February 14, 2024

In no way do these versions of Leprous songs seem lightweight or trivial. On the contrary, they heighten the emotional impact of the music.

Einar Solberg is known as the singer, keyboardist, and primary driving force behind Norwegian prog metal band, Leprous. Last year, he stepped out from the band and released a critically acclaimed solo album, 16, that shed much of the harsh side of Leprous and allowed his remarkable voice to take centre stage. Now, we have a fascinating mix of Leprous and a solo performance with this release of his piano and voice interpretation of the classic 2015 Leprous album, The Congregation. Solberg candidly admits that it’s the least suitable Leprous album to make an acoustic version of, and modestly adds ‘I think it turned out surprisingly OK’. Well, it actually turned out quite brilliantly! Many, including myself, might prefer to listen to this reinterpretation rather than the Leprous original. 

Photo: Elena Sihida

If the number of plays on streaming services are anything to go by then The Price is Leprous’ most popular song. If you listen to the Leprous version of The Price on The Congregation then there are fundamentally three sections: harsh jagged guitar chords with some vocalizing to start, then faster bubbling synths, and power chords for the big chorus. That’s all repeated twice. The first thing Solberg does in the piano version is to slow down the pace considerably – the duration is an additional minute and a half. Those jagged chords are reproduced in the piano but gently and slowly and they fade during the vocalizing as the first round of the bubbling synths and chorus are delivered basically as a balled with very sparse piano chords. Contrast is provided in the second iteration with stronger vocals and quite powerful piano chords, making for an intense and emotional interpretation.

The Flood was the first snippet released from this album and you can see why as it shows how these songs can be transformed. The drama and anger of Leprous are replaced by gorgeously warm sparse piano chords. It’s totally different, even if it’s the same song. And what about the epic chorus, you are wondering? Well, just listen to the stunning way Solberg sings that chorus and you won’t miss the massive power chords. It’s seven minutes of fierce intensity as Solberg varies his voice, managing to sound like both Marc Somerville and Peter Hammill in the same piece! The songs may be bereft of their prog metal grit, but Solberg’s beautiful emotional vocal delivery more than make up for it. Listening to this music, it’s no surprise that the guy was voted Best Vocalist in the recent 2023 poll run by Prog magazine. 

Another highlight is Slave. Surely that chorus is one of the best melodies that Leprous have written, and Solberg could easily have turned that into a pretty ballad. Instead, there’s a good deal of Van der Graaf Generator angst, particularly in the piano work, and the vocal delivery is forceful and anguished too.  While this ability to highlight a great melody can work well, the converse is also true. So, a song like Red, which is saved by the driving synth work with Leprous, comes over as a little dull, but this is one of the few blemishes here. Surprises include Triumphant and Within My Fence. These two short songs are hidden away in The Congregation and do not appear to have the weight of other tracks. Here, the aggressive riffing of the band version is replaced by warmer piano chords, and Solberg brings to the fore the strong melodic vein of both songs. 

The album lasts just over an hour and, despite it being just piano and voice, remains gripping throughout. Much of this is due to the superb emotional performance of Solberg, but the music must be up to the same level too to entertain for that long and The Congregation is a fine Leprous album. To these ears, it’s interesting how the piano version reveals the underlying harmonic tension that runs through the music and creates that sense of unease and lack of closure that matches perfectly with the lyrics (which are never cheerful!). In no way do these versions of Leprous songs seem lightweight or trivial. On the contrary, they heighten the emotional impact of the music. These songs seem strangely at home on the piano, and one wonders whether Solberg himself writes on the piano and then transposes the music to the band setting.

The performance is a faithful live recording of an event that was streamed in 2022. Covid may have been the underlying trigger for that concert, but the genie is now out of the lamp. In May, Solberg will be doing a solo tour in Latin America, playing both Leprous and his own material. We can only hope that Solberg repeats such concerts in Europe and considers releasing acoustic versions of other albums in the Leprous catalogue.