There’s an element of contradiction in the choice of The Congregation for the title of the fifth album from Leprous, Norway’s finest purveyors of serpentine progressive metal. For while the band have been proselytising unsuspecting listeners all across the world since their formation in 2001, the last thing frontman and keyboard player Einar Solberg wants is an army – or congregation – of unthinking followers.
“This time around, if there is an ongoing thread, it is about blindly following expectations and norms in society without questioning and without even evaluating or interpreting, just following because that’s what you’re expected to do,” he says. “That’s absolutely what most people, including ourselves, really do. It’s a comfortable thing. The overall subject is actually questioning, to keep an open mind and to go into the depth of things and see them for what they really are.”
Musically, there’s no denying that Leprous keep a very open mind, weaving alternative rock, metal, and progressive influences into their increasingly epic sound. “The risk is a bit smaller doing it in music,” says Solberg about not following expectations and tackling heavy subjects to match their brooding music. “But my point is that in society, if you just see things like the meat industry, you see things that everybody agrees are really horrible, but still in a way, you put on a blindfold: ‘Ah, fuck it, I’m just going to do what I’ve always done.’ Very few people are willing to compromise their comfort in order to make changes. My point is not to moralise but to raise questions. It’s always important in my opinion to never take things for granted. Like religion. For example, I really respect those who are religious because they have thought it through and came to the conclusion, ‘Yes, I believe in that,’ but I do not respect those who are just following it blindly.”
That questioning mentality is one that Solberg brings to the creative process, examining his own work in his quest to grow as a songwriter. “We don’t let ourselves get away with things that we used to do before,” he explains. “Most people when they make something, they are too proud to admit that it can be done better. Typically within bands, too many people get offended if you’re commenting on their work. We were more like that before because it can be that you’ve made something that is cool by itself but it doesn’t serve anything in that particular song.”
The follow-up to 2013’s Coal, The Congregation was assembled by Solberg making two demos, which he calls sketches of songs, every week until he had 30 in all. These were gradually developed and whittled down to the final 11 tracks that made the album. Despite his insistence on not being afraid to take criticism, in the embryonic stage of writing, Solberg says it is vital to cast off negativity and just create.
“The hardest part is the first, to go from nothing to making something. Then you shouldn’t be too critical because it’s much better to have something than to have nothing. If you think, ‘Ah, nothing is good enough,’ it doesn’t get you anywhere,” he says.
Never one to sit around waiting for a bolt of inspiration to strike from out of a clear blue sky, Solberg kept working and writing constantly to meet his quota of two fresh concepts every week. “I had that pressure on me all the time, I had to write,” he says. “I work better with deadlines and so I just set myself tons of deadlines in order to be efficient. I could use my ear as the main writing tool. Most of the writing process was me sitting and listening again and again and again to what I had made and then just making thoughts in my head about what I would want to make different. Even though it sounds like a very clinical and inorganic way to write music, for me it’s the most free way I’ve ever written because I’ve been able to use my ears. I think I hardly touched a single instrument during writing.”
Sometimes ideas were born in the unlikeliest of settings in the small hours of the night. “I remember I was working the night shift at where I work, I was sitting there just trying to compose,” he says. “I wasn’t inspired at all but I just made something, I thought it was really embarrassing to send it to the other guys. Then we tried to play it in the rehearsal room and we heard a tiny potential there and suddenly that ended up being one of the better songs on the album, Rewind. If you write something it may just trigger something else.”
The final forms of the songs were painstakingly assembled in three different studios, Fascination Street and Ghostward Studios in Sweden, and Mnemosyne Studio in Norway. Now Solberg and his bandmates – guitarists Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Øystein Landsverk, and drummer Baard Kolstad – have to reverse-engineer the monsters they created in their musical laboratories and figure out how they can possibly play all this music live.
“We just started with that,” Solberg admits. “Most of the songs are okay. A couple of them are really difficult, like the first one, The Price, for example. We spent a very big part of the rehearsals on the first riff from that song because it’s very illogical to play it on guitar and get everything to sound tight, but it’s getting there. It’s a challenge but it’s not an impossible challenge, and we will get there in time. I told them whenever there is something impossible, just change it so it is possible and you can change a note here, a note there, remove one here, add one there and still the riff sounds pretty much the same. Mostly they’ve done it more or less how I wrote it. These will be very hard songs for people to cover.”
The Congregation is out now on Century Media. See http://www.leprous.net for more info.