Label: InsideOut Records
If you’re looking into what’s hot in prog these days, hopefully one of the first bands you’ll find is Leprous, who were formerly known as just Ihsahn’s band until they started blowing minds with their own albums and, within the last 10 years, have become a household name in the prog scene. A full decade after their debut release, Tall Poppy Syndrome, they are releasing their sixth studio album, Pitfalls, and the second following Malina to focus more on clean vocals.
Calling myself a Leprous fan would be a bit of a stretch, as I haven’t actually listened to any of their albums more than a handful of times. I did, however, see them live with the Devin Townsend Project several years back and really enjoyed their set.
The album opens gently with the soft sounds of “Below,” and Einar Solberg‘s vocals eerily enter, creating a nice long build-up and tease of what is to come before Solberg just begins to absolutely wail. His voice is so massive and powerful it brings chills right up the spine. Strings and strong rhythms then kick in to set the tone for the rest of the album before a surprising time change. After all, let’s not forget that this is a prog band! This song is massively dynamic, powerful, dramatic, and passionate, and an easy contender for Most Chilling Song of the year!
The album mellows out a touch with “Losing Hope,” which shows off the higher spectrum of Solberg’s range, but a more consistent dynamic spectrum. The nuances in the music are ever-changing and the groove manages to stay fairly funky despite the eerie quality of the vocals. “Observe the Train” is very gentle and soft, loosening up the eerie quality but not letting it go completely, almost feeling like a lullaby but isn’t the sort of song that will put you to sleep. We hear more of Solberg’s high notes in here, which is definitely not a complaint.
The beat picks up for “By My Throne,” which has a really cool, proggy groove to open it up that’s different from everything else heard so far, yet still fits in with the album’s overall vibe. The alluring synths and sparky drums keep the beat interesting and there are so many fun parts to sing along to (though most of us normies might not be able to hit those notes).
A simple, slightly warbly synth sound opens “Alleviate” alongside the vocals, that develops cleverly into what feels like plucked string instruments as it builds up into something that strikes some rather strong emotional cords even without knowing the lyrics. “At the Bottom” and “Distant Bells” are two of the longer tracks on the album, both clocking in at almost seven and a half minutes. The former has backing sounds that remind me of the drama of old James Bond themes, as well as some very mystical strings, while “Distant Bells” is one of the most mysterious songs on the album (and it’s a pretty mysterious-sounding album). Don’t take this to mean it’s soft though, as this song has one of the most epic dynamic build-ups into some of the most gut-wrenchingly emotional and powerful vocals to be found on this album (and possibly any other album this year).
“Foreigner” has a bit more of a traditional rock or metal groove to it, with strong guitar lines and really good rhythms. This one stands out a bit from the rest of the album by being so… traditional? Yet at the same time, it still feels like a welcome change of pace in an album that is otherwise very melancholic and ambient. The album then ends with the 11-minute epic, “The Sky is Red.” It’s hard to really break this song down and describe. It starts out quite peppy with, again, very passionate vocals. It breaks up the “action” by slowing things down on more than one occasion and includes some instrumental moments that nicely showcasing each band member’s strengths. There’s a very creepy string part around two thirds of the way through that has an excellent climactic build-up. It brings the whole album together nicely by bringing more or less every element we’ve already heard, plus more, into one grand closer that rises and falls beautifully until it reaches its big climax and then fades out with those same eerie string notes as the last thing that you hear.
On listening to this album, I became rather upset with myself for only really trying this band out now. Even though I’ve seen them live, somehow it wasn’t until this album that I’ve come to see what they’ve got going on. Granted, prog and I have a bit of a hit-or-miss relationship and a lot of prog bands do take time to open up to me. What’s great about Pitfalls is that its general feeling is so eerie, yet it feels as though it could be fitting for so many moods and not necessarily gloomy moods either. The whole album feels like a work of art that I’ve only just scratched the surface of by listening to it, and I feel like if (or rather, when) I read the lyrics, I’ll be able to peel back so many more layers. To be totally honest, I feel a bit like the rug got swept out from under my feet, and I like it!
Rating: 9/10, 5 stars
2. Losing Hope
3. Observe the Train
4. By My Throne
6. At the Bottom
7. Distant Bells
9. The Sky is Red