Progressive music is about moving, growing, maturing, and changing. I know that can be difficult sometimes, and I know that it can feel like a roller coaster at times. Progressive fans, though, are usually loyal to the ideas and creativity of their favorite artists, even if those ideas might come out differently on an artistic level. Leprous, mostly known for their intensely technical progressive metal past, have been changing over the last couple albums, and that change has culminated in their newest offering, “Pitfalls”, set to release through Inside Out Music on October 25th. This album, to say the least, is the absolute highlight of their career for me personally.
First things first, Leprous hails from Oslo, Norway. As a joke, I like to call them the “best dressed in prog” due to their clean cut and well dressed overall look. The band consists of Einar Solberg on vocals and synth, Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Robin Ognedal on guitars, Baard Kolstad on drums, and Simen Daniel Børven on bass.
Back in 2017 when “Malina” was getting ready to launch, I was given the opportunity to write the press kit bio for Leprous for the new album. I started by writing one similar to the bio I wrote for Pain of Salvation for “In the Passing Light of Day”, being more of a chronological history of the band. I remember that the band sent it back to me because they wanted something primarily focused on their new album, their new direction, and their new sound. Their history wasn’t the main concern. I was happy to rewrite it, and they used my second draft. Even then, I could tell that the band was moving on to newer things, and, indeed, the information that ended up in the bio was all about the band wanting to leave the semi-djent, overly technical music they were known for, and to move into something more emotional, more melodic, more robust, and more eclectic.
I tell you all of this because some Leprous fans seem perplexed or surprised at the new sound on “Pitfalls”. Even back on “Coal”, though, Leprous had started writing songs that were pure melody and emotion. Yes, “The Congregation” was more of an abstract, textured work, but the seeds for their new sound had already been planted. “Malina” was very much a complete change from dark, textured, and bleak towards colorful, melodic, and heartfelt. So why are Leprous fans surprised by “Pitfalls”? I’m not really sure. This has been the band’s purpose and path for a couple albums now, at the very least. What these mourning metalheads don’t understand is that Leprous has always been founded upon and influenced by pop and other genres, and basically good music of any stripe. Einar’s writing has always been this lush and sophisticated. It used to be shrouded by the technical, djenty riffs, but now it is uncaged and unfettered for all to see and appreciate.
With all of that said, the music on “Pitfalls” doesn’t really fit “progressive metal” any more, and neither did the music on “Malina”. I would probably call this post prog now, a subgenre I happen to love. Basically, they are creating progressive music that is using elements of the progressive sound, but in new, unexpected, or even more accessible ways. The results are songs that may still feature texture, slow burns, or metal moments, but none of that is the point anymore. The music has become more about huge waves of emotion, giant crescendos of vocal power, and deceptively simple melodies that only grow in depth as you hear them more. Leprous isn’t really rock, metal, or pop. They are a unique creation that utilizes all of those things, not to mention cinematic, orchestral, electronic, and ambient styles, too: anything at all that can be used to enhance and achieve the ambitious ideas they have in their minds. Leprous has never been been able to be boxed into any genre, and now they have pursued that fact to its logical and fantastically beautiful outcome. The band is truly creating music in a wildly free manner now.
“Pitfalls”, for my money, is the best album Leprous has ever produced. It is daring, emotional, and breath-taking, while also offering moments of introspection, subtlety, and abstraction. It flows without a hitch, and each and every song has its place. There is absolutely no filler.
I definitely could discuss each song in depth, but I’m going to keep it to a few. The singles are “Below”, “Alleviate”, and “Distant Bells”. I know these have been analyzed in depth over and over, but I just have to say that I love these songs. The first two feel desperate and burning, and the pay off at the end is huge in both of them. “Distant Bells” will have only just released when you are reading this, and it might be my favorite on the album. The introspective, slow burning first half mounts and builds until suddenly Einar unleashes some of the best vocal lines I have ever heard from him. Not only are they catchy, but Einar sings them with power and a theatricality that I have not heard from him in the past. Einar shines on the entire album, and he will be tough to beat this year as far as vocal performances go.
“At the Bottom” and “Foreigner” are two more I really like. The former is probably the catchiest song on the album, as my kids have even been singing it constantly. The fiery, instantly lovable chorus is obviously the centerpiece, but the instrumental near the end is where my favor truly lies. “Foreigner” is closer to something on “Malina” in that it has a bit more drive and more guitar work, and the chorus is again fantastic.
I think “The Sky is Red” is the song most fans will be talking about, and I think it will please fans of both Leprous styles. It will sound absolutely demogorgon live, too. It mixes the darkly textured abstraction and riffy nature of “The Congregation” with the atmospheric sensibility and vocal power of “Malina”, and so it represents everything that Leprous was and has become. It’s one of those songs that leaves shade on your mind after you hear it, and you will feel like you never want it to end. It comes across as shadowy, eerie, and foreboding in the first half, and then a clear transition happens in the middle to where the song becomes riff-heavy and full of haunting choirs, giving us a few minutes of those luscious Leprous guitars we all still love. The song is ironic because it plays both sides of the fence, but combines them perfectly.
Leprous, without a doubt in my mind, has crafted the best album of their career. Sometimes, I can tell the quality of the music by how often I want to hear the album, and I’ve been listening to “Pitfalls” almost every day for a couple months now. With each listen, the daring ambition of this artistic group of musicians is impressed upon me even more. This album is inspiring and instantly bewitching. Leprous continues to climb the ladder of my favorite bands.
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