Round Table Review
Leprous - Pitfalls
Raimond Fischbach's Review
After 10 years as a signed artist, Leprous stand proof that it is possible to be successful by not limiting your musical identity to a specific genre or drawer. If you go through their seven studio albums so far, you can only recognise the broad variations in style that the band has gone through. Thus, it is not such a surprise as singer Einar Solberg suggests, that Pitfalls is again different, and just because of that, the band's unique style shines brighter than ever before.
In no sense can Pitfalls be considered as a metal album, but I do have a hard time putting it into the pop drawer; the music is just too unique and experimental. It is indeed very mellow, yet fragile, and by that more 'Leprous' in style than any previous album.
Einar has said that Pitfalls is the most personal album he has ever written, and that he wrote the material while he was going through serious anxiety and depression. But thinking of an album in the vein of Coal would be entirely wrong.
The three advanced single releases represent the album in a good way. The material is very calm, considerate, very emotional, but not at all in a dark mood, except for the last semi-epic metal track, The Sky Is Red. Yet, there are a lot of major chords and harmonies going on, and I Lose Hope comes in an easy-going 70s disco style, played in a down-tempo shuffle groove that makes you wanna dance. An octave-alternating chorus, adds to that.
The overall arrangements are rather de-cluttered, so that every voice, be it human or instrumental, has enough room to shine. And there is a whole lot that shines! Not only Einar's vocals, which have once again improved by adding a good dose of classical falsetto and an overall emotional vibe. He once again also has an incredibly good hand at selecting brilliant keyboard tones.
The two guitarists TorO and Robin add as little as necessary to the mix, always taking care to not outdo their role, and you barely ever hear a heavily distorted guitar tone. And, yes, the lead instrument is back in Leprous. But on cello and violins. Raphael Weinroth-Browne's brilliant cello playing has been given more room in the arrangements, and wherever an instrumental lead made sense, it was his part to perform it. A second entry on strings has to be reported. Chris Baum, known from Bent Knee, assists on violin brilliantly.
Simen Børven has plenty of space to provide many different bass attitudes, from fragile to monstrous, and he delivers geniously. Even Baard 'The Shredder' Kolstad holds back the beast and plays as little as can be. For non-drummers this is where he shines best, because all his quiet playing of the cymbals and his ghost notes appear even more tricky than ever before. He fully understands where it makes sense to play some mild four-to-the-floor groves with no fills, and also at what point it is best to not play at all.
The first half of the album remains rather fragile, displaying the vulnerability of a depressive man. Only after a while does the music begin to slowly crescent into the roaring, heavy 11-minute track The Sky Is Red, which stops in the middle to make room for a whimsy cello, that painfully moves into a heavily-threatening finale. A complete classical choir appears in this section and adds an even more eerie atmosphere, until, all of a sudden, it all disappears and leaves you standing alone ... before the abyss.
This non-metal album, co-produced by Einar Solberg and metal mastermind David Castillo is a sheer masterpiece, in which every single note is performed with ultimate dedication. There is not one note that sits in the wrong place. It has an incredibly well-spun arc and lets you almost physically feel what the writer went through when creating it. And while celebrating the five geniuses that Leprous are, we should not forget to credit Thomas Waber of InsideOut Music. A man who has been keeping all marketing nonsense away from great artists for 25 years now and supports them in doing what they do best: creating music from the inside of their hearts.
Ignacio Bernaola's Review
I've been listening to Leprous since they released Bilateral in 2011. I was not a die-hard fan but I've enjoyed their albums quite a lot since then, specially their most recent album from 2017, Malina. During all these years I've been discovering their new songs and watching them get bigger and gaining more recognition, and I'm happy for them because they deserve it. But they never caught me 100%.
The same thing happens to me with Haken; they are really good but for some reason I don't return to their albums very often. But from now on, after not being able to stop playing Pitfalls, I consider myself a die-hard fan of Leprous.
Throughout the early part of this year the band was busy preparing the ground; to let their followers know that the sound of their next album was going to be totally different. It was because of this, that I decided to take part in this round table review. Somehow I was waiting for this new sound from Leprous. Besides, I like challenges and I really appreciate artists taking risks (I really like that album from Chris Cornell having electronic pop soundscapes and drum machine beats). But this change in approach doesn't have to discourage those missing the prog metal days of Bilateral and Coal. Rather the opposite, because Leprous' essence is still here and more intense than ever.
To understand this album properly it is helpful to read Einar Solberg words about how this music and the lyrics came to life. The singer explains how lyrically this is his most personal album to date and how he has been dealing with anxiety and depression during the last year and a half. It is a really honest effort that can be easily appreciated in the way he sings, but also because he has written his personal experiences in a very straightforward manner. All of this is perfectly represented in every song of the album and once you press start you realise this one is different; still sounding like Leprous but a different Leprous, both musically and lyrically.
Opening the album, we find their first single, entitled Below. I'm pretty sure many of you have already listened to it, because it was widely promoted to offer idea of how Leprous' new music was going to be. It has some great vocal performances by Einar and new types of orchestral arrangements. Below is a great track but believe it or not, it may be one of the least interesting in Pitfalls. When you start listening to the second song, I Lose Hope, you know this is going to be different.
Pop arrangements and catchy choruses, mixed with darkness and again great vocals. I'm not going to mention the vocals again because Einar does a brilliant job during the whole album. This is a great song for a single too and has some very interesting low guitar sounds. Observe The Train is a beautiful slow song with crescendo parts. By My Throne accelerates the tempo, with its brilliant opening guitar and synthethiser parts, whilst adding more layers towards the end of the song. Another superb chorus and string arrangements.
Time now for the second single, Alleviate. A great song that should be a major hit on all radio stations; if progressive rock artists had more resources to promote themselves. It is hard to dislike this one, with all these soft elements before the great explosion towards the end of the song. The only bad thing about it: I wish it would last longer.
But no need to worry because At The Bottom goes next and it is a personal favourite, including all the previously mentioned elements, and it lasts more than seven minutes. This one is an absolute masterpiece by Leprous with slow parts, powerful choruses, fantastic vocals (I did it again but totally deserved) and even string arrangements that remind me of a classic film that I can't recall.
In Distant Bells Leprous does it again with a soft beginning and powerful ending. One could say that they repeat this formula too often, but they are really good at doing this, and here the final chorus just nails the song. The next track, Foreigner, is the reason I'm not giving Pitfalls a ten. Don't take me wrong, it's a good song and it's a rockier song, but after all the previous ones, I wasn't expecting this. It would have fitted better in Malina.
The Sky Is Red on the contrary is still a rock song but it's different and it fits perfectly as the last song. Truly progressive modern rock here, that closes the album in a very dark way but giving the listener well known complex rhythms like only Leprous can deliver.
It is not easy to describe in words such a different album, but two things are for sure. It is a really good one and I can not stop playing it. Leprous is progressing from progressive rock into something else. One can use many names and labels, but Leprous is being more Leprous than ever this time. It would be interesting to check how they perform these new songs live and also how they keep progressing in the future. If it is going to be like this, count me in.
Baris Dai's Review
As one of the most productive progressive bands of the past decade, Leprous are already well known for their unique and ever-changing style. Their musical experimentations have constantly been developing this Norwegian band, but the core element of their sound is always distinct in every album. Pitfalls is no different from the other Leprous releases when it comes to experimentation and progress; however, it might this time be a little too different from what you might be expecting from the band.
Though Leprous do not affiliate themselves with a specific genre, I thought I would hear a progressive metal album from them. I was wrong. Early this year, the band released a cover version of Massive Attack's Angel, and now I see that that was an "expect the unexpected" signal from the band.
Pitfalls, particularly the first half of it, has much more easy-listening tunes compared to the previous releases of the band. Nevertheless, every song has a signature Leprous move that should make fans satisfied while making the band more approachable for a more general audience. Thinking about the awkward moment when I introduced Leprous to a blues-lover friend with The Congregation, I think Pitfalls would have been a much better introduction by its easy-to-digest nature. However, I don't think the band designed the album to be more famous outside the progressive metal world; on the contrary, it is a very sincere album about a battle against depression, but one which happens to have a mellow atmosphere.
The first five tracks are basically poppy Leprous songs. Though they feel unfamiliar, in a blind test you would be likely to say: "Oh, is that Leprous?" Below opens the album nicely, as it serves as a warm-up song for the easy-listening Leprous. It has the Leprous qualities with its slow and melancholic nature.
Observe The Train is some kind of "Made in Nordic Countries" sticker on the album. When listening to this song, the vocal style and harmonies together with instrumentation reminded me of Agent Fresco; maybe a result of the two bands touring together in 2017 and 2018.
After the first three songs, the intro of By My Throne made me shout "Finally! That's the Leprous I know!". Then the drums kicked in and turned it into a disco song! Hearing that guitar tune and thinking about how Baard Kolstad generally drums, I feel like there is something missing in that song. Probably it is just because of my expectations, and maybe I would have liked it if it were not a Leprous song.
I Lose Hope and Alleviate are the two most approachable songs of the album. Each of them can easily be a hit if they are published in platforms followed by bigger audiences. After all, I do not think the songs I mentioned are bad at all. They are just unexpectedly poppy and it took a long time for me to get used to them. In fact, they are quite catchy once you get used to them, if that's your cup of tea.
The second half of the album is heavier, darker, more progressive and more experimental; basically a more familiar Leprous production.
If you like the string arrangements in Leprous' music, in combination with complex, distorted guitar riffs, you get it all in At The Bottom. It is a great link between the two parts of the album, due to the structural changes in the song. Distant Bells is one of those Leprous-style ballads that I really like. The way it starts with a mellow and emotional mood, before turning into a dark and heavy atmosphere is something that you will have experienced with Leprous before. The Cloak has the same role in Coal, just like Slave in The Congregation.
Foreigner is similar to the songs in the first half of the album structure-wise, but it is heavier and goes well with the flow of the album.
I think the last song, The Sky is Red, deserves a review by itself. To be honest, it dramatically affected my rating in a positive way. With classic Leprous guitar riffs and drums, "weird" and expressive vocals, a classical choir arrangement, a lovely guitar solo with one of the most beautiful guitar tones that I have ever heard and a long psychedelic section. I love everything about this song. Then the album ends with a "What was that!?" feeling, which I also liked.
Though Pitfalls might not appeal to every progressive music lover and/or Leprous fan, I recommend this album to everyone to have a listen. The album carries the unique artistry of the band in both poppy and familiar parts of the album. It is a successful release for a band who do not associate themselves with a specific genre, yet have their own style. Prepare yourself, and enjoy the unexpectedness.