Review: Leprous – ‘Pitfalls’

There’s a cruel irony in that it’s usually bands who are deemed to be ‘progressive’ that are the ones who’ll be hit with the greatest criticism when they dare to stray too far from the path that their fanbase has set out for them. It happened when Opeth first let loose their inner Yes, and again with Shining’s departure from the good ship Blackjazz and so it was inevitable when fellow Scandinavians Leprous released Malina that some would object to their more subdued change of pace. Much to those people’s displeasure, they’ve chosen to double down on those shifts with Pitfalls, a record so removed from everything else they’ve done that it might as well be a different band.

It doesn’t so much focus on Einar Solberg as it revolves entirely around him, which is understandable given that Pitfalls marks the first album in the band’s history where he had taken charge of both the lyrical and musical direction. With few exceptions, it eschews most of the metal trappings that had lingered in their sound and instead opting for an emotional, vocal-driven direction that sometimes borders on rock opera territory but still retains the soul of much of their work. It’s most heavily felt on the album’s first half, the sweeping gloss of ‘Alleviate’ marking both the band’s poppiest construct to date but also one of their most curious, almost bereft of guitar but weighing in heavily with arpeggiated strings and a chorus that soars, even by Leprous’ usual lofty standards. Meanwhile, ‘I Lose Hope’ sets up a funky, disco-flecked premise that descends into an elegiac confessional from Solberg and ‘At The Bottom’ goes unashamedly Lloyd-Webber, perhaps a hint of a hereto-undisclosed desire to hit Broadway.

Of the two returns to familiar grounds that signal the album’s close, ‘Foreigner’ does an admirable job in trying to raise the album’s energy levels, briefly allowing the band to deliver some of the volume and juddering riffs that formed their most striking moments in the past but while Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Baard Kolstad in particular are able to showcase their strengths here, Solberg feels strangely detached from proceedings, at least in comparison to his obvious emotional weight elsewhere. Only ‘The Sky Is Red’ feels like it really achieves the aim of combining past and future, its sprawling stature managing to engage all players fully for its near ten-minute runtime.

Even if that final song feels like a welcome throwback, Pitfalls’ agenda is largely clear throughout, a move towards more subtle and melodic compositions that centre on emotional rather than tonal weight. It’s a bold move and one that could spell major success for the band in the future but there are moments here and there where it feels like they haven’t yet fully committed to the changes that are taking place. Barring those few throwaway tracks, it’s a truly gorgeous release and if you’re looking for a lush, proggy odyssey with one of the grandest vocal turns of the year, this has you covered.

Available now on Inside Out Music, more information here. 

Review – Dave Bowes

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