Many a debut solo album is a chance for self-reflection, but Leprous’ singer and keyboardist Einar Solberg hasn’t worked entirely alone after seven long-players made with the band. “The whole idea of the album,” he says, “was to collaborate, 50/50, with one composer on each song.” However, there’s an emotional thread to 16 that’s very personal.
As Solberg’s glacial falsetto relates on the title track, enhanced by the cello of co-writer Raphael Weinroth-Browne, ‘It took me 16 years to realise/That I was meant to walk through winter nights/When doubt appeared in my mind.’ He’s called this collection of songs “the closest I’ve ever come to writing a concept album”, and lyrically it focuses on a time in his life when he was undergoing personal turmoil while also finding solace in music and joining his first bands.
Those fans of Leprous’ heavier fare, for whom an album without crunching guitars is like a sandwich without any filling, may find 16 slightly off-putting at first, since it’s a largely electronic-oriented record. They’ll find different shades of a similar darkness, though, and textures are brooding and noirish as moody synth prowls underneath Solberg’s fragile warble on Remember Me, and he first starts to unfold the theme of tracing back the troubled person he once was. Chattering, agitated breakbeats then create a frayed, edgy feeling as he implores, half-suffering, half-accusing: ‘Remember me when you know you’re to blame/Remember me while you decay.’
But while the metallic elements that are the bedrock of Leprous’ sound are largely left at the studio door here, they’re replaced by equally thunderous, all-consuming sounds of different stripes, as on the emotional electrical storm that blows up around A Beautiful Life: ‘I’m falling out, falling out of reality… I’m crawling out of the pit,’ he howls. He gets fully apocalyptic in the techno-rock maelstrom of Splitting The Soul, written with sometime collaborator Ihsahn (also Solberg’s brother-in-law) and beefed up with orchestral accompaniment and a full choir. Finally, on the 11-minute The Glass Is Empty penned with Agent Fresco’s Tóti Guðnason, he admits spiritual defeat in a pounding noise-rock crescendo: ‘I lock the door/Can’t win this war/I leave this prison of guilt/Tearing down what we built.’
Older, but none the wiser, then. But he shouldn’t be too hard on himself. With help from a well-chosen cast of collaborators, he’s penned an impressive and adventurous new chapter in his career, and the 16-year-old Solberg would be mightily impressed.