Leprous – Pitfalls
Merrian-Webster Dictionary describes the meaning of pitfalls as “a pit flimsily covered or camouflaged used to capture and hold animals or men – a hidden or not easily recognized danger or difficulty”. This captures essentially what falling into a depressive and anxious state does to us. It is a trap set by our mind, a cage where it keeps us from seeing beyond the fear that we inflict to ourselves, fake dangers, fears and doubts that stops us from being ourselves and enjoy life.
This album, sublimely named “Pitfalls” by Norwegian band Leprous tears down a wall and offers a clear view to this state of mind some of us suffer. Guided by Einar Solberg with his vocals and synths and as main composer, the band takes the listener through a journey of fear, self-deprecation, learning and atonement, to emerge with a deeper understanding about depression and anxiety, and even ourselves. It is a difficult journey and a different one, at times filled with anger or hope. As varied as the human mind can be, Leprous created this musical journey as a reflection of these contradictory emotions.
Leprous has become a staple brand in the progressive genre despite rejecting any genre tag, they just create the music they feel. And yes, they do! The different musical backgrounds from each band member shine through the music. These 5 talented Norwegians have joined their best efforts to produce what is by far their best album to date. Pitfalls is something else, is an album that marks a before and after, not only in Leprous discography, but I dare to say in this very difficult to describe music genre that progressive rock music has become. They have developed their own unique sound that sets them apart from any tag or subgenre, and they reached the pinnacle. They do rock, they do progressive, you name it: they do Leprous music.
Bear with me, this will be a different and long review. I don’t even know if I should call it review, it is more like a downpour of my own feelings and emotions after digging deeper in an album that really hit me straight to the core and turned on a light on the darkest pit within myself. It is definitely a grower, not so easy to digest at first listen. This might be one of the reasons why it has drawn so much controversy and discussions online after each single was released. I can’t imagine what the storm will look like when the album drops in Oct. 25th.
Controversies apart, regarding Leprous as metal or not, the album was recorded with David Castillo (Opeth, Katatonia) at Ghostward Studios in Stockholm. It took the band 75 days, a long process in which Einar and David delved into every single detail. For the final mix, the band went in for someone different outside the obvious metal choices: looking for a different sound they worked with Adam Noble (Placebo, Deaf Havana). Despite this choice, the final mix is unmistakable Leprous.
I must add that every instrument sounds clearer, though Tor Oddmund Suhrke’s and Robin Ognedal’s guitars crunchy sound was somehow downgraded in favour of more keyboards, strings and rhythm section presence, with Simen Daniel Børven and Baard Kolstad taking the lead many times. The stunning vocals from Einar are the conducting thread as in every Leprous album, but also the backing vocals by TorO and Simen have much more presence than in previous records. Another obvious change is that it is the first time both Einar and TorO are not delving in lyrical metaphors, it is not needed to dissect every word, you will get the straight direct punch-in-your-face meaning, and boy it hurts!
With “Pitfalls”, the band created by far the most complex album in their discography, even if the end product at times might sound more accessible, the intricately layered sound is something to behold. Yes, there are moments where the songs sound direct, less complex, structured in a simpler way, but I happen to agree with Einar when he says: “obvious complexity isn’t complex at all”. Music doesn’t need to be structured in an overly-complicated fashion to have depth while being well-composed.
Now if you’re interested, I went in-depth through each song. This approach also served me to better understand the journey Leprous went through, and surprisingly, it helped me see better my own battles by understanding the one Einar went through. This album is a very personal album for him, as he sings about his battle against depression and anxiety, and it became a personal album for myself, as it somehow helped me understand better my own battles.
Leprous – Below (click here if the video doesn’t play)
‘Below’ was the first single released. Though it signifies a swift transition from their previous album “Malina”, as an opener is a perfect introduction, musically and lyrically to this very complex and different album. The song is a gut-wrenching direct description of what it feels like to have a bout of depression. The song overall takes us through different emotions, in a somewhat safe Leprous-sound manner. Strings and keyboard take the lead of the song while guitars remain as the base from where the song is built, leaving behind the metallic crunch favouring a raw and at the same time subtle sound. This signals somehow the change in musical direction the band has taken. But even if the song is the perfect transition from “Malina”, don’t let it fool you: “Pitfalls” is a completely different album.
Is ‘I Lose Hope’ the trippiest Leprous song ever? The bass and drums in the first seconds remind me of “Another one bite the dust” by Queen, but it quickly changes when guitars take the lead joined by the voices of Einar and TorO in a very ‘trippy’ way flirting with 70’s disco music. But in the next move, everything changes again to that dark Leprous sound I love. I cannot help for moments to go back to “Bilateral” times. The song structure is different, and even if at first listen it might make you think the song is just some pop tune, in truth, it is much more. It is one of those songs that needs several listening sessions to discover how many layers it has, and how interesting the composition is.
It flows through different styles and moods, I can catch almost every Leprous “style” in it. The words were written by TorO and they take us through the ups and downs one can have when living with anxiety. We can be successful and be at the top, but our plan suddenly changes as our head begins to paint everything differently and we end up retreating and escaping, losing all hope to fulfil what we set ourselves to do. Musically I love how at approx. 3 minutes in, the song changes completely, mirroring the change to darkness the anxious mind takes us through.
‘Observe The Train’ is simply one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. The metaphor of the train passing by fits perfectly. As one living with anxiety myself, I know exactly what Einar meant in this song, both lyrically and musically. It is a journey to invite you to let it all flow in order to calm down and learn to release the fears gripping you. I keep coming back to it for this purpose exactly. Einar mentioned his fight against his own emotions was for moments consuming him, only to realize the way out of the sinking feeling is precisely to let emotions pass, to observe them from outside and let the train leave. It will come back, but just don’t step on it. Like struggling out of the quicksand, the best way out of it is staying still.
Musically, it is one of the best songs I’ve heard from the Norwegians. The vocal structures are stunning, as well as the gradual crescendo to conclude it. I cannot help to think about something Steven Wilson would have produced as the layers of music from each instrument and orchestration build up… but it has the distinctive Leprous sound, though at the same time it is so different from anything they have ever recorded. Einar’s voice is at his best, beautiful and velvety, like singing a lullaby teaching us how to overcome these overwhelming feelings: just let the train of thoughts pass by and breathe in, breathe out, release, let it all out.
‘By My Throne’ – is one of the most different songs I’ve heard from the band. While it still sounds distinctively Leprous, at the same time it is one of the “different ones” on this album. As an intro, the by now “classic Leprous” guitars in complex time patterns are upfront for the first time. Simen’s bass lines then appear to take the lead, while Einar’s keyboard soundscapes and vocal melodies set the tone. Then we get Disco vibes which remind me of “Disco Queen” by Pain of Salvation, but just because of the crossing-genres bits here and there. But of course, whether they wanted it or not, Leprous know how to convert this into a massive progressive tune.
The rhythm section, with Simen leading and Baard setting the pace, bring in a clear influence from trip-hop to end in a complex syncopated rhythmic base. Guitars fall to a complementary role, creating ambience along with the dreamy synths while the vocals and bass lines are the ones who lead on this very odd song. Lyrics take us through a dark road, more in the likes of previous albums, TorO used this time some metaphors alongside more direct meanings, continuing the same theme of “I Lose Hope” but ironically ends in a positive, hopeful way.
Leprous – Alleviate (click here if the video doesn’t play)
When the second single of the album was released, ‘Alleviate’ was loved and hated in almost equal measures. No wonder why it was selected as single and highlighted as “controversial”. Musically, I can understand the move, as the catchy vocal lines would work perfectly as a pop song, but when I sit down and listen to it in full attention, the layered complexity of the song shines through. Baard’s drumming is at its best, and he shows how he can draw complex figures without showing off. But yes, I feel the song is built to be the “perfect single”.
The song is the one I feel less drawn to it, maybe it is a bit too simple for my love for complex beauty, though I don’t hate it, and it signals the positive climax (at the half of the album!) on a very dark record. Einar mentioned in interviews that ‘Alleviate’ is the most positive of the songs in this journey. Lyrically, it pairs with ‘Observe the Train’ as it tells us that the best thing to do when we are in that state of mind, is to lose control and wait until it passes. Everything will be alright.
‘At The Bottom’ is one of the longer tracks of the album, its length foreshadows what an awesome song this one is. If you love “Bilateral” and “The Congregation”, you will love this song. The build-up of the song is simply amazing making me feel goosebumps throughout the whole song. This will be a killer live and it is without any doubt my favourite song of the album. Starting with the keyboard and Baard’s electronic drums, vocals join to build a sort of whimsical ambient which is the opposite of what Einar sings about: the right moment when the anxious mind is about to burst in a fit of desperation, which finally does in the chorus, but not in a negative way but also with a fitting positive message reminding us that the best is to let it all out to gain our strength again.
The build-up during the second chorus reaches the climax releasing all the energy to then fall back to Raphael Weinroth-Browne‘s beautiful cello melodies. This gives a welcoming respite. You can feel the desperation creeping up, like climbing a mountain to find release at the top, when all instruments join. The violin join and the strings arrangement from Chris Baum (Bent Knee) are superb, almost cinematic, bringing the feeling of expansion when the band in full comes back in a closure that gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes every single time I listen to it. What a rollercoaster of emotions this song is!
Leprous – Alleviate (click here if the video doesn’t play)
‘Distant Bells’ changes the pace. Musically, it can be placed in line with ‘Boneville’ or ‘The Last Milestone’ from “Malina”, but the song has and is much more. The main musical lines were written by Simen while vocal melodies were completed by Einar. I think this song is one of the most honest texts Einar has written – I know how difficult it can be to lift the head just to fall back again on the black hole our mind sweeps us in. When he screams “I’ve been around for all these years, I fell to the ground yet again“, I can truly feel his pain, I’ve been there.
The string arrangements shine through once again, alongside the synths, piano and guitars, they all add little touches layer by layer in a slow build-up. Everything fits in perfect unison like an orchestra conducted by Einar’s sublime voice. Baard’s subtle drumming more than just marking the times becomes a protagonist in its own right. Not leaving behind the accompanying guitars with their classic Leprous-delays, it all fits and embraces the string arrangement perfectly in a superb though melancholic crescendo ending on the massive last chorus of the song with Einar singing at the top of his vocal abilities, lined by the backing vocals of TorO and Simen. Goosebumps again. Should I dare imagine this song live? WOW!
‘Foreigner’ is “Pitfalls” most classical Leprous song. Musically speaking it could have been extracted from any album of their discography, though the clear sound from “Coal”, “The Congregation” or “Malina” is upfront. For those who say Leprous is not the same band, sorry but not sorry to correct you, they have evolved, but Leprous is just Leprous. What fascinates me from their music is exactly that: the ability to change their musical direction, to evolve, but still being themselves, still recognizable and still Leprous.
This song will be a killer live! I hope the band decides to include this song on their upcoming tour! Lyrically it is a fighting song indeed with winks to “The Congregation” by mentioning exactly this word and some minutes later that “within my fence” line. Nice hints there, yes, they have not forgotten from where they come from, and this song is a statement for this. Musically speaking it could be the ‘weakest’ link in this chain of complex compositions. It is the most direct song and even if the guitar sound is not strictly metal, the whole song is a link to the progressive metal heritage from Leprous. Should I call it past? Honestly, I don’t think the band won’t play their classic songs live, so I don’t think calling it ‘their metal past’ is really fitting.
At 11:21, ‘The Sky Is Red’ is the longest and most complex song of the album if not of their whole discography. For good reason, it was chosen as the closing one. Already from the intro, we can foresee this epic song is something different. Undoubtedly it has the sound direction and musicality Leprous have developed in recent years, but the whole song is constructed differently somehow. It is as well one of the darkest songs in terms of lyrics. Deals with the defeat, falling into the arms of rage and desperation, the fight within ourselves is over and we’ve lost, we fell into the pitfall again. Would we climb up and out of it?
The song has some very interesting time and pacing changes which along the synth background makes the flow of the song different. The chorus (is it?) is already different, though in a classic Leprous-melody fashion, creates a slow and dark build-up. Baard’s grooves are the conducting thread that holds everything together. And when we get the only guitar solo of the album it produces a really emotional break with melody among the strong presence of hypnotizing rhythms.
I truly love the spooky feeling it gives when the vocal choir (recorded in Belgrade) rises above the syncopated pattern of the violin when it takes over the conducting line. Strings, drums, vocal choir, all join in a complex though slow rhythmic pattern creating a cinematic work of art. The strangest piece of music Leprous has ever written grows into full band and choir creating an atmosphere that won’t leave you untouched. It is chilling! What a way to end this very emotional album!
Music and lyrics fit perfectly, I wonder why the band chose such a strong and gut-wrenching song to close this terrific album, instead of a more hope-bearing torch, But I think I can understand why they did so. The song leaves an open scar, there is no closure, the inner, individual fight against depression and anxiety is a tough one, it leaves us exhausted. We can fall or we can rise, but the circle comes back again and again. We must choose to live with it and learn from our experiences, without clinging to it. But sometimes we lose, sometimes the only thing left is pain and we can only retreat. The future is an open blank book…
- I Lose Hope
- Observe The Train
- By My Throne
- At The Bottom
- Distant Bells
- The Sky Is Red
Leprous will be embarking on an extensive European tour, check the dates below:
LEPROUS + The Ocean & Port Noir – Europe Tour 2019:
- 01 November Esch (Luxembourg) – Rockhal
- 02 November Zwolle (The Netherlands) – Hedon
- 03 November Leiden (The Netherlands) – Gebr. De Nobel
- 04 November Berlin (Germany) – Kesselhaus
- 05 November Köln (Germany) – Kantine
- 06 November Frankfurt (Germany) – Batschkapp
- 07 November Antwerp (Belgium) – Zappa
- 08 November London (UK) – ULU
- 09 November Manchester (UK) – Academy 2
- 11 November Zurich (Switzerland) – Plaza
- 12 November Paris (France) – Cabaret Sauvage
- 13 November Lyon (France) – CCO
- 14 November Biarritz (France) – Atabal
- 15 November Madrid (Spain) – Shoko
- 16 November Barcelona (Spain) – Apolo
- 18 November Parma (Italy) – Campus Music Industry
- 19 November Munich (Germany) – Freiheiz
- 20 November Vienna (Austria) – Szene
- 21 November Prague (Czech Republic) – Palac Akropolis
- 22 November Dresden (Germany) – Beatpol
- 23 November Wroclaw (Poland) – Pralnia
- 24 November Hamburg (Germany) – Uebel & Gefahrlich
- 25 November Copenhagen (Denmark) – Lille Vega
- 26 November Gothenburg (Sweden) – Pustervik
- 27 November Stockholm (Sweden) – Fryshuset Klubben
LEPROUS only in Norway:
- 28 November Oslo (Norway) – Vulkan Arena
- 29 November Stavanger (Norway) – Folken
- 30 November Hamar (Norway) – Festiviteten
LEPROUS with Amorphis, Soilwork & The Ocean (Finland only):
- 05 December Turku (Finland) – Logomo
- 06 December Rauha (Finland) – Saimaa Areena
- 07 December Helsinki (Finland) – Ice Hall