Leprous

support Agent Fresco + Astrosaur
author RUB date 23/11/17 venue Atlas, Aarhus, DEN

I have a rule of thumb when I read the reviews of others. No matter what genre or recommended bands listed for a particular album, or whatever prejudices that I might have, I always listen to the music (or perhaps even read the review in question) when it has been graded with 8 or better. This was the case with the Icelandic act Agent Fresco when I read our former writer TL’s review of their début album, “A Long Time Listening” — a perfect 10 was his verdict. Since then, this album has been a flawless example of how to write an immortal classic within progressive rock and metal for me. And when I finally saw them in a live setting, I was equally blown away, as they laid Roskilde Festival’s smallest stage, Pavilion Junior, to waste with their dreamy, yet hard-hitting and very emotional performance. Fast forward to 2017, and they are now on tour as the main support for the Norwegian progressive metal group Leprous. Having heard very good things about Leprous, I am yet to be blown away by them, but now with a position as the headliner, perhaps this is the night. When the tour visited Copenhagen almost a month ago, we had another reporter present, and in order to not cloud my own judgement, I haven’t actually read said review before entering the venue of Atlas. Whether both bands, as well as opening act Astrosaur, are able to meet my high expectations for tonight’s gig, however, remains to be seen.

All photos courtesy of Sebastian Dammark

Astrosaur

The instrumental trio Astrosaur goes on stage when Atlas is only half-full. The band consists of a drummer, bassist and guitarist, and when the progressive stylings of each instrument are combined, they make for a quite dreamy soundscape. You can really feel how the songs evolve as they change pace and rhythm, and if you close your eyes, you can lose yourself in the rhythms as they unfold. In other songs, the band ventures into the world of sludge metal as the songs grow heavier, but they still manage to keep the dreamier parts of the song structure intact. In some songs, one could perhaps even call their style a heavier version of Mew — just without the vocals, of course. The rhythms in the songs are bouncy, and whether it is fitting or not, some of their songs make me think of both Dream Theater and Pink Floyd in feeling like a fusion of so many different styles and genres. The songs develop nicely and are really a joy for the ear, but still, yours truly can’t help but feel that something is missing — the obvious thing being the vocals. Most times when an instrumental band plays live, it just takes so much more to really enjoy it. It’s like they have to put much more effort into their songs to really make a lasting impression with them. And even though the tracks sound really interesting, I just don’t feel it in the live setting this time around.

6

Agent Fresco

As this is their first time in Jutland, Agent Fresco enter the stage looking ready to prove themselves. Right from the get-go, you are blasted with the emotional force that the Icelandic band has quickly become become revered for. But, as is their trademark and one of the many reasons for my loving this band, they immediately change style as the second track is aired; the dreamy landscape is left behind to make room for a much heavier approach in “He is Listening”. This is a key element in Agent Fresco’s music — that both raw emotion and heavy elements are present in a combination that is executed to perfection. The energy that the music projects is quickly spread to both band and audience, with everyone looking to really feel the emotion as well as to enjoy the infectious tunes. The aforementioned song works as an intro to “Howls” off their newest outing, “Destrier”. In this piece, we are treated to a perfect example of just how impressive the vocal span of Arnór Dan Arnarson is, and the most impressive part is that he pulls it off live as well. A simile, which I have previously used to describe the Danish outfit Kellermensch, can easily be used to explain what Agent Fresco’s music sounds like: heavy melancholia. This is because the passion and emotion in Arnarson’s vocals, coupled with the sometimes dreamy, sometimes heavy soundscape, makes for a truly interesting listen that takes hold of the listener as soon as the first chord has left the guitar. Sometimes it makes you wonder how something can be so melodic, beautiful and emotional, and yet so heavy and hard-hitting (as witnessed during “Angst”, in which Arnarson once again impresses — though this time with furious growls and shrieks). We’re also treated to a new track, which sounds post-rock-ish, despite being quite metallic in its style, so definitely, there is something to look forward to in the near future.

Around halfway through, Arnarson takes a break to thank the bassist from VOLA, Nicolai Mogensen, for filling in for the band’s own Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson tonight, as the latter has just become a father. This has no effect on the sound they produce though, as he, too, is very talented. The sound remains grandiose and energetic, and I’m constantly amazed by how well the band performs as a unit. In particular, I often find myself bewildered by how insane Arnarson’s vocal range is, and I struggle to remember anyone else who is so talented both on record and in concert. It’s beautiful and clean, and completely devoid of any effects — just a voice! The crowd members are dealing with this majestic experience each in their own way. Some are bouncing, some are singing along, some are slightly moving to the rhythms, and some are simply struck with awe.

As the set nears its end, we’re treated to “Dark Water” from the aforementioned “Destrier”. It is performed in a way, which resembles the version on record, and is therefore as close to perfect as is possible. This is an excellent lead-up to the brilliant “Eyes of a Cloud Catcher”, which makes the entire room enter a state of ecstasy. As an intro to the song, Arnarson explains what it’s about, and it becomes clear that it has huge personal meaning to him, being about his father, who sadly passed away to cancer. This song is performed in a majestic way, and is only topped by the final track of the evening, “The Autumn Red”, which sees Arnarson venture down to the audience and all the way back to the mixer desk, jumping up onto it, and completely losing himself. Indeed, this has been an insane concert and I hope it’s not the last time that Agent Fresco elects to visit Aarhus. Personally, I could’ve used a bit more material from “A Long Time Listening”, but when a concert is performed with such emotion, and by a band so ready to give it their best, one can’t really say much else negative about it. It is so brilliantly executed and grandiose that I think I’ll manage without some of my favourite picks. But no matter what, I would encourage everyone interested in music to go check this band out — both on record and live. Because if you haven’t already you’re really missing out.

9

Leprous

Before Leprous enters the stage, they have stationed a cellist on it to play some intermission music. This is a very interesting take on the whole concert experience, and as well as setting the atmosphere, it manages to draw in the spectators earlier than normal. After a while, the rest of the band enters the stage while the cellist continues to play, and joins in. Huge monitors have been added as a visual effect, and these display various landscapes and pictures during the songs. The Norwegians play music much in the vein of Agent Fresco, so one can understand why ‘Fresco was chosen as the main support. Lead singer Einar Solberg has an amazing voice as well, and the progressive song structures are very beautiful. The addition of the cello adds even more majesty to the sound, and makes the build-ups within the songs feel that much more grandiose. Solberg sings away in a cappella as the hard-hitting rhythms continue to blast through the speakers, and even though my knowledge of Leprous’ material isn’t as good compared to the previous band, I still enjoy the music very much.

Since the bands are so much alike, however, one can’t help but compare them to each other. Solberg gives it a go with the crowd interaction as well, jumping the small crate/pedestal at the front of the stage to sing the lyrics directly into the faces of the frontmost crowd. He still manages to present so much emotion but in my book, it all falls a bit short of the previous band. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but even though the sound is so grandiose — perhaps even more so than Agent Fresco’s, thanks to the cello — I don’t feel the emotions as much as I did with Agent Fresco. Not that this isn’t a good performance; Leprous still puts on one hell of a show. But I guess I just favor Agent Fresco stylistically this time around.

After a short outro/encore, the band returns to the stage to give it one last kick. The melodic and grand music is coupled with some quieter bridges before erupting into a massive chorus, which finally seems to take the show to another level. “Mirage”, taken from the newest outing, “Malina”, then concludes the proceedings for me [ed., there is a second encore featuring “Rewind” after RUB exits the venue] and leaves me feeling a bit ambivalent, because Leprous is clearly worth the headlining slot. But playing after Agent Fresco, who managed to transcend the border between a good concert and an epic one, the latter draws the longest straw in my book. I probably just haven’t listened enough to Leprous and that is my loss. As such, it simply comes down to personal preference — but I will definitely be checking Leprous out again when they return to play another gig in Denmark.

8

Setlist:

  • 01. Bonneville
  • 02. Stuck
  • 03. Acquired Taste
  • 04. Illuminate
  • 05. The Valley
  • 06. From the Flame
  • 07. The Flood
  • 08. Malina
  • 09. The Weight of Disaster

— Encore —

  • 10. Echo
  • 11. The Price
  • 12. Mirage

— Encore 2 —

  • 13. Rewind

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