Leprous, Monuments, Kalandra – The O2 Ritz, Manchester – 9th February 2023
The signs are there. A series of perspex platforms line the lip of the stage. They’re set to be tested out in time-honoured Leprous fashion. A triangular Aphelion logo in reference to their latest album hangs at the rear and a sense that we’re going to be hit with the usual backlit effects which ensure a dramatic silhouetting for the headliners.
Our last live encounter with Leprous was over three years ago. They’ve celebrated twenty years of doing this and issued a new album Aphelion which is currently doing the rounds as a tour edition with the added bonus of some live tracks. Alternatively, there’s a coloured (!) vinyl of just the live songs which has proved a temptation too difficult to resist.
However, there’s nothing like the real thing. Fingers are crossed for them to play Mirage it featuring early on tour. There seems to be some flexibility in the set to keep the band happy and for those who understandably want to see a couple of gigs. However, it’s out of favour tonight. Just wish we’d been in Cologne and had their fortune with a fantasy setlist…
A dip into their older material and a mid-set peak of From The Flame and Alleviate provide adequate compensation and there’s even a rare outing for MB.Indifferentia from the Bilateral album which actually sits nicely in a set where the subtlety and musicality are much more in balance with the Prog Metal leanings of their younger days. It’s almost a lullaby with Einar Solberg nursing the melody before it explodes to life. Early doors have also seen The Congregation album revisited for The Price and Third Law; the stop-start sharpness in the riffing is as controlled as the band’s uniform black outfits, sensible haircuts and sensible shoes.
Robin Ognedal injects hefty doses of funk into proceedings particularly on From The Flame where the saturated red lighting adds drama to the incendiary intensity. Einar Solberg is again front and centre atop those blocks for the climax of Alleviate as he opens up in confessional from his inner depths. He constantly stalks the stage, seemingly in battle with some invisible force as switches from vocal to occasional keyboard duty, offering no less than a totally engaged performance. His upcoming solo album (16) should be more than worth a listen. It sets the standard for Leprous whose boundless musical chair stage presence sees them constantly rearranging the presentation. It’s no mean feat with six onstage including cellist Wenroth-Browne, who, like a naughty child regularly abandons his seat on the riser to go off in search of some interaction with his bandmates. Early on he’s even taking part in a bass/cello face-off with Simen Børven and anyone within reach is in danger of being whipped by Raphael’s hair tossing – perhaps a health & safety requirement should he get caught in the cello strings.
The bombast and power come in stark contrast to the atmospheres explored on the Aphelion material. The guitars too are sidelined briefly at the start of Alleviate as the various keyboards dotted around the set are in full employment. The blue and yellow rows of light acknowledge the people of Ukraine to whom Castaway Angels is dedicated. An electric evening is graced for only the second time with an acoustic guitar and even a Ritz stool for Tor Oddmund to accompany a sensitive number.
However, it’s their Progressive tag that leaves a lasting impression. With Einar Solberg conducting proceedings as he Their newest epic Nighttime Disguise closes the set and it’s left to the villainous encore The Sky Is Red that swings through a host of passages, highs and lows that simply reinforce that Leprous is a band working right at the edge and at their peak. Constantly pushing to greater heights. It caps a genuinely monumental show.
Before Leprous, there’s a pleasingly healthy turnout for the 7.30 start time for Kalandra who the stage to an atmospheric intro tape. A hint of what’s to come and with Kalandra singer Katrine Stebekk a key part of Scandinavian Folk Metallers Wardruna, we have an immediate connection. Wardruna’s Manchester appearance last year was a momentous occasion that will live long in the memory.
They’re a band whose online presence tells us has roots in melancholic Nordic folk and gritty guitars, weaving ethereal melodies into raw and eerie musical landscapes. It’s spot on as Katrine leads the two guitars (plus horn and violin bow) and drum line up through a set that swings from bucolic to haunting and immersive yet with the constant presence of a harder edge. She too, becomes lost in the music and just when what many would have thought might have been the only acoustic guitar of the evening, she’s immersed in the sound the three instrumentalists are creating, entering another world and off in another dimension.
The Line album is heavily featured and kicks off an evening with a set that would be right at home in an atmospheric and ancient setting, illuminated by candlelight. A perfect choice to accompany the headliners.
Monuments however are a different kettle of fish. As the saying goes, and now for something completely different. Their set is heavy and it’s rapid; the subtlety of Kalandra is replaced by sheer hardcore brutality and a total brashness. As a friend (Thanks Naomi…) said – like singing with the CAPS lock on – LOL – to which Andy Cizek adds some unearthly growls. Don’t be fooled by his Graham Bonnet haircut. He’s not allowed to crowd surf to release some of that overflow of energy, but he does request “a savage moshpit” and gets the crowd to test out the famous Ritz sprung dancefloor.
It’s fascinating how the energies of three bands is channelled so differently. From the brooding and underlying to the brazen and unforgiving. A gig to suit all tastes.
Categories: Live Reviews