Leprous at The Dome, LondonSupport: Agent Fresco| Alithia | Astrosaur
November 2, 2017 at The Dome, London
Promoter: Kilimanjaro Live
When the opening band has the name Astrosaur, you know it’s going to be a good night, and the Norwegians don’t disappoint. What little I managed to catch of their set sounded tremendous; dynamic math rock with a slight stoner vibe detouring to a massive post-rock climax. Props to the lights guy as well – they were visually stunning, more so than an opening band has the right to be.
It’s hard to know where to start with Alithia. They have an ethereal beauty, sounding rhythmically intense, serene, very technically impressive and unpredictable, all in the opening song. They change focal point mid-song, able to start out vocal-driven and ending up with multiple percussionists taking (metaphorical) centre-stage for a metronomic barrage, or in a mind-melting display of guitar. Their penultimate track ends with a lengthy, synth-driven, drum-heavy (again with the dual percussion) number that 65daysofstatic would applaud; and the close of the show is marked with a sudden shift into discordant post-metal. It’s jaw-dropping stuff throughout, not least when you learn that they have a stand-in vocalist (Iamthemorning’s Marjana Semkina).
Agent Fresco are a special band. Cheered onto the stage like a headliner, there’s no fannying around with an intro tape; they greet the crowd and just go straight into the keys-led ‘Anemoi’. The guitar that opens ‘Howls’ ramps up the cheers, and sets the tone for the rest of the set – joy – and even on a mournful song like ‘Wait For Me’, dedicated to vocalist Arnór Dan’s late father, it is cathartic rather than grief-driven. We’re even treated to a new song, just before they launch into ‘See Hell’, getting the biggest cheer throughout their set. ‘Angst’ is the sonic equivalent of screaming all your woes out at a wall – a discordant detour that provides a very different form of catharsis to ‘Wait For Me’, but no less liberating. When the instrumental finale of ‘The Autumn Red’ arrives, it feels like the finale to an emotional rollercoaster, and a very satisfying one.
For all the superficial similarities people always draw between Leprous and Agent Fresco (progressive metal bands with vocalists who frequently use a falsetto register), having the bands playing next to each other really drives home the differences. Where the Icelanders are joyous and bouncy, the Norwegians have a darkness to their experimentalism. Another key thing about Leprous: they do like to be unpredictable, varying the sets almost completely throughout the tour, barring about six songs. The lights dim, but only a lone cellist (Raphael Weinroth-Browne) appears on stage, playing solo for several minutes in a dark ambient introduction to ‘Bonneville’.
‘The Price’ and ‘Illuminate’ are a pair of tracks with massive choruses that sound gargantuan live – ‘The Price’ all robotically synchronised headbanging; ‘Illuminate’ leaning heavily on electronics. For a band as bleak and avant-garde as Leprous can be, they have written a lot of oddly catchy material; and while the vast majority of choruses draw some degree of crowd singing, it’s ‘The Cloak’, one of their quietest and most emotional numbers that brings the biggest response – every word from basically everyone. Before this show, I’d have been happy if Leprous had stuffed their set with cuts from Bilateral and Tall Poppy Syndrome, somehow missing all the stunning songs they’ve written since then. In fact, the closest I can come to a criticism is that the set needed to be longer (they already had to cut ‘Echo’ and ‘Rewind’ due to time constraints), such is their quality – and because every set needs more extreme avant-garde stuff like ‘Forced Entry’.
As close to a perfect night of live progressive music as you’ll probably find.