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How Leprous have carved their own path to prog metal

Best known as Ihsahn’s backing band, Norwegian prog-metallers Leprous are emerging as a powerful force in their own right, driven by twisting genres into melancholic new sounds

With a population of little over 12,000 people, the Norwegian town of Notodden doesn’t seem the most likely breeding ground for musical legends. The fact that this small, snow-blasted settlement has already given the world black metal icons Emperor is startling enough, but now there is a second phenomenon emerging from those streets: prog metal ingénues Leprous.

Notodden’s second-most celebrated band are perhaps best known as the musicians that backed Emperor frontman Ihsahn when he first hit the road as a solo artist back in 2009, but since that educational trial-by-fire they have steadily built their own unique reputation as fearless contemporary groundbreakers. But to emphasise how tiny Notodden is, it’s worth noting that founder member/frontman Einar Solberg is Ihsahn’s brother-in-law.

“He’s been like a brother to me since I was a little kid,” Einar says today. “When we did the shows with him, that was the moment when we started taking Leprous more seriously. When we got the offer, it was like, ‘OK, this is for real now!’ It wasn’t like playing at the local youth club anymore. For a while we rehearsed more Ihsahn stuff than Leprous stuff, just to get it up to the level that was needed. There was a lot of pressure on us, playing with a legend! I mean, we celebrate Xmas together, but it’s still the guy from Emperor, you know?”

Formed by Einar and his friends at the local youth club in Notodden back at the dawn of the century, Leprous began life as a shambolic punk rock band, “because that was all we could manage to play!” But by the time Ihsahn requested their services, they had evolved into something wildly distinctive and very much in tune with a progressive metal renaissance that was really beginning to gain momentum.

Early albums like debut Tall Poppy Syndrome in 2009, and its bewildering follow-up, 2011’s Bilateral, bore little resemblance to anything from the black metal world, but Einar admits that his mentor’s influence on Leprous has been huge and lasting.

“He has always done his own thing, regardless of expectation,” he notes. “That’s what we’ve done, too. We exist more in the prog scene, of course, and that’s not quite as conservative as some of the black metal fans can be, so it’s a smaller risk for us than for him, ha ha! But he’s a humble person, too. We all admire that and we think it’s really important to never take any of this for granted.”

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