GIG REVIEW: LEPROUS & THE OCEAN Live at The Opera House, Toronto, CA
Norwegian prog-rockers Leprous recently concluded the North American leg of their Aphelion Tour with a show at the Opera House in Toronto. Supported by German progressive metal band The Ocean, the Aphelion tour consisted of 33 shows across the United States and Canada, beginning on March 1st. The Toronto show, along with a handful of other Canadian dates, was initially scheduled for the first week of the tour but had to be pushed to the end due to uncertainty surrounding COVID-related restrictions. It’s fortunate for Canadian fans that Leprous was able to quickly reschedule those dates, as opposed to having to cancel them entirely. This show was well worth having to wait that one extra month.
The venue was already quite full before The Ocean took to the stage at 8 pm – which is always great to see at a weekday concert – and the excitement in the air was palpable. The Ocean kicked off their set with “Triassic ”, from their most recent release, 2020’s “Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic & Cenozoic”. This album provided the majority of their set’s material, accounting for six of the seven songs of the evening. The set was rounded out by “Permian: The Great Dying”, the closing track from their previous release, 2018’s “Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic”. From trance-inducing quiet passages with delay-soaked guitar tones to heavy rhythmic riffs and pounding drums, The Ocean’s performance took the audience on quite the musical journey. The band is able to shift dynamic levels in an instant, and the members remain tightly locked in when performing complex rhythmic patterns. They also had a captivating light show to accompany their performance, with different lighting patterns syncing up with their music’s many rhythmic twists and turns. They also utilized backlighting almost exclusively, causing the band members to appear to the crowd as darkened silhouettes for most of the night, the vibe of which very nicely complemented their music.
Unfortunately, The Ocean had to perform the final two weeks of the North American run, including this Toronto show, without their singer Loïc Rossetti. He had broken both his legs earlier in the tour, sustaining four fractures in total in an unspecified incident. He managed to power through two shows in a wheelchair before having to fly home to Switzerland to undergo surgery. But the show must go on, and if The Ocean had any apprehension about playing without their frontman, it was not apparent, as their performance didn’t suffer in the slightest. In order to compensate for Rossetti’s absence, his vocals were included in the backing tracks for some songs, and for others, the band was joined on stage by Gabriel “Gabbo” Dubko, the vocalist of Implore. Dubko did a fantastic job of hopping in at the last minute, and his performance was electric – at one point, he jumped into the audience and continued belting out powerful harsh vocals while crowd surfing. The Ocean closed their set with “Jurassic / Cretaceous”, probably their heaviest song of the night. The song featured some syncopated full band shots off the top, changing time signatures, some intricate hi-hat work by drummer Paul Seidel, and some wild strobe lighting effects to accentuate the performance. It was a perfect way for this talented band to end their portion of this North American tour.
The Ocean’s crushing opening set would be a tough act to follow for a lesser band, but Leprous, although their music isn’t as traditionally “heavy” as that of The Ocean, absolutely did not disappoint. They began with guitarist Tor Oddmund Suhrke and touring cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne taking the stage first for an extended atmospheric intro, before being joined by the rest of the band for “Out of Here”. This “Aphelion” track starts with sparse instrumentation and vocals, before exploding into a heavier feel about two and half minutes in. The band members were fairly subdued on stage until that section, at which point, vocalist Einar Solberg began moving around the stage with a lot more energy, and drummer Baard Kolstad began playing with big, exaggerated arms movements. Guitarists and cellists criss-crossed the stage in every direction, all while maintaining a high level of musical precision in their performance. They were truly a lot of fun to watch.
Since Leprous last toured North America in 2018, they have released two full-length albums. The pandemic had prevented them from being able to tour here for the release of 2019’s “Pitfalls”, so their set featured plenty of material from that album, as well as from their most recent release, 2021’s “Aphelion”. “Running Low”, the opening track from “Aphelion”, was one of the set’s highlights. Beginning with an ominous piano part, and some haunting strings that enter shortly after, Solberg’s operatic vocal part carries the song until the full band entrance. The contrast between the heavy choruses and more subdued verses exemplifies the band’s extensive dynamic range. “Below”, “Alleviate”, and “At the Bottom”, all tracks from “Pitfalls”, feature incredible vocal work from Solberg, as well as some great drumming from Kolstad, who sounds equally comfortable playing heavy rhythmic grooves as he does playing hip-hop influenced beats. “At the Bottom” also gave cellist Weinroth-Browne a moment to shine in the song’s bridge, and he capitalized beautifully.
Among the handful of older songs included in the set, Leprous played “Illuminate” and “From the Flames” from their 2017 album “Malina”, as well as “The Cloak”, from their 2013 album “Coal”, and “The Price”, from 2015’s “The Congregation”. “Illuminate” did a great job of showcasing drummer Kolstad, who plays a busy shuffle groove for the majority of the song. “The Price” featured some impressive rhythm section performances, as the band seamlessly switched between triplet and duplet meters at various points in the song. Leprous got a large cheer from the audience when they began “The Cloak”, which featured another incredible vocal performance by Solberg. He spent much of the song in his angelic high range, and his ability to control his voice and replicate the recorded parts live is spectacular.
Leprous unfortunately had to perform the show without their bassist Simen Børven, who had had to return home to attend to some prior commitments. Presumably, the Canadian shows being moved to the end of the tour had caused some complications by extending the band’s stay in North America a few days beyond the initial plan. To compensate for Børven’s absence, the band included his bass parts on backing tracks. Interestingly, rather than using the bass stems from the albums, which is the more common approach, the band actually recorded Børven’s final show of the tour and used that instead. Hearing a recorded bass track that was played live helped to maintain the overall live band feel.
The beautiful ballad “Castaway Angels”, from “Aphelion”, was another standout moment in an evening that was chock-full of them. Guitarist Suhrke switched to an acoustic guitar, and vocalist Solberg dedicated this song to the people of Ukraine, while also respectfully asking the audience for silence. The song began with just guitar and vocals, and the other instruments slowly creep in as the dynamic level builds. The intensity level rises throughout, culminating in a majestic final chorus, before bringing it back down to just guitar, piano, and vocals to the end. Suhrke really shone on the guitar parts here, and Solberg’s vocals were impeccable once again.
At one point in the evening, Solberg joked about how he had grown tired of playing keyboard and synth parts live, so he had been outsourcing them to his bandmates. There was certainly at least a little truth to this, as at various points throughout the evening, both guitarists, as well as cellist Weinroth-Browne, all ended up at the keyboard rig at the front of the stage to cover keys parts.
Leprous closed their incredible set with “Nighttime Disguise”, the final track from “Aphelion”. The creation process of this song is a fascinating one: fans were able to virtually join the band in the studio and were able to vote on some of the aspects of the song, such as time signatures, instrumentation, vocal styles, and so on. The band was initially only planning on including this song as a bonus track but ended up being so pleased with the finished product that it made the cut, and with good reason. Einar’s impressive vocal range is once again on full display in this song – his voice soars to hit high notes during the song’s chorus, and during the outro, he switches to harsh vocals for the only time of the night, which elicited a roar of appreciation from the audience. The band waved and walked off stage after the conclusion of this song, causing the crowd to launch into the classic chant of “one more song!”, because everyone knows a concert isn’t complete without an encore.
After about a minute out of sight, Leprous returned to the stage, much to the delight of the chanting audience. They ended the night with “The Sky is Red”, the epic closing track from “Pitfalls”. On previous shows of the tour, they had been performing “Slave” as part of the encore as well, but this was skipped as a result of guitarist Suhrke having injured his ankle towards the end of the set. The poor guy had taken a fall off the drum riser during “From the Flames” and played the majority of this encore sitting on the edge of the drum riser. While the crowd had no doubt been energetic and enthusiastic the entire evening, this was the first time a full-on mosh pit erupted. The first half of the song features a busy 11/4 drum groove, some haunting synth pads, plenty of dynamic shifts, and even a rare solo by guitarist Robin Ognedal. The song closes with another breathtaking crescendo – the band vamps on an 11-beat rhythmic figure, starting quietly, and building to a large halftime drum groove, with guitars, keys, and cello all still accenting the figure in unison. Eventually, all the other instruments drop out, and only the cello remains, playing the same figure. This song is an absolute powerhouse, and there’s a reason the band uses it to close their shows.
Leprous are masters of their craft. Their unique style of music, which blends progressive rock, pop, and symphonic elements, is a joy to listen to. Their use of strings and horns in their music helps them to stand out among their peers, and the fact that they tour with a cellist is a nice touch. Each member of the band is a talented musician and a great performer, but it’s vocalist Einar Solberg who really steals the show. His extensive range, vocal control, catchy melodies, and his stage presence are all top-notch. If given the opportunity, you should absolutely go see Leprous live, even if you don’t normally listen to progressive rock. Their songwriting has much to offer for any music fan, and their stellar live performance is well worth the price of admission.