Leprous & Monuments - Aphelion European Tour, O2 Empire Shepherd's Bush, London, UK, 07.02.2023
|Event:||Leprous: Aphelion European Tour 2023|
Last week, two unmissable gigs for prog fans occurred in London. Devastatingly, I missed one of them, only realizing that Karnivool would be touring with support from The Ocean after tickets had already sold out; having seen the tour setlist, which is pretty much a dream Karnivool setlist, I am mourning missing out on this gig even more painfully. Thankfully, I did not miss the other concert, even though I only discovered it was happening a week beforehand; Leprous aren’t quite the same draw for myself in a post-Pitfalls world, but add in a Monuments on the comeback after the solid In Stasis last year and an opener as appealing as Kalandra (who I missed an opportunity to see last year by again sleeping on a Wardruna show that they would be opening), and this was an instant ticket purchase.
The show happened at the Empire in Shepherd’s Bush, a decent venue that I hadn’t been to since prior to the pandemic, but one that, as part of the O2 venue chain, had acquired the same outrageous cloakroom and drink prices that I was sadly getting used to from other O2 venues. This did mean that drinking would be limited, but given my desire to see all 3 bands and my limited bladder capacity, this wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
Kalandra are a discovery that I can entirely thank Starvynth for; his review of The Line in the October 2020 non-metal series was my introduction to what ended up being one of my favourite albums of 2020. The Scandinavian ensemble have subsequently released a soundtrack album created for the video game Kingdom Two Crowns, but as this is an all-instrumental effort, it’s perhaps unsurprising that use of this material was restricted entirely to the backdrop of Kalandra’s introduction to the stage; all other material was drawn from The Line. The set effectively was the first half or so of this album played in order, with the surprising and unfortunate exception of “The Waiting Game”, one of the singles from said record.
However, there’s not necessarily any song from the remaining six that did make it into the setlist that I would trade for it, as each was excellent. “Borders” was as achingly tender live as on record, and showed that Katrine Stenbekk’s voice lost nothing from the transition to the live arena, particularly when placed in direct comparison to the backing vocal tracks they had playing to harmonize with the live performance. This being an ostensibly rock/metal show, Kalandra aren’t quite in the same vein (although both the shared nationality with Leprous and that own band’s journey towards more ethereal and art-pop music makes their place on the bill very logical), but what did surprise me was how, if not heavy, then at least powerful they came across in the louder moments; “Naive” in particular had a force to it that I hadn’t really appreciated in all this time I’ve been listening to the studio version. There was also time for a nice instrumental jam before “Ensom” that gave Stenbekk a chance to rest her voice (by the way, what a stage presence she had, particularly with all the arm gestures). All in all, this was one of the best opening sets I can remember seeing in a long time, and set a high standard for the rest of the show to live up to.
Monuments were a band that I saw on the first night I moved to London, on the same day that I had landed back home from San Diego after 2 months travelling in the US; a degree of jetlag may be why my memory of this show, which I also believe was also my first introduction to Vola, is relatively faint, but the fact that this was a tour supporting the mediocre Phronesis probably didn’t help. There were 5 people on stage at The Dome in 2018; of them, only one appeared on stage a few minutes after Kalandra had finished. I knew that Olly Steele and Chris Baretto had left the band, with Andy Cizek replacing the latter, and that Mike Malyan had rejoined on drums, but it was only when I saw a complete lack of super-long dreadlocks that I also discovered that Adam Swan was no longer bassist for Monuments, having instead opted to pursue a career in agriculture. In his place was Werner Erkelens, also of Aviations.
I was surprised that Monuments had persevered with only a single guitarist (lone remaining man from the 2018 gig and bandleader John Browne), and when opening song “I, The Creator” seemed to struggle to balance the weight of instruments in the mix during the passages where Browne did more than djent riffing, I wasn’t sure how this show would pan out, particularly with the low-energy response to this first song (sadly, the only track included from The Amanuensis); thankfully, track number 2 (“Opiate” from In Stasis) saw a mosh pit open that would be sustained for the rest of the set, and from this point I was totally in sync with Monuments
The set, which only had 7 songs, mostly drew from In Stasis, but there was one Phronesis song, “Leviathan”, and a surprise inclusion from Gnosis, “Empty Vessels Make The Most Noise”, a track that I had sorely underappreciated the groovy weight of before being this set. The highlights of their show were “Cardinal Red”, and the shock inclusion of “The Cimmerian” as closer; it was through repeatedly playing “The Cimmerian” on YouTube in recent weeks that I discovered this show was happening thanks to the video featuring a link to the ticket page. It feels rare to see a band touring a new album to brave sticking the big album ending into their live set, but it was an inspired choice. This performance by Monuments will stick in my memory far more strongly than the 2018 show, and left Leprous with not one, but two outstanding performances to follow up.
I’ll be honest, having checked the setlist for the previous nights before going to this show, I was arguably least psyched for Leprous out of any of the three bands, as they had extensively featured songs from Pitfalls, an album that I’ve not been shy over my indifference towards, on other dates on the tour. Well, seemingly all my bad luck in missing the Karnivool/The Ocean show was being compensated tonight, as there were only 3 songs from Pitfalls played in London, one of which was the encore track “The Sky Is Red”, the glaring exception to my “no Pitfalls” wishes. What was more surprising was how well one of the other Pitfalls tracks, “I Lose Hope”, came across, its second half swelling in intensity in a way that I’hadnt appreciated either on album or when seeing them tour Pitfalls back in 2019.
But enough about Pitfalls; this was the Aphelion tour, an album with which I clicked far more strongly, and the selections from this album were on point. “On Hold”, arguably my favourite song from it, sounded excellent, as did “Out Of Here” and even “Running Low”, one of the few from the record I’ve not clicked with so much. What’s even more appealing is that “Nighttime Disguise” seems to have joined “The Sky Is Red” as a consistent end-of-set feature, with the two songs separated by the encore break. As far as the set is otherwise concerned, in addition to the two lone pre-Pitfalls songs that the previous dates had enjoyed (“From The Flame” and “The Price”), there was also “Stuck” (with extended ending from the album, the best part of the song), “The Flood”, and a surprise inclusion of “Restless”; I certainly hadn’t expected a Bilateral track. It seems that Leprous have been experimenting with their set on subsequent dates of the tour, with even “Mb. Indifferentia” appearing on one night, but I’m very happy with the set I got here.
Enough about the set, though, how was the performance? Anyone who’s seen Leprous at any point in their career knows that they are consummate professionals, and that remained the case on this night. A knock-on effect of the band’s musical evolution is how much more active pretty much everyone in the band now has to be; Baard Kolstad gets to stick to being exclusively a drummer, but while keyboard duties used to come entirely down to Einar Solberg alongside his singing responsibilities, now everyone else is chipping in on various synthesizers across the stage throughout the set on top of their main instruments. Even Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Musk Ox), their long-time touring cellist, takes breaks from cello to play synths or even percussion at some points. It’s honestly so impressive seeing everyone move so fluidly between instruments; it’s an effort to just keep track of what everyone is doing. The end result is just a masterclass in performance, and the live sound in the venue was crystal clear to boot.
By the time “The Sky Is Red” was over, I genuinely could not separate the three bands in terms of enjoyment; all three of them were virtually the best version of themselves that I could have expected. It’s rare to see a show where even two bands are neck-and-neck in terms of favourite set of the night, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve been to a show where all 3 acts on a bill delivered to this level. I’m still gutted about missing Karnivool, but I’ll be riding the high of this show for a couple of weeks. This tour still has a month to run; if they’re coming to your area and you’ve been on the fence about going, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
01. Have You Ever?
02. The Price
04. Running Low
05. On Hold
06. Castaway Angels
07. From The Flame
08. I Lose Hope
09. Out Of Here
11. The Flood
13. Nighttime Disguise
14. The Sky Is Red
||Written on 15.02.2023 by|
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