Leprous - Aphelion review
|Release date:||August 2021|
01. Running Low
02. Out of Here
04. All The Moments
05. Have You Ever?
06. The Silent Revelation
07. The Shadow Side
08. On Hold
09. Castaway Angels
10. Nighttime Disguise
Plenty of bands have taken stylistic directions that have lost them fans; fewer of them manage to win part of that lost fanbase back whilst continuing in the same direction. With Aphelion, Leprous may not convince everyone that was put off by Pitfalls, but they've at least got me back on board.
Leprous had been simplifying and softening as they moved from their early manic extreme-tinged prog to the more accessible material on Malina, but Pitfalls was still a dramatic shift, abandoning rock and metal for large periods whilst opting for an electronic-based art pop approach. I didn't particularly like Pitfalls when it was released, and a recent revisit did nothing to make me reassess that opinion. As such, I didn't have high expectations for the next Leprous album; however, I also didn't feel like there was no chance of me getting on board with a future record from the band, even if they stayed in art rock/pop territory. If there was a metal band with the potential to successfully pull off that kind of shift, I had more confidence in Leprous than most, and with Aphelion, I feel like that confidence has been justified.
One issue that I had with Pitfalls was that it felt that most of the band had been sidelined to help create a passion project for Einar Solberg. In contrast, Aphelion feels like the likes of Tor Suhrke and Baard Kolstad had more input (I've no idea whether that's in any way true or not). This album is heavier than Pitfalls, not by much, but it does feel like a rock album that will occasionally lean in metallic and poppier directions, whilst half of Pitfalls had even left rock behind. There's plenty of tracks where Baard gets to unleash some impressive kitwork, such as the slick grooves of "Silhouette" and "The Silent Revelation", whilst both Baard and Tor make powerful inputs on closer "Nighttime Disguise", which even features screams from Einar, I believe for the first time since "Slave" on The Congregation.
The greater presence of the rest of the band does help Aphelion in winning me over, but that's not the only factor. More than anything, I just feel that the emotional connection that Pitfalls tried to hard to make but (for me, at least) failed in doing so has actually been established this time around. The easiest comparison I can see is between "Alleviate" on Pitfalls and "Out Of Here" on Aphelion, not least because both feature some very similar vocal melodies and structures: soft opening with just electronics/keyboards, chorus sung quietly first time around before a big band chorus later on. However, whilst "Alleviate" felt melodramatic when Einar went all out in the climax, "Out Of Here" pulls me right in (the signature Leprous polyrhythms in the background might play a small part in that). Similarly, the grandeur of "All The Moments", the reserved melancholy of "The Shadow Side" and the overwhelming emotion of "On Hold" (probably my pick of the songs on Aphelion) all bring pleasure where similar attempts on Pitfalls often irritated me.
I feel like Leprous are better pretty much across the board on Aphelion. The really soft tracks ("Have You Ever?" and "Castaway Angels"), whilst some of the lesser songs on this album, are at least serviceable, whilst the rockier "Silhouette" and "The Silent Revelation" are both very good fun, particularly the former. On the flip side, whilst "Nighttime Disguise" doesn't approach the proggy excess of "The Sky Is Red" from Pitfalls, it feels a bit more logically connected to the rest of the record, and it covers a whole lot of ground to act as a nice summary of the last decade or so of Leprous's musical development.
Several of the songs I've mentioned above feature some of Aphelion's guests, who include now long-time collaborator Raphael Weinroth-Browne (Musk Ox) on cello, alongside Chris Baum on violin and a whole brass group in Blåsemafiaen. Most of these feature on opening song "Running Low", and now it's time to acknowledge that Aphelion is not a perfect record. When it was first released as the album's first single, I did think "Running Low" was an improvement on much of Pitfalls, but it did have some awkward moments that undermined it, specifically the somewhat obnoxious chorus, which really killed the momentum built in a nice instrumental bridge towards the end of the song. This song isn't alone in featuring moments or sections that I find offputting; in particular, "All The Moments" does drag out for a bit too long the 'quiet piano and Einar warbling' that made "Distant Bells" from Pitfalls so irritating. Nevertheless, I consider the fact that these less positive moments stand out as strongly on Aphelion as the best moments did on Pitfalls to be a real sign of improvement.
This album will undoubtedly not win over everyone lost by Leprous' last couple of records; it's heavier than Pitfalls, but that's very much relative, as it's by no means a return to The Congregation territory. Additionally, anyone who's found Einar's vocals to be a bit 'too much' in recent years will quite likely feel similarly about his performance on Aphelion. However, I have to admit that I went into Aphelion prepared for the worst, but I was very pleasantly surprised by this album. I've genuinely enjoyed the regular replays of the promo copy that I've had (in contrast to another album I'm currently preparing to review), and if anything, this album's made me feel more confident that I disliked Pitfalls not just because it was a departure from metal, but because it was genuinely flawed. I've seen one or two reviews elsewhere with very similar sentiments, so I'm intrigued to see how this record goes down with the user base here.
||Written on 25.08.2021 by Hey chief let's talk why not|
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