Leprous steal the night with the best show of the year!
The Underworld in Camden is one of London’s most popular modest sized venues for metal in London. Consistently heaving with extreme metal fanatics, The Underworld puts on all manner of shows throughout the year. However, if you’ve never attended the venue, I must say that it has a rather unique layout. It takes a little bit of navigation to actually find the stage, which is tucked into a corner facing a peculiarly shaped pit, surrounded by another upper platform (only separated by a few steps). The bars are in other sections of the building, places where you can’t see the stage, which makes it a slightly odd, but charming venue when compared to the norm. However, one of the most frustrating things about the venue are the three pillars situated in the middle of the pit carving a diagonal line across the floor. These pillars can make seeing the whole stage quite troublesome, and so it can be difficult to find the sweet spot to ensure you can see the entire stage.
This time, the aforementioned sweet spot was already taken by Blindead‘s projection equipment, which meant I had to adjust my plan significantly. Thankfully, I managed to find a spot and stick to it throughout the entire show. I was in relatively high spirits – helped along by an odd Irish
comedian alcoholic who came up to my party in the line outside and told a series of amusing jokes in exchange for a hamburger beer money. (“Time for a Rock n’ Roll joke. Why are premature ejaculation and a drum solo similar? They’re both coming, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop them!”) Ah London, I missed you.
First up for the evening was Polish sludge/doom metal band Blindead, a band I was admittedly previously unfamiliar with. There’s a fairly large Polish population in London, so there fans were out in force, enthusiastically crowding around the stage and cheering their fellow nationals along. I have to say, that Blindead failed to impress me. The music was slow, unoriginal, and failed to captivate me in any way. The synth lines used felt more cheesy than emotional – one song in particular stood out as sounding like a porn soundtrack in a funeral setting. Needless to say, it was a bit of a dirge, and not in a good way. What’s more, the primary vocalist seemed to be visibly struggling with his parts in some areas, which never bodes entirely well for a band. At the end of their performance, the applause was rapturous, so clearly there’s an audience for the band, and I’m just a sourpuss. They seemed very friendly, and all linked arms to do a theatrical bow, so clearly it’s just a case of mismatched tastes. Considering that the band that was originally opening for Leprous on the first stretch of the tour was the weird black metal/industrial/sludge group Vulture Industries, I can’t help but feel that a cool opportunity has been lost.
Regardless, I wasn’t there to see Blindead, who performed with passion, but not necessarily well.
It had previously been three years since i last saw Leprous take the stage., and I am thankful to report that a lot has changed in that time. Originally, when I saw them play with Xerath, Shining, and Ihsahn they were a lot younger and a lot less experienced. This was in 2010, so it was actually before the release of their classic albums Bilateral and Coal as well as the touring experience that would have come as a result of that (they also are Ihsahn’s backing band). All of this has amounted to a band that bear very little resemblance to the outfit they were three years ago, but in the best possible way.
Originally Leprous came across like an awkward band that hadn’t quite found the confidence to carve out their own unique identity. Their debut, Tall Poppy Syndrome was a dark and moving album, one that struck a fine balance between bleak atmosphere and dramatic potential, something that is not easy to pull off in a live setting, especially when you haven’t fully come to terms with it. As Leprous have become more comfortable in their music and evolved, so have their live presence. The new band that took the stage on that night were unrecognizable and it was glorious to behold.
Coal, is of course, their 2013 release, and has divided fans due to its darker and less playful nature than the revelatory Bilateral. In fact Coal is basically an extension of Tall Poppy Syndrome using the sound they perfected with the more lighthearted Bilateral. Many fans found Coal a little too serious or slow for their taste, but for me Coal was more successful because it maximized the emotional stakes. While some may find the relation between the two albums to be difficult to imagine it really comes together in a live setting.
Leprous took to the stage with “Foe” which is the first track from Coal and is a suitably epic opener. Through this the band start how they intend to continue by delivering a powerful and impactful evening. They played all of Coal, most of Bilateral, and one song from Tall Poppy, whilst getting heavier as the night went on, choosing to close out with “Contaminate Me” and “Waste of Air“. It’s only when you hear songs from both Bilateral and Coal played together d you realize how perfectly they belong together.
Anybody who says that Coal lacks dynamics needs to see it in a live setting because their minds will truly be changed. Einar Solberg was flawless and when you consider the intricate vocal acrobatics that are laced throughout Coal, you realize that that is no small feat. Einar did not make playing his music live easy for himself; and you could tell that after their gargantuan 100 minute set it had truly taken a toll on him, both physically and emotionally. In fact, looking over the rest of the band, there was not a single dud performance in sight. They all fit together incredibly well and played to the best of their ability. Unlike three years ago, the band are well and truly happy and confident with themselves and the music that they play. Special praise goes to drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen performed mind blowingly well. Watching him pound away at his drum kit is a thing of beauty.
As with anything, there is one small caveat though. Towards the end of their set, Leprous decided to tackle Coal‘s powerful album closer “Contaminate Me” which is by no means an easy song to play for anyone involved. The biggest problem is the majority of the vocal work on the album is handled by none other than Ihsahn himself. It makes sense for Ihsahn to be so heavily involved because of the band’s relationship with him, but it creates a problem when trying to recreate that music in a live setting. “Contaminate Me” revolves heavily around the unique, anguished howls that Ihsahn is most famous for. The song itself contains a wealth of emotional depth that is conveyed by Ihsahn’s impressive and one of a kind vocal abilities.
By comparison, Einar is an incredible clean vocalist but not nearly as refined are his harsh vocals. Now personally ? I wouldn’t trade Einar’s clean voice for Ihsahn’s harsh, but it is the kind of tricky drama that can only best be handled by that kind of voice. All in all, it is an exceedingly brave song for Einar to attempt and from a purely aural perspective, it failed to deliver on some of the more extreme emotional content. However, if you are lucky enough to see Einar performing this song, you can see the true emotion in his face and how overwhelmed he was by the song, so much so that it almost moved me to tears.
All in all, Leprous put on a dazzling show, showcasing one of the very best albums of 2013, and marrying it with one of the very best albums of 2011. When you consider that my only fault with the show was that Einar Solberg isn’t Ihsahn when it comes to delivering harsh vocals – well, no one is Ihsahn, so that’s moot. Leprous will soon be at a stage where they will be one of the very best bands in progressive metal if they continue with the level of growth (both in terms of musical, and playing live) they have exhibited over the last three years it is safe to say that Leprous will go very far indeed.