Isn’t it refreshing when a progressive rock band is truly…progressive? Meaning that they progress their sound forward instead of repeating their same formula, perhaps to the point of reinventing themselves? Of course, progression isn’t without its consequences, or…pitfalls. For those who loved a band’s original repeating formula, a drastic change may simply feel drastic. In the case of Leprous, the change evident on new album “Pitfalls” didn’t arrive without any foreshadowing; previous release “Malina” made significant strides towards a more spacious, ambient approach. But with this new album Leprous have bravely entered terrain which asks, “Where have all the prog metal bands gone? They’ve gone to graveyards, everyone.” Like Opeth, Anathema, Riverside, Klone and countless others before them, Leprous have shrugged off the metal aspects of their original identity and revealed something quite luminous underneath. There’s no question that “Pitfalls” in an exquisite album. The only question that remains is if this new version of Leprous speaks to you, the listener, in the same way that the band formerly known as Leprous did. Fortunately, they make a strong argument.
As the initial singles “Below” and “Alleviate” have established, the band’s developing sound is accessible, melodic and even orchestral at times. And…somewhat flirting with the classification of “pop”. When Steven Wilson entered similar territory with his “To the Bone” album recently quite the uproar resulted, most of the criticism being laughably overblown. You can feel Leprous bracing themselves for a similar response, and they are getting out ahead of the feedback by declaring “‘Alleviate’ will be our most controversial song ever [due to its pop nature].” The joke’s on them: most of the comments online thus far have been surprisingly positive, even stating that this new direction is the best thing the band have ever done. Sure, there’s some inevitable “RIP Leprous” derision here and there, but far less than the band seemed to have imagined. This is due to the simple fact that the new material is quite good. While the focus may not be on technical metal assault, there is no lack of emotion or dynamics on this album, largely thanks to the spotlight sitting squarely on singer and songwriter Einar Solberg who effortlessly glides between angelic falsetto highs and powerful lower delivery. No, there are no growl vocals in sight, quite the opposite. But the lyrical material is still quite dark, reflecting on the challenges of anxiety and depression which the singer experienced first hand while writing the songs. This likely has led to him being even more invested in his vocal delivery. While Solberg’s range has always been one of the highlights of this band, “Pitfalls” gives him a more spaciously broad canvas with which to create on.
The first half of the album leans more strongly towards this new pop side of the band, almost daring older fans to see if they will stay on the ship until the album concludes. Second track “I Lose Hope” may be the best single on “Pitfalls”, the sleek production serving up the guitar riff, catchy chorus and tight pop arrangement to meet radio standards, yet not losing sight of the simple fact that this is a great song. Likewise, “By My Throne” has the potential to take Leprous to the top of the charts, but this time is also ready for the dance floor with its synth bass lines, pulsing tempo and spacious string arrangements. In between these songs is the devastating ballad “Observe the Train” which establishes Solberg as one of the best modern crooners around; go figure that he happens to be fronting a prog-rock band. Although it is contains yet another catchy chorus, its arrangement is simply so etheric and transcendent that its placement as the third track is almost too much too soon; it might have benefited the flow by coming a bit later on or even as the album closer. “Breathe in, breathe out, release, let it all out.”
A clear album highlight arrives with “At the Bottom”, one of the few songs to incorporate a bit of the old Leprous attack. It’s a fantastic track but even here we begin with synths that sound like a Foreigner song from the 80s, programmed drums and a very gentle (yet gorgeous) first minute of melodic crooning. The dynamics as the song progresses are thrilling, with strings from cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne and violinist Chris Baum expertly mixed with the rest of the band’s performance as Solberg’s impassioned delivery soars above the fray as the seven-plus minute song ends. More, please. The followup “Distant Bells” is equal in length, but spends most of that time in ambient bliss dedicated to Solberg’s multi-tracked vocals, cello and violin, until the final minute and a half when the band swoops in with epic grandeur.
The only full-on rocker of the album, “Foreigner” finally shows up as the penultimate song at a brief 3:52. As Solberg sings “My congregation is in flames” the listener can’t help but take this as a reference to the band’s old album “The Congregation” because any resemblance to a song like “Third Law” has clearly been scorched from memory. The band finally throws a bone to the old fans with eleven-minute prog closer “The Sky Is Red” which displays the full breadth of the musicians. Even here Leprous is progressing, intensifying the spacious arrangement with a classical choir who bring an eerie dynamic to the proceedings. Baard Kolstad masterfully builds up the suspense with his inventive percussion, the rhythmic stabs on bass and guitar accentuate the mood and we even get a brief guitar solo. Although this mini-epic is almost the black sheep of a very accessible album, this is a brilliantly enigmatic way to close “Pitfalls”.
So, what are we to make of it all? At only six albums into their career, Leprous almost seem too young to have taken such a sharp turn. Yet given the sheer quality of the songs herein, one can’t help but be impressed with the self-determination and confidence that the band exudes to do what they want, consequences be damned. While it is likely that they will lose some fans who had signed up for a metal band, they are likely to gain tenfold more. Where they choose to aim their future trajectory is anyone’s guess, but what they have accomplished with “Pitfalls” is the realization that they hold the conviction and talent to succeed in whichever direction they go. What more could a “progressive” rock band hope to achieve? In this regard, Leprous now stand supremely triumphant.
Released by: Inside Out Music
Released Date: October 25th, 2019
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Einar Solberg / Lead vocals, keyboards
- Tor Oddmund Suhrke / Guitars, backing vocals
- Baard Kolstad / Drums
- Simen Børven / Bass, backing vocals, occasional keyboards
- Robin Ognedal / Guitars, backing vocals
2. I Lose Hope
3. Observe The Train
4. By My Throne
6. At The Bottom
7. Distant Bells
9. The Sky Is Red
Six albums in and Leprous have declared that they are being true to their vision by making an album which invites controversy, yet raises the bar on their songwriting and emotional impact. Time will tell whether this is a transition album or a one-off, but there is no denying that the band have made a bold statement with “Pitfalls”, their most accessible and melodic recording yet. For open-minded listeners who don’t define a progressive band by their past, this could be one of the year’s best.