Back in 2011, Leprous released their third album, Bilateral. It quickly and righteously secured a place in my top ten modern progressive metal playlist, and hasn’t moved since. These Norwegians were onto something big, with their impeccable mix of sublime vocals and stellar songwriting, production, and arrangements. Follow-up releases Coal and The Congregation each had quite strong moments as well, though Bilateral remained their high-water mark.
But then something happened on 2017’s Malina. Progressive music and adventurousness took a back seat to melancholia, and what Leprous left us with was an unremarkable study in mood. I was hoping for a return to form with the band’s latest effort, Pitfalls, but singer Einar Solberg’s statement that “this is honestly the album nobody expects from us” had me more than worried.
And with good reason, it turns out. Pitfalls is Leprous’ most personal statement to date, and that statement writhes around Solberg’s battles with depression and anxiety. The songs here don’t beat around the bush; Solberg tackles his issues head-on, which is both excellent and admirable. The problem is that more than two-thirds of Pitfalls falls victim to self-indulgent tedium.
First, the good: Pitfalls sounds as amazing as we’ve come to expect from Leprous. Their albums are consistently among the best-produced releases, and this is no exception. It is a sonic joy to listen to. Clinical, yes, but somehow also warm and pristine at the same time.
There are moments here where the band still shows they have a pulse. “Foreigner” is an electric, apocalyptic track, much like Muse’s most epic moments, and “At the Bottom” may be the most wrenching track here, with a solid arrangement and achy vocals from Solberg. Both songs rise slightly above the crowd, but fail to come close to the heights the band has previously scaled.
“The Sky is Red,” the eleven-minute closing track, is by far the best and most progressive song on Pitfalls. It feels as though the band is finally allowed to stretch out and explore visions other than Solberg’s, and it pays off. The eeriness that permeates the song is captivating, and it had me wishing for more. Sadly, the song arrives far too late to save the album.
Outside of these moments we are left with sad and mournful pop music, with clean melodies, a multitude of electronic samples and percussion, and Solberg’s mostly-falsetto lamentations. After a month of listening, none of the other six tracks stuck with me at all, instead giving my “skip” button a real workout.
Taking Malina and Pitfalls back to back, it’s clear that Leprous have gone off the progressive music script completely, and have morphed into a melancholic pop-rock act. Gone is the band’s adventurousness, replaced with dour exercises in futility. Just as Malina was my disappointment of 2017, so too Pitfalls is following suit.
(released October 25, 2019 on InsideOut Music)
Heavy Music Headquarters Rating:
Watch Leprous – “Below” Video