‘Aphelion’ represents the point in an object’s path where it is furthest away from the Sun. Things can only get warmer and brighter from here, so it’s the perfect title for the new album from Leprous, following on from 2019’s exquisite Pitfalls. That album dealt with singer Einar Solberg’s dawning realisation that he was in the grip of anxiety and depression. With Aphelion it becomes clear that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it is burning brighter than before.
Another autobiographical and highly personal work, this one is a collection of songs rather than the more conceptual Pitfalls, but it works as a heart-rending whole as you pull for Solberg’s salvation. This is the positive side, as Solberg puts it, “how to deal with it and how to gradually get away from it, at least to the point where it’s not dominating your life anymore … about creating something beautiful from a difficult situation.”
It is the personal element that has been driving them forward, carried by the astonishing vocals with which Solberg delivers his pain, but the whole band have found their place in a sound that they didn’t initially set out to explore. The results here are, again, superb, drawn from growing maturity and a thirst for experimentation. The band’s fanbase is broader than ever and Leprous know how to give them what they want without compromising their questing artistic momentum.
Aphelion is a direct result of the pandemic scuppering plans to tour Pitfalls. Initially expected to be an EP, it blossomed into a full album. Solberg: “All of the songs have been written in completely different ways. Some songs have been relatively improvised in the studio, other songs have been written before, where I sit and write at home and then we meet up to work it all out. Some of the songs, we’ve even included the fans in the writing process, so it’s a very different album.” The individual songs have their own feel and personalities, accentuated by being recorded at different times and in a number of different studios.
Leprous are currently riding the crest of a wave of fabulous and ground-breaking albums: before Pitfalls came the startling Malina, which saw a broadening of the band’s sound, following on from the heaviest and densest albums of their career in Coal and The Congregation.
Stylistically, Aphelion remains within the realm of Pitfalls. It covers a lot of ground, taking in heavy and intense moments, but also some of the most delicate of their career, with many surprising twists in the sound. As with Pitfalls, cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne and violinist Chris Baum are onboard – and very effectively integral – but there’s also Norwegian brass group Blåsemafiaen who appear – subtly – on the opening and closing tracks.
There are lots of words on this album, as Einar wrestles with his inner thoughts and fears. It’s an ominous start of dark chords with Running Low, Einar’s voice crackling with energy, but it’s positive energy this time, forward looking with the realisation that things can – and will – get better. The intro culminates in an intense scream, strings adding woozy Eastern flavours that give an eerie quality. Halfway through, the song breaks open on angular guitar into a thumpingly memorable chorus. It’s a rollercoaster of a six-and-a-half minutes, moving through sequences that deliver the fear, setbacks and hope: “I’ve been running low … come back to celebrate it, it’s a miracle – Now it’s liveable”. There’s a startling cello solo where the guitar would normally be, and it’s all the better for that. As an opener, it’s a powerful statement that immediately hooks the listener in, melodic, dramatic and dynamic.
There is no linear path through this album. Out of Here is delicate and filled with trepidation at first, but steps are being taken on the journey out of despair as “Last night was the start of something new”. There’s a kind of orchestral electronica feel to it that works nicely, giving real atmosphere, before we sweep into the almost techno Silhouette, the senses overloaded by the state of despair. The strings are again central to the presentation over drummer Baard Kolstad fascinatingly frenetic beats. Einar sings emotionally in the mid-section, industrial elements pushing forward into the chorus. The choices are unorthodox, but they work, continuing to push the band’s envelope.
All The Moments takes in the bleak feelings of hopelessness with a soaring slide guitar intro, Kolstad again pummelling seven shades out of his kit. There’s a strange feel to this one, woozy and constantly shifting, a million miles from anything Leprous have tried before, the strings going into full orchestral mode to support the chorus. Everything falls away to leave Einar almost alone. It’s striking and effective, the voice sounding more natural and vulnerable than ever, before building back into the epic chorus and ebbing away to sparse piano.
Have You Ever? looks back at everything that has been lost through a filter of electronic sounds and tones, an experimental approach that frames the voice, treated with just the right amount of echo, particularly effectively. The album’s mid-section is striking in its questing for new vistas, The Silent Revelation taking things in a different direction on an insistent staccato guitar riff that disappears as suddenly as it arrived, leaving Einar to question his situation, and realise that things are heading in the right direction – but still with plenty to do. The energy is back to drive it forward between the introspective asides, the drums continuing to be immense but in a more subtle fashion here, as guitars and strings lift the flying and epic conclusion.
The positivity continues through The Shadow Side, but with an awareness that there might still be a derailment. It’s another sparse backing of electronics and pulses, forceful drums and lush strings moving in to fill the spaces. Leprous aren’t afraid to switch things around in an acapella section of multi-tracked vocals before the intertwining band and strings format re-emerges. And is that an actual guitar solo? It is – and a good one too. On Hold deals with the setbacks in the struggle back to life, a song of real depth with a backing of delicate and well-judged rhythms. Einar is at the core of all the songs, opening his heart and baring his soul, but it’s the effective use of backings that makes it work so well. When he lets rip here, it’s the most impressive vocal performance on the album, like he’s living through the pain again. Quite something.
A surprisingly delicate acoustic guitar leads us into Castaway Angels‘ call to never look back and keep moving forward. Einar’s voice is at its most lyrical, and this is as far from extreme metal as you can hope to get, elegantly building on a restrained backing as Einar soars higher than ever. This is genuinely powerful stuff, evaporating to nothing, before Nighttime Disguise takes us home, the longest track and a fine bookend to Running Low. It’s bleak but bursting with creative and uplifting noir energy, ticking rhythms and cycling guitars against passive and soothing piano, until the unexpected introduction of harsh vocals (with supporting brass) in a cathartic burst to finish.
It might all sound a bit depressing from the subject matter, but it isn’t: the band fizzes with energy, revelling in what they have created, everyone pulling their weight to deliver it. This is a shockingly good record, that certainly ranks with Malina and Pitfalls. Only time will tell if it beds in as successfully as those two in the long-term, but if you like what Leprous’ recent albums did and are prepared to let them take you further, this is most certainly for you. It might be slightly more fragmented but it certainly has many fine moments and the performances are superb. Ultimately, given a fair wind, it’s an album that could certainly take Leprous to the next level.
Another good job very well done from one of the most intriguing bands around. Do yourself a favour if you’re not familiar with Leprous; ignore what you imagine they might sound like from their name. They’re WAY better than that.
Almost amazingly, Leprous celebrate their twentieth anniversary this year and have announced a tour for December to celebrate. Judging from the creative peak they are currently in the midst of, and evidenced by their recent live-streamed run-through of the whole of the new album, that ticket is a no-brainer, so hopefully plans can go ahead this time.
01. Running Low (6:30)
02. Out of Here (4:15)
03. Silhouette (3:44)
04. All The Moments (6:52)
05. Have You Ever? (4:41)
06. The Silent Revelation (5:45)
07. The Shadow Side (4:28)
08. On Hold (7:47)
09. Castaway Angels (4:53)
10. Nighttime Disguise (7:04)
Time – 56:06
[Album also available as Limited Edition Mediabook CD & Gatefold 2LP+CD with two bonus tracks:]
11. A Prophecy to Trust (2:59)
12. Acquired Taste (Live 2021) (9:09)
Total Time – 68:15
Einar Solberg – Vocals, Keyboards
Tor Oddmund Suhrke – Guitars
Robin Ognedal – Guitars
Simen Børven – Bass
Baard Kolstad – Drums
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – Cello
Chris Baum – Violin
Blåsemafiaen – Brass (tracks 1 & 10):
– Stig Espen Hundsnes – Trumpet
– Jørgen Lund Karlsen – Saxophones
– Sigurd Evensen – Trombone, Sousaphone
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 27th August 2021
– Aeolia (2006)
– Tall Poppy Syndrome (2009)
– Bilateral (2011)
– Coal (2013)
– The Congregation (2015)
– Live At Rockefeller Music Hall (2016)
– Malina (2017)
– Pitfalls (2019)