron out all the wrinkles of its predecessor however. There are still a few too many moments of dead space that are left as mostly empty backdrops for Einar’s vocals, and a few tracks still get caught in repetitive ruts for a fair chunk of their run time, which end up falling especially short when compared with the records more energising elements. The fact that the album’s first three songs are also its three weakest offerings means that it takes a while to really get warmed up. I suppose the remaining flaws can be ironed out if the band choose to remain and fine tune the formula further on the next record, but at the moment I’d say minor fine tuning is all that’s required. But however the band plan to grow for their next release, staying with this style or boldly branching out yet again, they are growing strong if Aphelion is anything to go by.