After the release of their 2013 album, Coal, Norwegian Leprous have quickly made their way to the frontlines of progressive music. For prog enthusiasts, the band has naturally been familiar as part of Ihsahn’s [Emperor] live offering, but in the last few years they’ve been busy conquering the world on their own. Leprous has played in Finland plenty of times, and their latest show at this year’s Ilosaarirock was a blast. Having just released their latest album, Malina, the band embarked on a sizable European tour, starting in Russia and making their way to Finland for a three-show run. The band’s fans in Helsinki had the chance to enjoy Leprous alongside Agent Fresco from Iceland, Alithia from Australia (!), and their Norwegian countrymen, Astrosaur, at Tavastia, on October 24th, 2017.
I’d thought beforehand about how the date would play a part in people’s attendance, since Tuesday is the quietest night of the week, and there also was a show in Nosturi featuring Mayhem on the same evening. We headed to Tavastia as soon as the doors opened, but already at 18:30, Tavastia’s bar was nicely crowded. There’s always some hassle related to the first shows of a tour, and the timetables were pushed back by half an hour from the start – the stage space wasn’t open and judging from the sound, the line check wasn’t done. When the stage doors were pulled aside at 19:20, the bar was almost packed. Apparently pre-sale tickets had sold well, as the upstairs was also open!
Astrosaur kicked things off at about 19:30, and the three-piece from Oslo played a nice 30 minutes of instrumental progressive-ish rock. I’d hastily listened through their debut, Fade In // Space Out, released only this year, and the songs worked even better live. Their material contained a good deal of variation, as the opener, “Necronauts”, features a really mellow part in the middle, only to jump to a furious blastbeat in the end. I have to say that their drummer, Jonatan Eikum, thundered away with a respectably relaxed grip. Eikum played a traditional rock drumset, but because he needed a china cymbal for the second and third songs, he took out his other crash and placed a smaller effect cymbal underneath it. Quite inventive! Astrosaur utilized a wide array of sounds otherwise as well, as at some point only a guitar sound was present, but it didn’t come from Eirik Kråkenes’ guitar but from Steinar Glas’ bass instead, only pushed through some effect pedal. The band probably was fairly unknown to a majority of the audience, but the clapping and cheering seemed to get louder towards the end of their set. A great start!
Next up was Alithia, joining the tour all the way from Melbourne, Australia. I rarely get the chance to say that I don’t know what to expect from a show, as the band’s second album, To the Edge of Time, left me pretty bewildered after the single playthrough I had time for; the long and winding compositions didn’t seem to have a common thread at all. Various metal medias have praised their shows in the past, so I decided to approach the situation with interest. Unfortunately, the show confirmed my preconceptions, as the result was a bit over half an hour of prog spiced with some kind of world music themes with pretty much nothing in place. The songs had too many ideas without any glue to hold them together, leading to abrupt tempo changes and verse-preceding interludes during which nothing seemed to happen on stage. The six-piece band had recruited Marjana Semkina from the Russian band Iamthemorning as vocalist, but her (beautiful) voice was mixed too inaudibly and her pitch was almost disturbingly flat at times – this might of course been because of bad stage monitoring, preventing her from hearing herself. Alithia’s sound tech seemed to be a bit stressed out behind the desk, and for example, keyboardist Jeffrey Castro, having the looks of Chuck Billy’s twin brother who’s deeply interested in mindfulness, couldn’t get his electric bongo drums and other percussion to rise above the guitars. If there’s something Alithia can’t be accused of, though, it’s being boring to watch on stage, as the players switched positions on a number of occasions and took advantage of the limited stage space by other means. It was a bummer that “Sacrifice” was played last, as its rising intensity towards the end was the only part of the set to cause more reaction in the audience than polite applause. If the band manages to write more coherent songs to their next album, Alithia might turn out just fine, but at this point I’ll have to say that I didn’t get it.
If Alithia left a somewhat sore taste to my mouth, the next band turned the evening’s course completely around. I saw Agent Fresco’s previous Helsinki show last autumn, when they were opening up for Katatonia, and I honestly don’t remember the last time I’d been as excited about new music or seen a show as perfect as that. The band’s more recent album, Destrier, is a 10/10 record, but what can you expect from a band that’s been formed only a few weeks before participating in and emptying the prize table of Iceland’s revered Músíktilraunir contest? I anticipated a sublime show and that’s what I received. Agent Fresco’s music is full of contrast – their set began with “Anomia” and “He is Listening” from the debut album, A Long Time Listening, the former including the guitarist Þórarinn Guðnason’s piano melody, with the latter charging to a snarky djent passage with Arnór Dan Arnarson’s screaming. Arnarson utilized his microphone marvelously by waving it in front of his face, fading his voice in and out, and it seems that the mic cord and the stage floor make up a nice percussion instrument as he lashed away. The drummer, Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson, with his almost obscenely large afro hair, along with the bassist Nicolai Mogensen, held the package together with ease. Mogensen, from the Danish band VOLA, had actually been summoned to fill in for Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson, who had to stay in Iceland and get ready to become a father.
The 45-minute set, comprised mostly of Destrier’s material, went by in a flash, and the band actually played one completely new song as well. Arnarson thanked the audience numerous times during the show, and one could easily spot the attendees who had mainly come to see them. If you, for some reason, decided to skip the night altogether or arrived to only see Leprous, do not fret – I think it’s safe to assume that the band will return to town. I personally feel that Agent Fresco is one of the most important (a bit) heavier bands these days, along with Ne Obliviscaris, for example, even they aren’t close to each other musically.
2. He Is Listening
5. Wait For Me
6. (a new song)
7. See Hell
10. Dark Water
11. Eyes of a Cloud Catcher
12. The Autumn Red
Agent Fresco left the stage pretty much scorched for Leprous, but the Norwegians handled the situation with ease. The band had a featuring cello player with them, who started the show almost thievingly, as he was the last to do a soundcheck during the changeover, then stayed on stage, began a solo, during which the rest of the band got on stage and began the set with “Bonneville” and “Stuck” from the new Malina album. The sheer virtuosity of the band shouldn’t be unclear to anyone who has seen Leprous live before, but their playing and especially Einar Solberg’s magnificent voice just get me every time. Solberg had considerable problems with his voice on the release tour of their previous album, The Congregation, but as with this year’s Ilosaari, this night he was at full throttle. The band’s newest member, second guitarist Robin Ognedal, has clearly claimed his spot, as one doesn’t even notice Øystein Landsverk’s absence anymore. The featuring cellist brought the finishing touch, as the “Stuck” outro, for example, would’ve been a bummer to hear from a backing track.
The first half of the set featured some surprising choices, as “Moon” from The Congregation and “Salt” from Coal were played, the latter being its live debut. “The Valley”, on the other hand, is a staple in Leprous’ live set in my opinion. Because this was the Malina release tour, the set was built around its material, and in the end a whopping eight songs were played from the album. “The Price”, the first encore song, as well as “Rewind”, completely deserve their place in the set, although I would’ve loved to hear the latter in full, as the faster ending is one of The Congregation’s finest moments. The second album, Bilateral, was featured with only “Restless.” Leprous probably would’ve had time to do a second encore if the timetables hadn’t gone awry – like in Ilosaari, it would’ve been a pleasure to hear the band’s Greatest Song, “Forced Entry.” Visually, the show was excellent, as Leprous’ light tech used everything the Tavastia stage had to offer to his advantage. The mix was great, though I can’t recall seeing a bad-sounding Tavastia show. The coatroom queue seemed so long that if the evening wasn’t sold out, it probably was close.
In conclusion: one great, one not that great, and two awesome shows! The 25€ tickets were pretty affordably priced, as one might easily have to pay the same amount for popular Finnish bands. Thank you to Leprous and Agent Fresco, until next time!
5. The Valley
10. The Weight of Disaster
11. The Last Milestone
12. The Price
14. From the Flame
Photos: Marco Manzi