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If the light at the end of the tunnel could be converted into sound, you can bet it would sound exactly like Leprous. Over the last two decades, the Norwegian mavericks have produced some of the deepest and most rewarding music imaginable, steadily evolving from their beginnings as exuberant prog metal explorers, to their current status as one of the most unique and fascinating bands in modern heavy music.
Opening their creative account with kaleidoscopic debut Tall Poppy Syndrome in 2009, Leprous have always exhibited a profound desire to make music that sounds like nothing else on Earth. Maturing via the critically acclaimed likes of The Congregation (2015) and Malina (2017), frontman Einar Solberg’s extraordinary songwriting talents have taken his band to new heights with each successive release. Similarly revered as a jaw-dropping and heart-stopping live band, Leprous have been enthusiastically embraced by a wide variety of music lovers, from diehard metalheads to old school prog fans and, in truth, anyone that demands a little bit more passion, power and elegance from their music.
In 2019, Leprous released Pitfalls; their sixth studio album and the most personal batch of songs that Solberg had ever written. Detailing the multi-instrumentalist’s battles with depression and anxiety, it was universally hailed as a career peak. With extensive touring plans spoiled by an unexpected global pandemic, the Norwegians were unable to conclude their plans for Pitfalls, but the good news is that time has not been wasted during the last year’s lockdown. Pieced together in three different studios, Leprous’ seventh full-length
album Aphelion is yet another monumental artistic achievement, and the most startling and dynamic record they have ever made.
“We didn’t really plan to do an album right now,” says Solberg. “Like many bands, we were planning to do an EP but then we thought, ‘What’s the point?’ and decided to a full album. The whole point with this album is that it’s relatively intuitive. All of the songs have been written in completely different ways. Some songs have been relatively improvised in the studio, other songs have been written like before, where I sit and write at home and then we meet up to work it all out. Some of the songs, we’ve even included the fans in the writing process, so it’s a very different album. It’s a song-by-song album. I wouldn’t say that Pitfalls was a concept album, for example, but it feels a lot more like one than Aphelion does.”
Although unmistakably the work of the same band that made Pitfalls, Aphelion immediately stands out as a radical statement by this endlessly inventive band. Veering from some of the heaviest and most intense material of their career to some of the most delicate and heart-breaking music in the Leprous canon, Aphelion is an album of beautifully crafted and meticulously arranged mini-masterworks.
“I feel that this is the most varied album we’ve done in a long time. That’s maybe the best way to describe it,” Solberg suggests. “I feel that every song is its own thing. I’ve struggled to find one overall sound for the album because the songs have all been recorded at different times and in different studios and in completely different ways! So we were kind of excited to see how it would all work when you put it together, because it hasn’t been written as one thing. But it feels quite free compared to Pitfalls, in particular.”
An album of scintillating contrasts, Aphelion switches effortlessly from the epic and intricate likes of opener Running Low and the exquisitely succinct Silhouette, to the ingenious and freewheeling balladry of All These Moments and the squalling prog noir grandeur of closer Nighttime Disguise. As ever, Solberg’s songwriting conjures countless moments of emotional fervour, not least because Aphelion once again focuses on the frontman’s mental health struggles. This time, however, the light at the end of the tunnel burns brighter than before.
“Aphelion is about mental health, and about anxiety, which is something I’ve been dealing with over the last few years in particular. Pitfalls was more the first stage of that, like ‘Oh fuck, what am I dealing with here?’ Being deep into anxiety and depression felt like a new thing. On this album, I’ve gone much further into how to deal with it and how to gradually get away from it, at least to the point where it’s not dominating your life anymore. Both Pitfalls and Aphelion are very personal albums, and maybe the only really personal albums we’ve ever done. Back in the day we wrote much more from a general position. But with this album, the majority of the lyrics are written from my perspective, so I feel it’ll be much easier for everyone to understand what we’re saying.”
Due to the organisational chaos caused by the Covid catastrophe, Aphelion was recorded in three different studios: Ghost Ward Studio in Stockholm, with long-time collaborator David Castillo at the controls, and Norwegian studios Ocean Sound Recordings and Cederberg Studios, the latter with desk-guru Christer Cederberg. And finally, just like with Pitfalls, Aphelion was mixed by Adam Noble (Placebo, Biffy Clyro, Nothing But Thieves, etc.) and then mastered by Robin Schmidt (The 1975, Placebo, The Gaslight Anthem, etc.).
But despite its seemingly chaotic creation, Aphelion is arguably the most fluid and cohesive album Leprous have made to date. Rich in sonic subtleties and organic warmth, it’s thrilling proof that a lot can be achieved, even in the most challenging of circumstances.
“We worked with a lot of different people this time. We recorded it in three different studios. It’s a bit like some have been recorded in one and some in another, and some in another, and then a couple of songs have been recorded in all three! But for guests, we
had again Raphael Weinroth-Browne on cello and Chris Baum on violin, and this time we had a Norwegian brass group called Blåsemafiaen, and they almost won the Norwegian Eurovision contest this year! But they’re extremely good and they play on Running Low and Nighttime Disguise. It’s the first time we’ve had a full brass group on an album.”
The perfect title for this intimate and moving piece of work, Aphelion represents the point in the path of an object’s orbit when it is furthest away from the sun. It’s a sublime metaphor for the grand challenges that are thrown at us in life, and the strength and self-belief it often requires to struggle on. For Solberg, it seemed to capture the essence of what these songs are expressing.
“First of all we thought it was a very beautiful title,” he says. “Originally we wanted to call the album Adapt, because that’s kind of the theme, but it didn’t sound right. Adapt Tour 2022 doesn’t sound very cool, does it? [Laughs] So the meaning of Aphelion is what we wanted in the first place. It’s about creating something beautiful from a difficult situation. You try to use a hard situation to your own advantage, which I think we’ve done with Leprous to a great degree. We’ve really embraced this lockdown situation as much as we can, with the livestreams. I think we’ve done eight streams and it’s going well for us, and we’ve written a new album too. So it’s not about thinking about what you had and what you miss - it’s about what you actually have and what you can do with it.”
Armed with some of the most spellbinding music they’ve ever made, Leprous are keen to be at the front of the queue when live music becomes a fundamental part of our lives once again. In the meantime, Aphelion is a timely reminder that this band can touch hearts and soothe souls like no other.
“I guess like every other band we’re planning to play live as soon as we can. I don’t think anyone’s going to wait very long! So we’ve announced a tour for December this year, which is a 20th anniversary run. It’ll be a chronological set from our early demos, right up to today. Luckily we started the band very young when I was 16 and Tore was 15, but I actually felt older three years ago. I’ve made peace with getting older, more than I did back then. I’m really looking forward to whatever comes next!”