Leprous haven’t let a little thing like the pandemic stop them. Last May, they livestreamed from Oslo’s Urban Sound Studios, finding their way through the crowd-less weirdness by making jokes and reading out online comments.
Since then, they’ve played two tiny gigs also in Oslo; done an ‘interactive’ livestream with a fan-chosen setlist; written new song Castaway Angels; streamed an acoustic piano session from an art gallery; teamed up with Ihsahn for a combined show; livestreamed a run-through of 2015’s The Congregation and involved fans in a week-long event called ‘Let’s Write A Song Together’. Oh, and they’ve been giving music lessons online.
This weekend’s festivities, 2017’s Malina in full on Saturday followed by latest album Pitfalls on Sunday, are a natural progression. After a few minutes’ delay, the stream reveals the band onstage at Norway’s Notodden Teater, drenched in blue light. As they launch wordlessly into Bonneville, a smart, waistcoat-clad Einar Solberg hitting those arm-hair-raising high notes, it’s obvious how much drama lies at the heart of this band. Of course they’d keep performing during the pandemic… how could they not?
Following a similarly thrilling Stuck, Einar pauses to address the socially distanced audience. They’re never shown, but their cheers are an echo of normality. “A year ago if we had that crowd, we would have considered quitting!” he quips, before warning people that Malina’s front-loaded with the “hits”. “Enjoy it while you can,” smiles guitarist Tor Oddmund Suhrke.
While next song From The Flame is the standout on Malina, it’s stacked with other high points. Mirage is full of momentum, a change in the ending bringing it to a soaring climax, and Coma – a song they stopped playing because it was so hard – is technically jaw-dropping. And then, as if to remind us that they’re human after all, Einar shows a video montage of himself and Tor in this very venue, doing musical theatre in the early 00s. “Shall we wear corpse-paint tomorrow?” he grins.
The night closes with The Last Milestone, heavily featuring cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne – performing throughout from Canada, as with Leprous’ other streams – before the spell of mournful beauty is broken by a football chant from the seats: “We love you Leprous, we do. We love you Leprous, we do. We love you Leprous, we do – oh, Leprous we love you!”
Evening two rolls around, and there’s no corpse-paint to be found. With Pitfalls an even more painful, insular album, the atmosphere is already emotionally heavier – and Einar jokes that so much of it was written on keys, everyone’s been roped in to play them apart from drummer Baard Kolstad. Sadly the first half is plagued with bandwidth issues, but by My Throne get its live premiere and At The Bottom always sounds monumental, as does a wild-eyed Distant Bells.
As Einar promises they’ll end on a “high note”, Baard breaks a drum head for the first time since 2013, causing a delay – but The Sky Is Red is worth the wait. By the end of the avant-garde epic, each band member is performing their own wild ballet, contorting their bodies and leaping across a stage bathed in crimson. Before the stream cuts and they do an encore for people who bought tickets for both nights (Golden Prayers and Massive Attack’s Angel), the football thug gets in a last chant of: “Come on you Leprous!”. It might be tonally incongruous, but it’s a sentiment shared by many.