O2 Ritz, Manchester
Thursday, 9th February 2023
It has been a while since I attended a concert with such an atmosphere. As soon as I walked into the 02 Ritz in Manchester I sensed the excitement and anticipation from a much younger and more culturally diverse audience than I am used to, compared to more traditional prog events. On this tour, Leprous, who I have only recently become acquainted with, are supported by the similarly Nordic band Kalandra and Monuments from England, both previously unknown to me. This will turn out to be an eye-opening evening, in many ways.
The venue is busy rather than full, but the vast majority have arrived in time to see Kalandra open up. The wave of enthusiasm across social media for both of the support bands, this being the ninth gig of the tour so far, has undoubtedly roused people’s attention.
From out of the darkness Kalandra are revealed on stage, opening with the slow-burning atmospheric Borders, showcasing both the voice and the theatrical performance of Katrine Stenbekk. The set of around 30-minutes is an intriguing mix of soundtrack-friendly soundscapes, all of which are accompanied by Ms Stenbekk’s poetic and captivating vocals. All but one of the tracks presented tonight are taken from their fourth album, The Line, released in 2020. The exception is Veiviseren, which features an elegantly played hunting horn solo, and is from their latest release Kingdom Two Crowns: Norse Lands Extended, which, as it happens, is a soundtrack album for a computer game.
Changes in pace and tempo provide variation to the mood and it’s easy to imagine that we are being taken on a journey through the seasons across Nordic landscapes as the musicians respond to Katrine’s vocals and vocalisations. Backing tracks and samples are used to beef up the sound throughout and the overall effect is to lift the atmosphere and accentuate the measured contributions from the rest of the band. The performances are confident and assured and the band gets an enthusiastic reception after a suitably climactic ending.
Brave New World
Katrine Stenbekk – Vocals
Jogeir Daae Mæland – Guitar
Florian Bernhard Döderlein Winter – Guitar
Oskar Johnsen Rydh – Drums
I am well out of my comfort zone when the time comes for Monuments to take the stage. Variously described as progressive metal, tech-metal or ‘djent’, the band has been around for over 10 years. Formed by John Browne, who is the one constant member, there have been many personnel changes, with the latest being the addition of Werner Erkelens on bass just ahead of this tour. I really have no idea what is coming next but within a few seconds of singer Andy Cizek’s arrival on stage, leading the band out, it is clear that this will be an unforgettable 45-minutes.
Monuments are an assault on all our senses, but in a good way. It genuinely feels to me like this is the antidote to the times we are living in, where all four of the band, and the audience, are absolutely in the moment. It is intense, but at the same time the anger within is controlled and the musicality is always impressive and the effect is maddeningly exciting. Empty Vessels Make the Most Noise is a particular highlight and the closer The Cimmerian, from their 2022 album In Stasis is – dare I say it – monumental. Andy Cizek is one of the most impressive and charismatic front men I have ever seen, and the rest of the band feed off his energy, whilst also contributing their own. The set flies by and although the 45-minutes has pushed me close to my limits, I am very glad for the experience.
I, the Creator
Empty Vessels Make the Most Noise
John Browne – Guitars
Mike Malyan – Drums
Andy Cizek – Vocals
Werner Erkelens – Bass
No matter how good the support bands have been, the excitement in the crowd is noticeably heightened as the time for Leprous to perform approaches. Leprous seem to have a loyal and growing following that bridges some of the genre gaps between the various progressive and metal scenes. They get an enthusiastic welcome on stage and open with Have You Ever? from 2022 album Aphelion. On record, this is a subtle track where Einar Solberg’s voice and range is showcased above keyboard effects, violin and cello, and a slow, metronomic drum beat. In the live setting, the instrumentation is boosted by the more obvious contributions of the three guitarists, providing more power and resonance to the sound. Baard Kolstad also happens to be a naturally gifted live performer on drums, and this track is a great opportunity for him to make his mark. Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello integrates superbly with the band and adds extra layers throughout the set.
Following are three heavier tracks picked from The Congregation (2015) and Malina (2017), and whilst Einar Solberg’s presence on stage is unmissable and emphasised by his stature, all the band are on top form. Given the way that each song structure requires multiple pivots and tempo changes they are tight as a unit and the overall sound is extremely well balanced.
Varying the pace, On Hold and Castaway Angels are two more tracks from Aphelion. On Hold has the catchiest chorus of the night and where the band is not quite able to replicate the power of the vocal backing on the recorded version, the audience does it’s best to make up for it. From the Flame, from Malina is a highlight, with a more straight-forward vocal delivered spectacularly by Mr Solberg and the band let loose picking out the various rhythms that drive the song.
Alleviate from 2019’s Pitfalls and Out of Here from Aphelion are similar in structure. It is a chance to catch some breathe and admire the skill of Mr Solberg, singing to the accompaniment of his own keyboard patterns, some light touch drumming and the cello until the full band eventually kick in to close out the songs. We have been treated to three talented vocalists tonight who, in their own way, have truly made the most of their impressive range and ability to project.
The Silent Revelation gets a great reception and provides another audience participation opportunity and a chance for communal screaming. It’s a great band number and also includes one of the few highlighted guitar solos of the night, from Tor Oddmund Suhrke.
Mb. Differentia is the band’s wildcard pick tonight, taken from the 2012 debut album Bilateral. This may have pleased some of the long-time fans but for me it was a bit under-whelming coming as it did towards the end of the set. The finale features Below which is an epic on a small scale, and Nighttime Disguise which at around seven minutes is one of the longer Leprous tracks and provides a more than satisfactory big finish to the main show. For the encore, The Sky is Red gives everyone – including the lighting designer – the chance to shine, to stretch out and express themselves to the full.
There was a festival feel to the evening, with the three bands being well matched and complementary across the musical genres, and the audience absorbed and engaged fully in each set. The sheer exuberance of each band and the excitement generated by the music was wholeheartedly appreciated. I ventured into the hall with just my limited knowledge of Leprous and came away having had many pre-conceptions washed away. Maybe, on reflection I have had too many experiences of watching familiar bands doing familiar sets in a familiar style? Kalandra, Monuments, and Leprous have shown me that there are other avenues and plenty more exciting vistas to be found.
Footnote: My thanks to Jez Rowden’s reviews of the most recent Leprous albums on the TPA site as they were a valuable and insightful introduction to the band.
[Photos by Jez Rowden from the show in Bristol on 11th February 2023.]
Have You Ever?
From the Flame
Out of Here
The Silent Revelation
The Sky Is Red
Einar Solberg – Vocals, Keyboards
Tor Oddmund Suhrke – Guitars
Robin Ognedal – Guitars
Simen Daniel Lindstad Børven – Bass
Baard Kolstad – Drums
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – Cello