Onsdag 25.august 2021
At around 7pm of a late summer evening, there’s about two hours of light left, before the sun crosses the mountains that skirt Heddal and leaves the gentle cobbles and waters of Notodden in twilight. At this time, this evening, Leprous took the stage to showcase their new, unreleased, album «Aphelion» (Reviewed here!). (You can see the concert until 1 September at Munin.live.)
In their own way, they have been blazing a trail in their own orbit, in part in their collaboration with the Munin.Live platform, in their embracing of live streams as a way of reaching their fans while touring has not been possible. This evening marked another milestone on that journey. It’s not all that unusual to hear one song live for the first time, but it is rare indeed to hear a whole album live before the record has been released. For the handful of folk who had made the journey to see the event in person, in the Riksteatret in Notodden, including people from German and Italy, and all of the fans watching online, this was the first glimpse of the new album, bar the singles.
It was a brave offering, a moment of vulnerability and openness which few bands would have undertaken. The excitement, and tension, for them was palpable. You could feel the question that hung in the air – how will it sound? Will we pull this off?
“Running Low”, one of the tracks already released, is a great opener – the piano chiming like the clock of the apocalypse, tense strings, driving edgy rhythms, and the kind of vocal acrobatics that Einar Solberg (vox, keys) has made his own. It’s a song which grabs the attention, but it also gave the band a little space to warm up.
They continued through the album in track order, and they grew into the show, with Solberg, the increasingly accomplished raconteur front-man, as he has learned to speak to the audience, both present and remote, to draw them in. He took us through the story of the song-writing process for each track, telling us how “Running Low” was written on a mountain hike, and how “The Silent Revelation” and “The Shadow Side” had been the results of reworking earlier ideas. When he wasn’t telling stories, he was wailing in his flute-like falsetto or bellowing from behind his keyboard, or more often from a small dais at the front edge of the stage, arms raised, fingers outstretched, projecting his enormous voice and presence out into the audience, and clutching at their response to music he clearly so much hoped that they would love. “Running Low”, “Silhouette”, and “Castaway Angels” stand out, but as usual he gave every ounce of his energy to the vocal performance.
Tor Oddmund Suhrke (guitar, keys) is the foil to Solberg’s increasingly voluble stage persona. He seems happy enough to let his music do the talking. He has contributed more synth to this latest album, on at least six songs by his reckoning, and so plays less guitar than before. “The Shadow Side” is one of his – but he made little fuss about his songwriting contribution when it was called out by drummer Bård Kolstad (“Fun fact – the song written by the guitarist has no guitar on it”). His sitting, finger-picking the guitar part for “Castaway Angels”, looking over at Solberg on the piano, was a delicate, haunting moment among the otherwise intense programme.
By the time they were half way through, the band were as tight as they ever are, and any signs of nerves were gone but from his physical evocations of the audience, it looked like Solberg was questing more than ever for an answer to that question.
The live experience is always different – the arrangements must be adjusted and the dynamics are usually more stark. However, no Leprous fan could possibly be disappointed. For new music, not songs toured for years, the performance was remarkably polished, but at the same time, the music had that raw quality that live music should have. The drums of course are louder – Kolstad played the set of his life and did not miss a beat and his work in the later part of “The Silent Revelation” and his more conventional, but especially smooth work in the closing section of “Castaway Angels” both stood out. The guitar parts were also clearer in the absence of album production. Robin Ognedal (guitar), who has been in the band only since 2017, being the most recent member, has a distinctive voice now in the band’s sound, his strat and more blues-informed playing serving as a lyrical contrast to the more familiar Leprous backdrop of deep, edgy, driving rhythms. His solos on “Out of Here”, “The Shadow Side” and “On Hold” were strong, clear, and evocative.
Simen Børven (bass, keys), also a more recent recruit, got a chance to talk a little about “Have You Ever”, a song he had written with the help of Solberg, thanking the band for giving him that chance. His playing on “The Silent Revelation” and “Nightime Disguises” was slick, fast, nimble. No wonder the fans had asked for bass tapping on a six-string bass (“I hate that…. I sold it!”) on the latter track, as part of the experiment Leprous had run, writing a song in collaboration with the fans over the course of a few days, with them watching on “like Big Brother”, as Solberg put it.
The audience were honest in their response, it seemed to the undersigned, showing genuine levels of appreciation to the songs, taking them as they found them. The singles got the biggest cheers, and of the as-yet unheard album tracks, although “The Silent Revelation” got the biggest fanfare, the one that seemed to give the band the greatest hope of a lift from the crowd, it was “All the Moments”, a track which Solberg described as having been improvised, which sounded the most complete. It was an emotional completeness, a unity of atmosphere which made it sound like they had been playing it for years – it was captivating.
Sitting that close, you could feel the commitment from the band, the emotion put in and drawn out of the music, and they were rewarded for it. Every track might not warrant a place on the band’s regular live roster – but it was an excellent performance with strong arrangements, the usual physicality from the band on stage, strutting, jiving, dancing, and the beautiful, choral ensemble vocal performances.
Catching his breath between vocal performances, Solberg asked the audience to cheer enough to make up for the one-and-a-half years that they had not been able to see them in the concert. He got his wish. The final applause was a standing ovation, and from the volume you’d have thought the auditorium was full.
As we stepped out into the open air after the concert, there was just enough light left to catch our breath, and recognise that we had been part of something special. 5/6
Tekst: Alex Maines
Foto: Anne-Marie Forker
You can see the show until 1 September at Munin.live