Who: Leprous / Loch Vostok / Persefone
When: 22nd October, 2012
Where: Camden Underworld
Once again I find myself at my regular musical haunt, the now infamous Camden Underworld, for a showcase of young Scandinavian prog. Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably not had the best of luck with live prog performances; notes get lost in the mixing, the sound becomes muddy and the musicians get so fixated on not messing up their complex lines that they begin to forget they ain’t just here to play, they’re here to perform. But these guys are different. Leprous exploded with my favourite album of 2011 by creating a form of prog unlike any other. In the darkest recesses of London lies a Norwegian glimmer of hope…
Well, mostly Scandinavian at any rate, this Andoran group being the exception (for those who don’t know where Andora is, it’s a few mountains between France and Spain that declared itself a country). Any old band can perform a cover song; a sign of respect for an artist they admire. It takes a far bolder one to compose a metallified medley of tunes from the ‘Star Wars’ series of films, and yet that is precisely what these guys came up with. Never afraid to shy away from their extreme side, despite their best efforts they failed to come up with an original way to get the crowd moving. Not that they seemed to care; you couldn’t keep them from smiling, genuinely enthralled just to be present with the show stealing guitarist shredding out solo’s faster than the mind can keep up with, performing with an ease that is simultaneously both a joy and immensely frustrating to watch, before pulling a funny face behind the oblivious vocalist. They know their material back to front – no immense concentration on what passage comes next – and they’re here to entertain, yes, but mostly they just play for fun; a private jamming session opened to the public, and that ain’t a bad thing at all. With the promise of a new release dropping soon, you can rest assured this won’t be the last you hear about them from me.
On paper, these guys are perfect. Songs that blast with the best, and slow it down for an emotional pique; making sure to showcase how each musician is individually awesome, not just since three members contribute vocals but awesome at whatever axe they’re grinding. Growls and cleans, solo’s and riffs, atmospheric work to match the madness, yet, the energy never really seems to be there. The band clearly wants the music to stand on its own two feet – and it does – but it never quite feels like a performance so much as a showcase of their capabilities. Only the vocalist keeps it alive, despite his unconventional appearance, proving looks can be deceiving with his versatile display of vocal lines and honest proclamations mid-song of ‘I know it’s fucking cheesy right here but it’s fuckin’ cool, right?’ And yet, still a better live show than Dream Theater.
Did anyone else know how fucking young they were? The teenagers setting up the gear turned out to be the god-damn band – I’m having a flashback to the first time I saw ‘Rolo Tomassi’ – and here I was expecting battle hardened musical veterans that had been hidden away all these years, and instead I’m greeted by a collection of precocious geniuses. Well now I feel like a grumpy old fuck – though that’s not helped by the lack of ‘bilateral’ shirts. 100 people showed up and they sell out! – but nonetheless, geniuses they are. You can tell this is gonna be one to remember as soon as they start rolling out a couple of big screen TV’s, soon used to show eerie footage of nose hairs being plucked, close ups of prawns being chewed and god knows what else, as a visual aid for their eclectic brand of music, just in case they aren’t good enough for you and your ADD brain needs something else to watch. I lost track after the first couple of minutes; lights clearly set to the borders of what health and safety regulations allow, bathing the band in ever changing shades of red and white; light and darkness; strobe lights abound at pivotal moments where every member of the band seems to manage to perfectly synchronize their movements, behaving in the exact same way to the sound of the music.
Not that you wouldn’t be lucky to catch a moment when they weren’t banging their heads; after one track you wonder how they’ll survive the next, yet with no thought of how tiring it’ll make them, they perform with reckless abandon. Barely letting one song finish before embarking on their next – I don’t think the guitars had finished ringing before someone decided it was time for the next one – they only manage to find the time to interact with the crowd in those small pockets where the songs intro is still in its very early stages, anxious to get on and play as much music as they possibly can. Dreads flying and high jumps to properly slam that chord down on the keyboard; movements resemble a band stuck to the floor, moving with an energy that looks like they’re trying to get their impossibly stuck foot to move and likely only prevented from bouncing off the walls by the necessity of being able to sing their lines into the microphones. And yes, their stamina did begin to falter towards the end, but that just proves they are in fact human after all; not for a moment did you think they weren’t giving it their all.
They got through material from their debut album; material from their sophomore album; material that they haven’t even released yet, but somehow have found the time to write this last year in between all the touring. They even deviated slightly from the tracks that we have heard, ensuring that you were constantly kept on your toes. Credit also has to be given to the sound engineers, mixing the different tracks such that even the bass retains a remarkable prominence; every keyboard synth, guitar line and drum beat made readily apparent, never reaching such ear-shattering volumes that the music can’t be properly heard, no doubt in part at request from the band (who are usually the ones demanding the volume be turned up), wishing for no note to be missed. In 2011 they produced my album of the year, and I’ll be damned if 2012 they haven’t put on the performance of the year. Leprous have quickly proven themselves to be one of the most exciting acts in the genre.
All slightly dodgy photography by Thomas Bawden.
About the Author
Position: Reviewer, Ranter, Reluctant Co-Editor
Location: London, England
Genre Preferences: Progressive, Avant-Garde, Experimental, Technical, Djent, Trad, Black
Favourite Artists: Adagio, Anthem, Baroness, Chthonic, Death Angel, Decadence, Fjoergyn, Gargoyle (Jpn), Haken, Kalevala, Leprous, Lucifugum, Pin-Up Went Down, Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, Project Hate MCMXCIX, Redemption, Sigh, Sikth, Tesseract, Thy Catafalque, Von Hertzen Brothers, Zigoku Quartet
Having held an internet presence using this alias for over a decade now, odds are if you've come across the name in the past it was myself. As for my musical history I suppose it's appropriate to say I arrived on my obsession backwards, for years holding little more than disdain and derision for a genre so seemingly obsessed with pointless brutality over composition; the likes of Deftones, Korn and Slipknot that serves as an introduction for so many flooding my musical palette, deterring my interests and yielding my only interpretation of what the genre involved. Ironically, it was Cannibal Corpse's “Vile” that first corrected me; played at high volume at a youth club by an elder metal fan angrily pushing the bleeding ears of the Green Day fans away from the stereo. I left that day clutching borrowed copies of Children of Bodom's “Hatebreeder,” the aforementioned Cannibal Corpse album, Metallica's “Cunning Stunts” on VHS and a whole new musical interest.
Arriving at a number of forums, I soaked up knowledge like a sponge, progressing through the stages of opinionated idiot to an arrogant elitist on a crusade before finally calming down, chronicling the last four years of my journey of discovery with self-published reviews. In the decade since my initial discovery, my tastes have mellowed and expanded to encompass most of the metal genre and beyond, constantly in search of something new and exciting, always seeking to expand my own musical knowledge. Black Metal with a Didgeridoo? Death Metal Disco? Trance Metal? Sign me up. I also have a strange obsession regarding the music of Asia, but I can't explain that one.
I have long since devoted far too much of my time writing - much to the amusement of my family who note the science-obsessed child now does far more writing than the English Lit. student - and have been self-publishing reviews since 2008; archives of music reviews can be found here and Film can be found here, though since joining Axis both have largely become defunct. I'm a keen globetrotter and, too, document my travels here, on an old blog originally designed to publish a novel that was abandoned due to time constraints.