Leprous - Pitfalls review
|Release date:||October 2019|
02. I Lose Hope
03. Observe The Train
04. By My Throne
06. At The Bottom
07. Distant Bells
09. The Sky Is Red
I'm not entirely sure whether this is a Leprous album or Einar Solberg's first solo record.
The first single released from Pitfalls, "Below", was a vocal-dominated song in which electronics replaced the guitars for large stretches, but it's still surprising the extent to which the rest of the band has been sidelined throughout much of this album (the last two tracks aside). On several songs, the guitars are either absent, make a brief cameo, or are somewhat buried in the mix ("I Lose Hope"). Whilst the drums get more to do, it's still a far cry from any of their previous records. The press release from Leprous when Pitfalls was announced gave a strong impression that the writing of the record was dominated by Solberg (as it appears to be with most of their albums) in the aftermath of a tough period in his life; as such, the extent of the musical departure on Pitfalls may be a one-off in response to a particularly negative personal situation. However, if this is representative of the band's long-term musical direction, I'm curious as to how the likes of Tor Suhrke and Baard Kolstad will respond to becoming what amount to background figures in a group where they've previously been integral to the sound.
The trend towards streamlining their sound was evident on Leprous's previous record, Malina, and their interest in exploring non-metal/rock was demonstrated by their (frankly overly safe) cover of Massive Attack's trip-hop classic "Angel". However, if The Congregation was point A on a route where Malina and "Angel" were points B and C, Pitfalls is at least point F, if not further. There is still occasional use of heavy guitars on most songs, but substantial portions of this record are on the borderline between rock and what could maybe be considered 'dark art pop'. Such a marked transition is certain to draw a range of responses, including those who immediately disregard the band for mostly abandoning their prog-metal sound, and those who think Leprous can do no wrong and write off any criticism as narrow-minded hating. Personally, I'm relatively open to this kind of stark musical exploration, although I feel that whenever a band makes a big shift in sound that discards traits integral to their prior success, they have to be replaced by something similarly compelling. In this case, I feel like not enough of the material on Pitfalls offers up an emotionally resonant experience at the level of past work to consider this particular attempt a success to equal their previous triumphs.
"Below" is a reasonably effective opening song in the mould of "The Cloak", which is followed by "I Lose Hope" and "Observe The Train", subdued tracks with some decent ideas and satisfying vocal arrangements, but also certain segments that fall flat. Track 5, "Alleviate", a ballad-style track, is likely to be the most divisive cut from Pitfalls, but although the final chorus approaches maudlin as the full band and strings sweep in, it at least offers up a change of tone from the previous couple of songs. The first half of Pitfalls doesn't contain any material I feel actively negative towards, but considering that Leprous demonstrated an affinity for haunting, subtle music when they were more metal-oriented ("Echo", "Foe"), I'm surprised at how few moments really connected with me to any degree.
The second half features most of the heavier or proggier material, with mixed success. The transitions between the hip hop beats of the verses and the rockier choruses of "At The Bottom" feel a tad contrived, but the last couple of minutes of this track are probably the pinnacle of Pitfalls, with a string-dominated instrumental section building until the whole band joins in on a dark, empassioned climax. The way the guitars and drums form a moody groove beneath the swelling strings generates the kind of emotional heft that I feel is absent from too much of the first half, and is delivered naturally, without the melodrama of "Below" or "Alleviate". "Distant Bells", the odd one out of the last 4 tracks, is for the first half of its runtime a piano ballad without memorable piano or vocal melodies, a bizarrely underwhelming sequence of music which appears to be relying on the sheer natural appeal of Solberg's vocals to deliver the necessary emotional charge that the actual musical content can't provide.
Once this song is out of the way, the album delivers its hardest music, with two tracks that are likely to carry the most obvious appeal to fans of the band's previous efforts. The latter of these, "The Sky Is Red", makes for a strong conclusion to the album, featuring the most rhythmic complexity and technical virtuosity whilst delivering some captivating hooks and effective build-ups; however, it also sticks out like a sore thumb against the rest of the material on Pitfalls, raising questions concerning where Leprous see themselves focusing in future, if anywhere.
Pitfalls isn't just a continuation of the pop/prog rock of "From The Flame" or "Stuck" from Malina; there was a clear attempt by Solberg to craft something dark, melancholic and raw by focusing on vocals and electronics. This feels like a real passion project, and it's not an approach that comes across as illogical; Leprous is a band with clear songwriting, instrumental and vocal talent, and has shown a prior willingness to dabble with writing dark, moving music without relying on heavy guitars ("Salt", "The Last Milestone"). Honestly, when I heard that this was going to potentially be a moody non-metal album, I was pretty excited to see the outcome of expanding these previous moments and songs over a whole album's worth of music. At the same time, whilst I consider this a perfectly rational musical direction to take, I don't think it's an entirely successful one that has unlocked a wealth of hidden opportunity for the band. After several listens, the only parts that have consistently grabbed my attention or made any lasting impression are the final minutes of "At The Bottom", parts of "The Sky Is Red", and to a degree the choruses of "Alleviate". It's entirely possible that this album will introduce Leprous to a new audience and bring them major success, and if that's the case I wish them all the best, but if I'm in the mood for dark, subtle, electronic-focused, pop-influenced music in the future, I imagine I'll be far more likely to return to a group like Massive Attack, a clear inspiration of Leprous, than to revisit Pitfalls.
||Written on 06.10.2019 by|
Guest review by
|Still feels like Leprous, but it takes you on a different journey. And it's great.
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published 14.11.2019 | Comments (3)
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