Leprous doesn’t need any kind of introduction — at least, not to anyone who is even loosely following the prog scene. The Norwegian sensation is back with a new album and I’m certain that many are looking forward to it. Me and Jean Pierre are confirming today that the wait will have been well worth it. Aphelion really sees the band back and not just returning with new material. So, without further ado, we’re getting into the specifics below.
Robert: Hey man, how’s it going?
Jean Pierre: Hey mate, all good, getting ready to talk this out.
R: I know I nagged you a little about how good the record is, in spite of your initial impressions not aligning very much. Did the subsequent listens change that?
JP: Yes, they most definitely did. Upon my first few listens, it felt like Leprous continuing on the same trajectory with Malina/Pitfalls. I don’t know what was wrong with my ears at the time but I couldn’t have been more wrong, Aphelion is Leprous back with the gusto that they had back in their earlier days.
R: Haha, yeah, I remember that remark and it left me baffled, more so as Malina and Pitfalls left me cold and without any kind of impression. I definitely concur that even though they dropped some of their more metal leanings in favor of a lighter sound, they’re back to their former glory — as cliche as it sounds phrased like that.
You know me, I don’t pay much mind to pop music, although I’m absolutely enthralled with the catchy pop element of the tunes on Aphelion. I am very surprised that they managed to integrate this so well and so tastefully into their sound. I’m also a big sucker for any kind of symphonic elements, which are revealed across the album predominantly as string arrangements. I absolutely love their inclusion and of course the way they are blended into the whole affair.
JP: I think I just went in with the mindset that I was going to be disappointed, so I convinced myself that was the reality, despite what the music truly had to offer. It took a few listens to shake myself out of that mindset. Yes, I fully agree with you that they have returned to their former glory. They took all the best elements from Malina and Pitfalls, the dark-tinged electronics and the string accompaniments respectively, as well as bringing back the sassiness and exuberant attitude from their earlier material.
That attitude is what made them so special to begin with and I am so ecstatic that it is back. Everything they have done leading up to now as come full circle on Aphelion. This really is a sweet and spicy prog rock record disguised as an infectious pop album, or the other way around depending on how you look at it.
R: Definitely. I also have to give them all the points for doing such a heavily vocal-centered album. The only other prog record that comes to mind like that is Closure in Moscow‘s Pink Lemonade and even that isn’t necessarily so heavy on the vocals. Not only does Aphelion manage to put the spotlight on Einar Solberg’s absolutely lovely vocal delivery, but the way it acts across the entire album is something unprecedented in prog; it drives everything rhythmically and from a melodic standpoint. It’s sort of like how a conductor acts for an orchestra, if you catch my drift.
JP: Yes! The way that this record is so vocal-centric (like Pitfalls) is probably one of the reasons why I initially felt this was just a continuation from that album. But there is so much more instrumental depth, although it’s more subtle compared to Bilateral, for example: but it is still definitely there, especially compared to the last two records. As you said, Solberg still gets the spotlight and drives the rest of the music in a way that is totally different compared to what was done on Pitfalls, for example. Similar execution, just a totally different approach this time around. Also, I love me some Pink Lemonade and I can totally see the comparison to that, just take away a little bit of the quirkiness of that record and it makes complete sense.
R: I know I’m probably starting to derail this discussion, but I had this thought while listening to the album for the Nth time: this is exactly how I pictured Muse sounding like in present time. At least, that’s what I would’ve sort of imagined like, 12 years ago, when I first heard The Resistance. I’m not sure how much sense this ‘comparison’ makes, but it’s out there now.
Anyway, I definitely agree with the subtlety. Everything is very neatly packaged and you really need several spins of the album, no matter how keen of an ear you have. It’s too easy to get distracted by the big-picture stuff, like the flashy hooks, the bursts of melody, everything really. While the details are rather concealed, and there seems to be a very interesting layering style at play, they aren’t invisible. You definitely get to them given patience and enough listens.
It just works on all the levels. I was first enchanted with the big-picture stuff, then while uncovering all the neat little details, then again when I saw how cool the way in which they melt together into one big organic whole is. Does this make sense? Or am I just too excited and I’m rambling?
JP: Truth be told, you derail lots of conversations… I say that endearingly and jokingly of course. Pure Reason Revolution is what modern-day Muse should sound like to me personally, as they’re a little riffier than Leprous is, but just as grandiose: but I totally see that comparison. As for everything else you mentioned, yes, that makes total sense. The more you go back and listen to Aphelion, the more everything starts to unravel and make sense. Some of my favorite parts of the album are the tense build-ups that lead to absolutely massive moments, like the outro to “The Shadow Side” and “Nighttime Disguise”, for example. It reminds me of those moments in tracks like “The Valley”, “Slave”, and “The Sky is Red”, for example, and I cannot get enough of it.
Also, I wasn’t expecting Solberg to scream again… The Ihsahn-esque shrieks that close out the album with “Nighttime Disguise”, all on top of the frantic strings arrangements in the background, make for an absolutely massive closing to an album of this caliber.
R: Dude, you straight up stole the words from my mouth. My next point was going to be how amazing “The Shadow Side” and “Nighttime Disguise” are, among other things. The former features a truly epic melody which wastes no time in developing itself and rapturously erupting as it reaches its conclusion. It would go without saying that it’s downright infectious as well.
The latter is nothing short of an absolute banger. It’s one of the best album closers I’ve heard in a long time. From around the five-minute mark onwards, I was also very taken with Solberg’s dramatic vocal acrobatics. They really hit the spot. I mean, I’m actually seeing this closing a live performance with a 15-minute standing ovation from the audience. I was also definitely surprised to hear Solberg scream, and man oh man what a scream it was. It sort of makes me wish he did more of this, but I can clearly appreciate it as ‘icing on the cake’ — something just peppered rarely and at just the right spot so the effect is outstanding in the end.
Although, speaking of bangers, “Running Low” feels like one of the absolute highlights along with the other two aforementioned tracks, well above the rest if you ask me. Which makes it a surprising choice for a single in a sense. You don’t want to give out your aces before you drop the album, but you need to give the people something good so they keep an interest for the upcoming release, right?
JP: Absolutely. The single roll-out was perfectly calculated to generate the most excitement. Going back to the usage of the screams, they wouldn’t be as special or as effective if they had them all over the album just for the sake of doing so. The inclusion of those vocal acrobatics at the very end of the album makes that outro so much more epic because of it being saved for that moment and that moment alone. I am all about special moments like that being used sparingly rather than used and abused over and over again.
It’s similar to how Sleep Token write the same song every time, causing that special feeling of their ‘harmonic surprise’ to not feel so special or surprising anymore since they do the same damn thing repeatedly on every track… But yes, Leprous has a knack for making mind-blowing closers; that wasn’t absent on their previous albums, in my opinion. With how “The Sky Is Red” closed out Pitfalls, it gave me a glint of hope as they showed off that they’ve still got it on that track. Then comes Aphelion to continue on that epic trajectory.
R: Absolutely. I would also argue that this is a great quality to have. I feel like there are so many overall good albums which could’ve been great, or even amazing, if given a proper closer. If you ask me, the ending of a record will make or break it in a lot of cases.
One other thing I really wanted to underline is the production on the record. You know I’m very picky with this and will usually say about well-made records that have great production. Well, Aphelion is just beyond. It doesn’t only have a very sweet loud/quiet balance between the highly dramatic and epic parts compared to the softer and detailed segments, but everything sounds like, I don’t know, alive in a way. It almost feels like the musicians are ready to step out of the speakers straight into my room. Needless to say, this makes it a highly immersive experience, as if it wasn’t like that already.
I also love the fact that it is so neatly polished while managing to sound fully organic and warm. It’s amazing how something can be so well-refined without veering, in any way, into sterile or over-produced. I guess it all just stands as a testament to how great Leprous is as a band on every level.
JP: Given with how much of a stickler you are when it comes to production, it speaks volumes for an album to deserve your praise; Aphelion really does deserve it. Dare I say that this is the most ‘Leprous‘ album yet? I know that reads weird, but this album just radiates the Leprous soul more than any other to me, and I say that being completely enamored with Bilateral, Coal, and so on. We do not deserve this band.