It’s a relatively chill night and for that, I am grateful. It’s certainly set to be much hotter inside, as Leprous take their stage with their famously electric live act. I’ve arrived early, as I usually do, but after a few minutes of waiting, I step into this typically Israeli room. It’s not exactly what you’d expect from backstage; the venue is also a theater, most of the time. And so, old sofas are strewn about, refreshments are placed on a folding table and the whole thing gives off this strong vibe of an half-improvised backdrop to the interview. Except that, on the sofa in front of me, sit Einar Solberg (vocals) and Tor Oddmund Suhrke (backing vocals and guitar), in the by-now-trademark, sleek black clothes which Leprous usually don when on-stage.
It quickly becomes clear that they take what they do very seriously. Live shows seem to hold a special place in Leprous’s understanding of themselves, as Suhrke explains: “These days with less people buying music, I feel it’s become more and more important to actually get people off of their sofas and to have them thinking “Okay, Leprous are playing. I know that they are worth seeing live.” It’s also because we are built like that; we do evaluate our shows and we try to improve on our shortcomings all of the time. When it comes to a live show, it should be a live show, not just people standing there playing the songs to backing tracks”.
And that’s exactly what we saw that night; a show which is not only live but is also alive. Coupled with poignant and sometimes disconcerting video art, Leprous gave a show which bordered on the taxing. Volume, emotion and execution were all geared towards sucking in the listener to another place. The video art served to elevate the hidden meanings in their tracks, usually metaphors for the state of the world or of society. “Especially on the Congregation – maybe on some of the other albums it’s been more personal – but on the Congregation, the plan was to express more of these ideas and meanings. More like than the personal experiences”, Solberg says, confirming perhaps what had always been a suspicion in the back of my mind. The crowd seemed receptive to these ideas, not only memorizing the words to the tracks but also the discrete movements, rises and falls in mood. The band urged them along, exploding with action when the imagery called for it and subduing themselves when the tracks did the same.
Perhaps the most interesting phenomenon for me was seeing people dance. Sure, there was a mosh pit (and a great one at that, we’ll get to that soon) but there were also people possessed by the syncopated drums, taken away on a tangent that only their body understood and could communicate. Eyes closed, they dance alone and with each other. Perhaps that’s not so strange, as Solberg pointed out: “It’s a bit strange, I mean metal is very rhythmical music so it should work perfectly fine. There’s no reason why dancing shouldn’t be a part of it.” Perhaps it was just the unbelievable atmosphere that fell on the space, as if we were transported elsewhere, to a place where music, body and expression are all one and the same.
This was probably helped by the focus which the last two albums had received. The setlist was made up of exclusively Coal and The Congregation with the exception of “Acquired Taste” from Bilateral and the obvious encore of “Forced Entry”. The latter was a moment of sheer insanity, the pent up energy created during the emotional taste imploding in the center of the crowd, sending us into a frenzy not easily contained. The other high point must have been “Valley”, with its contrast between silent and loud stirring something deep within our hearts. Many a limb flew as passion burned within, the middle of the crowd turning into one melded entity, screaming its pain and love.
These extreme states of mind are no mistake. Leprous aim to swallow you in their own place, to take over all your senses and do them as they wish. Tor captures this mind sent perfectly, explaining what drives them to such levels of performance: “There are many ways of having a good live show, there’s no one way. How we want to do it, is to create an atmosphere for the listeners, and just to drag them into our universe, keeping them there for the entire show. That’s a very hard thing to do because people lose attention quickly “Ahh, let’s go grab a beer.” Our goal is for nobody to be interested in grabbing that beer, and for them to be glued to the stage. Of course we don’t always succeed with that, some days are better than others but that’s not the point”.
The future for Leprous looks bright. Soon, their crowdfunded Oslo show will be recorded and that plans to be perhaps the high point of the current phase of their career. It feels like all the hard work they’ve put over the past few years is funnelling into one place. And the band seem to know it, wishing to freeze frame this point in their career and prepare a monument for the years to come:
Tor: “It will be the usual Leprous show with much more than what we normally have. Bigger production, guest artists, more special effects so it’s going to be the show that we spent all of this time perfecting throughout the Congregation tour.
Einar: We aren’t revealing anything; we’ve usually made a new album every second year or something. The package we have now, we feel like this is a really good package, including the live show. When we have a new album, we won’t be playing that anymore so it’s kind of okay for the people who will miss it. It’s a way to keep this show and save it“.