Interview with Leprous vocalist/keyboardist Einar Solberg | By Nicholas Senior
In progressive rock, doing something different is not always seen as truly “progressive.” Norway’s premier prog rock band, Leprous, have taken some bold steps on their latest opus, Malina—out Aug. 25 via InsideOut Records—and this may not please every progressive rock and metal fan. These subtle but significant changes are instantly evident from the record’s beautiful cover art. There’s a brightness and energy to Leprous’ latest work, and it gives these songs a much greater sense of life than their past albums—which, to be fair, were still simply fantastic. Gone is any semblance of extreme metal, and the songs are less interested in being overly showy. Leprous’ trademark technicality remains, but now serves to augment these moody masterpieces, making for a record that rewards careful and continuous listening.
So, where did this sonic shift come from? Vocalist and keyboardist Einar Solberg explains, “It just started living its own life. Once you start noticing all these things that you want to have happen, suddenly we realized the direction we wanted to take the album, and it’s a different direction than the previous one. I would say that ‘atmospheric’ is a pretty good word to describe it, especially to describe the difference between this one and [2015’s] The Congregation, because that one is pretty tight and it doesn’t sound as atmospheric. This one, and it might be the guitars, but it sounds more like a rock album than a metal album, in a way.”
“Also,” he continues, “the  live album, [Live at Rockefeller Music Hall], contributed a little bit. That was just played as it is; there’s nothing added in the mix afterward. Even though we thought it didn’t sound as perfect as we’d like, the songs felt more alive, and we realized that’s something we wanted to recreate on the new album. We wanted to make it more living, more than The Congregation.”
However, Solberg is careful to note that he did not want the change to move the band’s sound away from what Leprous actually are. He explains, “We have a lot of different tracks on the album. You have ‘Bonneville,’ which is very dynamic and super atmospheric. When that song starts, as the first song, you realize, ‘Oh, this is a very different album,’” he laughs. “It’s important to us that each album has its own identity, but still, you can very easily hear that it’s Leprous. I like when bands are changing their sound on each album, but I don’t like when they lose their identity, so there’s a balance.”
Experimentation can take many different avenues. For Malina, Leprous wanted this focus on atmospherics to take precedence, but there was some unexpected experimentation as well. “Regarding the keyboards, what we did this time is we recorded all the keyboards through amplifiers, through different guitar boxes,” Solberg explains. “None of the keyboards are from direct signals. Keyboards can be the most boring instrument on the planet if you just use three presets,” he laughs, “and can be one of the most exciting if you’re going to experiment and use all the possibilities you have in front of you.”
While the possibilities in front of Solberg informed the music, the realities in front of him informed some of the lyrics. “There is no theme for the whole record. There are already too many concept albums in the prog scene,” he assures, laughing. “The title, Malina, means ‘raspberry’ in Slavic. That comes from some lyrics that I wrote when I was in Georgia, the country. I was at my brother’s wedding there, and we were just by the beach, and there was this very, very old lady. She could barely walk, but she had to walk around for the entire day selling raspberries. She was shouting, ‘Malina! Malina!’ It made a very big impression on me, because it was so sad to see what people have to do just to survive. When you’re almost 90 years old, you may still have to walk around for an entire day trying to survive.”
Despite the lack of a single theme, there does seem to be an outward resistance of stagnation and focus on battling systems of oppression on the record. “Absolutely,” Solberg agrees, “that has been kind of our thing since the beginning. You don’t write about things you’re happy about, because it’s not really that interesting—at least for me. When you write lyrics or music, it’s easier to write about the things you’re not satisfied about. This album is a bit less like that. It’s more personal.”
So, what does Solberg ultimately want people to take away from Malina? “The danger of playing prog for people is that, sometimes, it’s not art anymore, and that can be a problem,” he admits. “For us, it’s very important that the songs make people feel something. At the same time, for us, the songs should sound good with the piano and the vocals. If it does, it’s a good song; if it doesn’t, it’s not necessarily a good song,” he laughs.