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Einar Solberg “The Congregation” (Acoustic) Album Review by Friedrich Christian Stenzel

After Einar Solberg released his first solo album, “16”, in 2023, enthusiasts of melodramatic art rock might have thought that an album couldn’t be more dominated by virtuosic vocal performances and vast melodic arches.

Well, they thought wrong.

What an exciting time to be a Solberg fan! “16” should have fulfilled every melancholic soul’s desire for a soundtrack during their long autumn walks through the woods, contemplating humankind’s existence and their place in the world. Shame it was released during midsummer though – InsideOut has never been particularly considerate when it came to releasing albums during seasons they would fit into (both DMJ albums were released during winter…). Well, this time they nailed it. Einar Solberg proudly presents the second release purely under his name and it’s the perfect album to gaze over a wide snow-covered field, pondering life’s big questions.

Solberg’s influence on the Leprous catalogue has always been undeniably prominent, to the extent that the bulk of many songs has been crafted by him. Not to mention his characteristic roaring voice. Still, the influence of a band filled with such talented musicians as Tor Oddmund Suhrke, Robin Ognedal, Baard Kolstad and Simen Børven cannot be understated. The differences between “16” and releases such as “Malina” or “Pitfalls” should be enough evidence of that.

Now, the Million-dollar question: What Leprous album would be most suitable for a rearrangement into a stripped-down piano version?

Some listeners have claimed that later Leprous releases sounded more like Solberg solo releases than Leprous albums. So, when a solo live performance by the singer was announced, many of these people might have thought of intimate versions of songs from these albums, ideally slower songs that originally featured minimalistic arrangements. A solo concert consisting of tracks like “Castaway Angels”, “On Hold”, “I Lose Hope”, “Distant Bells” and “Leashes” with the occasional classic (let’s say “The Cloak” or “Fate”?) would have been the obvious choice. It would also have been a far more uninteresting route to go, as we already know how these songs sound in an intimate setting.

Uninteresting choices? Not on Solberg’s watch. So, what Leprous album would be most suitable for a stripped-down piano version? Million-dollar answer: the band’s 2015 prog metal masterpiece “The Congregation”.

As mentioned, many listeners sensed an increasing dictatorship in the Leprous camp, because songs became more concise, more melodic, less heavy, less polyrhythmic. Solberg is going full Collins and turns Leprous into a pop band! However, exactly the opposite is the case, as “Pitfalls” and “Aphelion” featured far more influences from the other band members than many earlier releases. In fact, in a 2020 interview, Solberg stated that the Leprous album that has come closest to a Solberg solo album was “The Congregation”. So, why not turn it into an actual solo release? This performance was originally recorded during an intimate concert Solberg played and streamed online for his fans all around the world to watch. This was a thing Leprous regularly did during the pandemic when concerts were a no-no, and fans were thankful.

Now, “The Congregation” might be the band’s most technical, most consequent, and most complex album to date. It’s a roller-coaster ride from start to finish and the emphasis on rhythm (welcome Baard!), lack of solos and dry-as-dust production throughout made this album as great as it is. From a rational point of view, there are few Leprous albums that are less suitable for this kind of experiment. Even Solberg admitted this but stated that he thinks the performance turned out “surprisingly OK”. Don’t be so self-critical, Einar, the release turned out great. The fact that these songs work even without emphasis on rhythm, in-thepocket arrangements and dry-as-dust production only confirms their high melodic qualities. Their core ideas are solid, even without all the embellishments. It’s almost obsolete to mention that songs like “The Flood”, or “Lower” work in this setting. But even tracks heavily reliant on rhythm, such as “Triumphant”, “The Price” or “Third Law”, manage to purely convince with their harmonic and melodic features.

Anyone who has witnessed Einar Solberg live on stage will confirm that the singer usually delivers his insane vocal performances with impressing ease and surprisingly exact intonation. This reviewer fondly recalls hearing the studio recording of “Alleviate” for the first time (not having seen the band live yet), thinking “well, well, let’s see how this guy pulls off a song like THAT live on stage”. I should get off my high horse, as these doubts were proven unnecessary on so many levels during the band’s Vienna show in 2022. Notably, Solberg’s performance on “The Congregation Acoustic” was not messed with, neither his piano playing, nor his singing. A bold statement. This is especially impressive as his intonation is on point almost all of the time.

The Congregation Acoustic” might be a tad much for casual Leprous listeners, as it emphasizes purely on Solberg’s expressive voice. But this release is a treat for fanatics of this brilliant singer. Perhaps the members of Leprous will stumble across the recordings of the other live-stream performances somewhere on their hard drives, realize they are flawless and create similar releases for them too. I guess one can hope.

What an exciting time to be a Solberg fan. And the next Leprous album is already in the making!

Reviewer rating: 8/10

Pre-orders for The Congregation Acoustic are underway at this location, and you can check out Einar performing “Within My Fence” below.

EINAR SOLBERG

Tracklisting

  1. The Price (Live)
  2. Third Law (Live)
  3. Rewind (Live)
  4. The Flood (Live)
  5. Triumphant (Live)
  6. Within My Fence (Live)
  7. Red (Live)
  8. Slave (Live)
  9. Moon (Live)
  10. Down (Live)
  11. Lower (Live)
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