Leprous - Aphelion
InsideOut Music
Progressive Rock
10 songs (56:08)
Release year: 2021
InsideOut Music
Reviewed by Goat

It's not unheard of for bands to rein back on their pop-wanderings, particularly when a sufficient amount of time has gone by that they need to "get back to their roots". Which is, as we all well know, simply another way of saying that they've spent enough time irritating their fans, they've gotten it out of their system, and are ready to resume playing the music that made them famous in the first place! Yet it is rare for bands to stray into pop, however artsy, and then assimilate it into their overall sound rather than allowing it to dominate; even in the progressive realms. And so that Leprous have made their seventh full-length a step sideways rather than a step even further into the mainstream after 2019's good but worrying Pitfalls is something to celebrate. It's essentially Pitfalls with a touch of 2017's excellent Malina; a progressive mix of styles that furthers the band's formula without repeating themselves but continuing the move away from metal, and adds to the argument for their dominance in the modern prog scene. Sure, Aphelion may be about as radio-friendly as Pitfalls in terms of heaviness, but even that album was a long way from being commercial in so many words. And where exactly is the line to be drawn between poppy art-rock and prog rock with hooks?

Leprous have consistently walked that line well since their early days, and it's not a surprise that Aphelion is another fantastic album from the band once witheringly dismissed for having Ihsahn's wife's brother on the microphone. It starts slowly, smoothly with Running Low in a way sure to irritate Pitfall detractors with Solberg and strings. Yet around the minute mark the guitars make their presence known, juxtaposing with the strings and general build, catchy but not overtly poppy even with a very ear-tugging chorus. The near-avant-garde cellos are the highlight of the piece towards the end of the song, used almost as punctuation before another iteration of the chorus; balancing both pop and prog instincts well. And although as the album continues the band can lean more towards one end of the spectrum than another (for example, the first half of Out of Here is the worst thing present simply because how much it sounds like some godawful singer-songwriter that you half-hear on the radio someday) and they never return to their metallic hinterland, they continue to write interesting and ear-friendly songs and continue their reputation for prog excellence.

And when you appreciate this, then Aphelion delivers. The trippy, electronica-focused Silhouette works well, as does the particularly vocal-focused All the Moments which is one of the most experimental pieces on the album despite not pushing the envelope particularly with its instrumental side. In comparison, The Silent Revelation works tremendously as a prog-tinged rock built around an excellent chorus that uses it without pandering to it. Of course, you want Leprous to indulge in their metallic side, but when they're this good at exercising their lighter muscles, why complain? And when the band do indulge their fans on album finale Nighttime Disguise with some odd harsh vocals, it comes over very strangely; the older, more "metallic" moments simply aren't necessary any more. Solberg alone makes this album a must-hear for fans of wonderful vocal performances, that the rest of the band aren't far behind in selling the Leprous formula is hardly a bad thing. Perhaps closer to a pitfall, then, but worthy of your time regardless, these Norwegians are worthy of your ears practically regardless of what they actually play. That Aphelion is a triumph shouldn't be a surprise.

Killing Songs :
Running Low, All the Moments, The Silent Revelation, The Shadow Side
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Leprous that we have reviewed:
Leprous - Pitfalls reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Leprous - Coal reviewed by Goat and quoted 90 / 100
Leprous - Bilateral reviewed by Jaime and quoted 90 / 100
Leprous - Tall Poppy Syndrome reviewed by Alex and quoted 83 / 100
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