As the leader of one of the most progressive bands out today, Einar Solberg has long held the potential for an impactful solo album. Indeed, some fans of his band Leprous have joked that their last couple of releases have essentially been Solberg solo albums, to which Solberg quickly responds that there is more collaboration with other band members now than on earlier Leprous albums. As it turns out, the seeds of inspiration for “16” started taking hold as far back as 2018 and took their time to germinate.
There’s numerous ways to approach a “solo” album when departing from a tried and true band context. In the case of “16”, Solberg decided to branch out and collaborate with different artists on each track to broaden his creative reach. This mindset of 50/50 compositional credit with collaborators is ironically even further away from a true solo album than one would expect, resulting in a wonderfully diverse and rich collection of songs. Still, with Solberg’s unique and defining voice front and center, at times this doesn’t feel that far from his Leprous identity. Thus, we can conclude it was a wise decision to bring in new musicians with whom to co-write, otherwise there may have been less of a clear distinction between his solo and band projects.
A well-chosen core band provides strong continuity and a high level of performance throughout the album: Keli Guðjónsson on drums, Tor Egil Kreken on bass, Chris Baum playing violin and Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello. The moody opening track prominently features Browne’s cello amidst his co-composition credit, an exquisitely measured way to start the album but also a familiar tone given Browne’s extensive history playing and touring with Leprous. Being the title track, it also sets the tone for the lyrical content of the album. Solberg uses the dark material of his personal past as grist for the album’s lyrics: “It took me sixteen years to realize that I was meant to walk through winter nights, but daylight tends to appear again.”
The clear calling card that Solberg brings to the table is his extraordinary vocal range and delivery. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t hold back in this regard. Nearly every piece contains a breathtakingly beautiful vocal performance. His falsetto is on full display throughout and his skilled harmonic layering and vocal arrangements elevate the musical backdrop offered. “Remember Me” is just one example, with an aching vocal which completely transfixes the listener over a lounge vibe until Guðjónsson’s busy drumming enters, and later transforms into a more dirge-like rock piece as Solberg’s vocals rise up the octave.
The album is measured in its balance between songs more heavy on the rhythmic side, moody pieces that still swing, and those with a more expansive cinematic scope. Tracks like the hypnotic “Grotto” and “Home” are easy charmers given their groove, the latter even incorporating co-author Ben Levin’s spoken rap. In addition to the impactful strings from Baum and Brown, horns are brought in to accentuate the experimental nature of songs like “Blue Light” and the explosive “Where All the Twigs Broke”. Some of these textures have been explored on recent Leprous albums as well but are most welcome here as Solberg continues to develop them.
The album draws to a close with an intense run of pieces, starting with the Ihsahn co-write “Splitting the Soul” – complete with growls – continuing with the piano-based beauty “Over the Top” and finally concluding with the sprawling “The Glass Is Empty”, co-written by Tóti Guðnason. As the most experimental song on the album, “Glass” opens with percussion and church organ from Þórður Sigurðarson, and incorporates The City Of Prague Philharmonic Choir as Solberg ends with, “I have to leave, I have to leave, I have to go, I’ve never seen anyone going this low. I lock the door, can’t win this war, I leave this prison of guilt tearing down what we built.”
In many ways, 16 is exactly what many of us hoped for in a Solberg solo album. And there’s more to come. Of his newfound solo career, Solberg reveals, “I will definitely continue with this because I really like it, but the next album will be more of a proper solo album, because I haven’t done that before.” Happily, he adds: “We have a very good vibe in Leprous and we’re still really ambitious. So this will co-exist peacefully with Leprous.” May it be so.
Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: June 2nd, 2023
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Einar Solberg / Vocals
- Keli Guðjónsson / Drums
- Tor Egil Kreken / Bass
- Raphael Weinroth-Browne / Cello
- Chris Baum / Violin
- Ben Levin / Guitar
- Magnus Børmark / Guitar
“16” track listing:
1.16 (feat. Raphael Weinroth-Browne)
3.A Beautiful Life
4.Where All The Twigs Broke (feat. Star Of Ash)
5.Metacognitive (feat. Raphael Weinroth-Browne)
6.Home (feat. Ben Levin)
7.Blue Light (feat. Asger Mygind)
8.Grotto (feat. Magnus Børmark)
9.Splitting The Soul (feat. Ihsahn)
10.Over The Top
11.The Glass Is Empty (feat. Tóti Guðnason)
Order “16” HERE.
For his first solo album, Einar Solberg takes the path less expected and collaborates with a wide range of musicians, resulting in a diverse and expansive musical journey. Possessing one of the most remarkable voices in rock today, Solberg doesn’t hold back, offering one powerhouse performance after another. Fans of Leprous’ recent albums will undoubtedly be taken by the songs herein but hopefully 16 will reach a wider audience as Solberg defies genres or classifications.