Leprous @ The Ruby Lounge
A lonely, bleak and mournful guitar bleeds three solitary, cutting notes. Like quicksand, that triad of pained musicality pulls you in closer and closer until Einar Solberg’s vocals, akin to the feeling of ice dropped down your spine floats in on a breeze of its own. ‘Drink a cup of emptiness / Tame the storm, in your head / Put a lid on your memories / Fighting darkness, with hollowness’ – those words and their soul-baring delivery are sharp and stunning. They conjure and close a vice on your heart, squeezing you dearly, travelling through skin and bone, touching your soul. Yet, for all of the band’s nyctophilia, of their admiration and obsession with constructing dark, shadowy atmospheres with their music, glistening in the background is a sense of hope to each and every song. The Cloak may begin life with a tear in its eye, but in its final throes it stands strong, independent and proud. As all of their songs progress, through snaking passages, disjointed and jagged time signature contortions that are far too tight to behold – seriously, this shit makes you want to give up playing an instrument for good – a sense of lightness approaches the foreground. Exemplified by The Prince’s triumphant chorus, they slice the albatross from your neck and free the track of its maligned discontent in favour of something altogether more wholesome. And it is that perfectly poised juxtaposition which, as far as I’m, concerned, makes them one of the finest progressive acts of the past few years.
It was Halloween 2014, supporting British progressive metal starlets Haken, that I first crossed paths with this Norwegian band. With a frontman who’s grandiose falsetto filled a cavernous Club Academy with both ease and charisma and a musicianship that traipsed betwixt the borders of progressive metal experimentalism, black metal grit and sprinklings of theatric dynamism, my initial thoughts of ‘what the fuck is this?’ soon subsided into pure captivation. Since then, something of an obsession has been born with this band, an obsession accelerated with the release of their fourth long player, The Congregation earlier this year.
That new album, which sees the quintet unwaveringly confident and convincing in their delivery, is what they centre much of tonight’s set around. Rewind, in front of three dazzlingly bright screens, with the band dressed smartly in all black shirts, is telling of this band’s magic. They lead you through a labyrinth of scraping and searing synths and tumbling drum work, before a cascading guitar motif takes the foray and serious gears are shifted through. On top of rattling blast beats are gorgeous guitars and operatic vocals; a pervading heaviness both masked and complimented by the gentle beauty of their crafted layers.
It’s just a shame the audience is so damn small tonight. This is a band deserving of the attention of almost any fan of metal, such is the banquet of genres and sub-genres that flavour their sound. Yet, attendance is disappointing tonight and, as such, the Norwegian’s, who are also Emperor main man Ihsahn’s backing band, are handed meagre tools to work with. A room full of people and this would have been beyond special. But the emptiness behind the main clustering crowd hinders the atmosphere from reaching any sort of boiling temperature. Musically they are flawless, but the setting takes away from the greatness of the evening.
I had a ball and a biscuit, I just wish there were more there to share it with, because I know, were there more people, then they’d be just as blown away as I was.
Words: Phil Weller