Reviewing a Leprous album has become quite an endeavor. What this band offers has changed and evolved so much, and fans seem split on whether the destination has been good or not. Well, I’m here to say that Leprous is sounding more creative and more inspired than ever. Their new album, Aphelion, releases through Inside Out Music on August 27th.
Leprous hails from Norway. I still think they are the “best-dressed” of their prog peers, even with the new duds, and their gentlemanly demeanor spills over into their music, certainly. The current lineup includes: Einar Solberg on lead vocals and synth, Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Robin Ognedal on guitars, Baard Kolstad on drums, and Simen Daniel Børven on bass. This record includes multiple guests, namely Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello, Henriette Lindstad Børven and Ellen Fjærvoll Samdal on violin, Karen Suhrke on cello, and Pål Gunnar Fiksdal on trumpet.
I’ll be honest: I like Aphelion about the same as I liked their previous album, Pitfalls. However, I should also say that this album has subtle additions that can make Pitfalls seem plain in comparison. The band is still pursuing a novel sound that mixes progressive rock, prog metal, pop, and cinematic rock, though I don’t think that genre list comes even close to describing their sound. I daresay that they have added folk music to that list, as well, though not in a brash manner. Still, the band literally sounds like no other band out there.
With Aphelion, they have added even more cello and orchestration, not to mention brass instruments. These sounds are part and parcel with their sound on this album, creating some of the richest melodies, most evocative textures, and most memorable atmospheres. Pairing this with Einar’s stunning vocal delivery, and also what I see as a resurgence of the “band” feeling to their music, and Leprous is becoming something wholly other in the musical community.
Einar really delivers here without making the album feel like a solo outing. Whereas on Pitfalls it felt like he used the same sort of vocal progression on most of the songs, with Aphelion he really mixes it up. In fact, he uses his baritone at one point, which is impressive with how high his voice typically is; yet he delivers also with his high notes, even going so high on one track that I was worried about the strain it will cause this chords. And, surprise surprise, you will even hear the return of his harsh vox on the final track.
But the band is just as much a part of this. Baard’s drums are absolutely mesmerizing. It feels like every track features his thundering rock brilliance, and I can’t get enough. Tod and Robin bring it on guitar, shying away from choppy style of the band’s past once again, but entering the mix with steely precision all the same. I would probably point to Simen as the unsung hero here, though, as his resourceful and punching bass lines define many of the songs. More so than on Pitfalls, the full band is present and accounted for, and I think this makes the album feel whole and layered, especially with the guest musicians adding melody and texture.
The band’s two singles, “Running Low” and “Silent Revelation” are both exquisite, and they feel like bookmarks for the album, as they each start one half of it. I love the slight bluesiness of “Running Low”, which pairs excellently with its cinematic vision and stylish delivery. “Silent Revelation” is another beast entirely, with ambient moments and climactic ideas. I will say, though, that after listening to the album for the last few weeks, that the rest of the tracklist is probably stronger than either of these songs.
For example, the first half of this album is absolutely unrelenting. “Running Low” leads it off, but the slow-burning “Out of Here” comes next with its powerful closing, with the outrageously good “Silhouette” following, which contains one of Einar’s best vocals and one of the best grooves on the record. It feels razor sharp, despite only being 3:44 long. “All the Moments” comes next, feeling very different than any Leprous song I’ve heard. In fact, it has a classic or country rock vibe to it at first, but also dabbles in piano-led ambience and a fantastic chorus. Finally, “Have You Ever?” emerges with a gentler electronic sound, and even in the bigger moments near the end, it feels like the ballad of the album.
The second half, though it takes time to grow, is just as good. “Silent Revelation” sets the tone, and “The Shadow Side” comes roaring in with subtle ambience, though the focus soon shifts from Einar’s vocals into a second half that is almost entirely instrumental fire. It also has one of the best choruses on the record. Yet, after that addictive chorus, “On Hold” arrives with some fantastic harmonies, feeling like an internal monologue of sorts. It is a hovering track, one that won’t give instant satisfaction, but the more I hear its lonely cries, the more I love it.
The last two tracks are basically perfect. We heard “Castaway Angels” some time ago, and I think it was smart to put it here in the tracklist, injecting some familiarity right near the end. “Nighttime Disguise” closes, and I believe it is one of the best tracks the band has ever created. Why? Similar to “The Sky is Red” on the last album, it is a heavier song, and I see it as mixing the smooth pop aura of their new sound with the gritty textures of their middle sound with the harsh vocals and heavier sound of their first few records. It’s like a tour de force of their sound. And, you know, the song doesn’t start out that way. At first, it feels like it might fall flat, strangely. But as it progresses and we hear things out of Einar’s throat that we probably haven’t heard before, not to mention the haphazard beats and hovering potential energy in the band; the song soon emerges into a grand last few minutes that are simply breath-taking, driving, orchestrated genius. Einar bursts back in near the end with some harsh vocals that are pretty much the only place the emotions could go without feeling insincere. Perfect.
Leprous have always sounded different from everyone else, but somehow they manage to evolve and change and still keep that uniqueness. I wouldn’t say Aphelion is better than Pitfalls, as I love them both equally, but it certainly has more going on and the overall vibe is definitely more diverse. This is certainly going to be one of the most beautiful, invigorating albums of the year.
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