Album Review: Leprous – Aphelion

Band: Leprous | Album:Aphelion | Genre: Art rock | Year: 2021

From: Notodden, Norway | Label: Inside Out Music

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Leprous are one of the bigger names in the current progosphere. I love their first three albums, and Bilateral, especially, is fantastic. Their sound has changed a lot over the years however, and they’ve moved decidedly away from metal in a manner that has left fan opinions sharply divided.

I have not minced words about my disappointment in Leprous’s recent musical direction. To quote my coverage of their 2019 album, Pitfalls, “This album fucking sucks.” My thoughts on Malina, their 2017 release, aren’t an awful lot kinder. I saw them on tour twice in 2018 (opening first for BTBAM and later for Haken), and the experience was dull, to say the least. Pared-back arrangements and vocalist Einar Solberg going, “Ooh-aah” as pulsing white lights blinded me? Disappointing. Both sets were unvaried in their tonal and dynamic palettes: LOUD-quiet-LOUD-quiet, without any deviations to spice it up. Pitfalls was like a studio version of this experience.

Naturally, I didn’t have high hopes for Aphelion. I was fully anticipating this would be another micro-review, like my coverage of Pitfalls, or an Odds & Ends entry. But I’m familiar enough with the band’s output, and I found enough to discuss, that I could write a full-length review.

Spoiler alert: this isn’t going to be a kind review. It’s not going to be as brutal as Pitfalls or my coverage of The Final Cut in my Pink Floyd Deep Dive, but Aphelion is a dull, uninspired record that goes on for too long.

Consensus among people such as myself, who do not like Leprous’s current direction, is that Einar dominates the songwriting process too much. His vocals, while strong from a technical perspective, are a major issue with the band’s music. His singing is usually overwrought and overdramatic, and his insistence upon using layers of wordless vocals gets real old real fast. There’s little variation in his singing, and the backing vocals are deployed uncreatively.

Aphelion isn’t wholly without decent moments. Many tracks open with subdued and pleasant electronic textures (though this trend becomes detrimentally predictable after appearing on six separate songs). “Silhouette” features some strong instrumental moments, and the vocals aren’t too distracting, either (at least when Einar isn’t belting his lungs out). “The Silent Revelation” opens with a really good groove that harkens back to the band’s earlier days, but unfortunately the momentum of the song is inexplicably undercut before it is fully realized. Kneecapping the song’s flow in this case added nothing positive, and it never recovers, despite having some good musical themes.

The closing “Nighttime Disguise” is easily the strongest cut on Aphelion and the only track I’d unambiguously call “good.” It was written with fan input regarding things like structure, time signature, and key. And shockingly, listening to the fans resulted in something enjoyable! It’s got technical, energetic riffs to entice the listener, there’s varied internal structure, and Einar even does some unclean vocals near the end. This song shows the promise of what non-metallic Leprous could be, which makes their current, underwhelming output that much more frustrating. They clearly can still write progressive rock, but Einar just wants atmospherics and ooh-aahs.

Beyond that handful of highlights, Aphelion is not a strong release. It’s not as punishingly repetitive as Pitfalls or as generic as Malina, but I still don’t like it.

As mentioned above, a majority of songs have very similar openings, and that pattern extends to their broader structures as well. In short, this is a very predictable album.

Einar’s worst tendencies are exemplified in the opening “Running Low”. It’s actually one of the better songs on the record, but his singing is hilariously overwrought. He is trying to put way more weight into this song than it needs, and it comes off as downright distracting. This mistake is a frequent issue on Aphelion. He will have these grand, dramatic moments that feel completely unearned. There was no build to it. There’s nothing underpinning it. It is as pure as bloat can get.

Most of Aphelion sounds phoned-in. I took rather extensive notes while listening to it, but most songs wound up with similar summaries: predictable structure, alternatingly too-pared-down and undeservedly-bombastic, and fucking dial the intensity down, Einar. Not everything needs to be so overdramatic.

I don’t like this record, but if you’re /r/progmetal, you’ll probably like this unprogressive, non-metallic release of faux-artsy radio rock.

Score: 39/100

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