REVIEW: LEPROUS – “Pitfalls”
In a year already full of excellent progressive rock and metal releases, it is almost startling to know that we still have several months left in the year, and more than a few releases from some of the most well-respected artists of the genre still coming. One of these bands is Norway’s Leprous, one of the more eclectic and unique bands who have, over the course of five full-length albums, crafted a style that is all their own. Now with their upcoming album ‘Pitfalls’ they are taking another step in crafting their own sound while abandoning much of what came before, while still pushing themselves forward.
One thing they are in this album, more than ever before, is to be purely honest. Vocalist, keyboardist, and primary composer Einar Solberg has in the past veiled his songs in metaphor and symbolism; in ‘Pitfalls’ he is being very straightforward with his lyrics. These lyrics are deeply personal, dealing with his own struggles with depression and anxiety. And he’s being very, one might say, nakedly honest and truthful about his battles. What is more, he began the writing process while his struggles were going on, resulting in a very real feel to everything. It’s a brave, vulnerable move. The focus throughout the whole album is heavily on the lyrics and vocals. I’ve never understood music fans who are indifferent to the lyrics, so I will say that if you take that approach to this album, you’ll be missing out a great deal.
I’ll be very forward, this is a quirky album, and in many ways not easy to describe. The band says it is not in any way a metal album. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, but it is unlike anything they have done before. I fully expect this to be an album that splits the fanbase, some will love it, and I’m sure others will think the band has lost their minds. My biggest recommendation is to try and go into it without any expectations for what it’s going to sound like. The released video for “Below,” while being the opening track, is not fully representative of the album as a whole. I expect this album to be a grower for most fans, which is certainly not a bad thing but does mean that you shouldn’t listen to it once and make a judgment about it either way.
The album begins with “Below,” as noted above. While I don’t think it is fully representative of the sound of the album, it does firmly put into place the band’s new approach, and that their sound has changed. It begins with electronic beats, something which happens frequently among the remaining songs. Keys and electronics are used heavily throughout, before guitars and heavier drums make their entrance. This pattern is used throughout the album (perhaps a bit too much as it at times gets to be predictable) but the variations and extremes that are used, make it so that you can’t say after hearing the one song, “this is how the whole album will be.”
Musically the album is somewhat split into two (unequal) halves. The first part of the album focusing more on the electronic beats and textures, and the latter half being more experimental, and a bit heavier. What is consistent though is by and large the guitars and bass take a backseat to the keys and electronics, and of course the vocals. Einar’s vocals are very front and center to each song, usually pushing into the upper scales of his vocal range, often going into a falsetto and reminding me more than a little bit of Thom Yorke. Besides the electronics, what is also clear is the emphasis on strings and percussion. Drummer Baard Kolstad shines throughout and uses his full range of skills. Very often the drumming is light, barely tapping a snare, or brushing a cymbal, only to then be called upon to be positively thunderous in his attack of the set. His work is one of the highlights of the album. As for the strings, they are frequently present, both in the many calmer moments, but in some of the louder as well, and act often as a melodic glue and CenterPoint to the music.
The tone of the album grows a bit darker and more aggressive as it goes, “Alleviate” is a prime example of this. The song builds in tension and aggression as the helpless feelings and inevitable crash comes through the lyrics. The vocals are pained and wracked with mental torment and emotion, and the song is one that will grip the listener from the first playthrough. “Distant Bells” takes a different approach, beginning mostly with piano and cello. The electric component is held in reserve for the first half of the song, with the vocals carrying the weight of melody, before the inevitable electric beats, and the heavy guitar comes back.
The final two songs couldn’t be much different from each other, the first “Foreigner” is short, a little over 3 minutes, and the most straightforward metal sounding song on the album. The last song “The Sky Is Red” is over 11 minutes and the most experimental track. “Foreigner” is one of my favorites on the album, by and large, because they ditched the pattern of soft electronics into loud, and went straight for the throat from the very beginning. Lyrically it’s very pure and painful ‘It’s a fight to stay alive/it’s a fight against myself’ make up the main chorus as the journey into depression gets worse. In the end, the music and vocals build, and end with ‘a fight against myself’ screamed in agony. It’s gutting, and utterly satisfying at the same time.
“The Sky Is Red” finishes the album off, I won’t go into minute detail through the whole song, but the band brought in a choir to vocalize over the top of the music; and offbeat, seemingly random time changes in the drumming, coupled with the swirling guitars make for a deliberately disorienting, anxious feel and atmosphere. As I mentioned earlier, it is the longest song on the album, and it takes advantage of that fact, with a lengthy middle section of quiet moments and strings. The songs bounce back and forth more than previously between acoustic instruments, electronics, and sudden slashes of an electric guitar. It is perhaps a daring, and certainly unusual, closer, but perfectly fitting as well.
‘Pitfalls’ is certainly not the album anyone expected Leprous to deliver this year. But it is one that they seem meant to have made and, for themselves as a band and as individuals, needed to make at this point in time. It is starkly honest, at times hauntingly beautiful and emotional, and at other times perhaps a bit puzzling, but always well-executed and purposeful. This is an album that will likely take a bit of time to really get into, but as a wise man has said; “your patience will be rewarded.”