Release Date: 25th October 2019
Label: Inside Out Music
Formats: CD, DL, gatefold vinyl
To say that the Norwegians sixth album shakes things up a bit may be the understatement of the year.
Things change. “The album nobody expects from us.” It’s certainly a step into an exciting and challenging territory where in particular, Leprous vocalist Einar Solberg has delivered a brave and bold commentary stemming from his own personal demons.
The band too has met the challenge by orchestrating a musical accompaniment that’s some distance from their progressive metal outbursts. However, given time, Pitfalls retains recognisable elements that are distinctly Leprous, namely the shrill Solberg vocal and the memorable Leprous bursts of dynamic intensity.
However, Pitfalls is Einar Solberg’s moment. His therapy and his release. From periods of darkness and adversity, he’s emerged with a musical outpouring that triumphantly channels his pain. Within a minute of Below opening the record, he’s singing about “every single fear I’m hiding, every single childhood memory” that merges with dramatic sweep of strings and a sense that he’s singing for his life. It’s followed by the springy sub-disco of I Lose Hope where there’s no question of hiding behind anything metaphorical. This is pure confessional and an overwhelming and genuine feeling in his words.
Something akin to the gentle lull of a musical box opens Observe The Train. In the non-linear sequence that tracks the battle with depression and anxiety, it sees him coming to terms with managing the demons – finding solace in a soothing, relaxing and a most un-Leprous-like piece. In contrast, the jerky guitar patterns and bubbling synth that opens By My Throne develops into an electronic-based direction although it’s Alleviate that emerges as the first real high. Another sparse and stark arrangement gives way to a glorious and uplifting release as you can sense both music and vocal becoming self-assured and more positive until the moment of the album arrives at 2:30 as Solberg lets go, reinforcing the “all I could do in the end was wait, united with my fears” line. It’s primal, purging and possibly even the moment of their careers.
It’s been suggested that this first half of the album is Leprous at their most accessible – ‘poppiest’ even – while the second explores their more experimental side. The opening parts of At The Bottom – “I have been here before and I have grown” – again rely on a restraint that edges into an angrier direction. Chris Baum’s violin offers a moment’s respite before the final minute and a half – the question of “will I ever be the same?” – where a machine gun frenzy culminates in a massive pinnacle. A formula that’s repeated in Distant Bells, the paranoia suggested by the skittering rhythms and with the wrestling “fight against myself” that comes with Foreigner, a mere aperitif before a remarkable finale.
Eleven minutes of The Sky Is Red comes complete with choir and a whole load of darkness and let’s face it, weirdness. It may also be the most creative and most uncomfortable piece they’ve done. Initially, it may appear the closest relation to their past; the melodic battles against the frenetic and psychotic before a nightmarish final five minutes. The disturbing industrial sounds are swallowed up by a horror movie chorus in a chilling and disquieting dénouement.
In hindsight, it may be a case of considering Pitfalls within the bigger picture and note the progression from Malina and before in the same terms as to how Opeth have moved from their dark metal roots into a band with much more progressive and ambitious tendencies. Pitfalls is all set set to become the landmark album where Leprous have created their most stunning achievement.
Listen to Distant Bells here: