I’ll firstly state here and now that I am a complete and utter fan boy of Therion and have been since the first album released in 1991. I missed the demo years and have tried to buy them but with little success, but even on the first album main man and supreme song writer Christofer Johnnson had a vision and whether he had his vision mapped out decades only he can say but this new opus, and it is an opus, stands testament to his unnerving guile and outright ambition surpassing everything he has recorded in his previous 15 studio albums. Granted there are songs on all those releases that are brilliant and one could never envisage a Therion live show without songs like “To Mega Therion” or “Rise Of Sodom And Gomorrah”. My review is long, as you’ll read, but my objectivity is one I hold extremely sacrosanct despite my adulation of this bands work and I’m sure you’ll read less favourable reviews but the whole gargantuan project needs to be taken in context of the vision and ambition of Christofer Johnsson, so for what it’s worth this is my take on the new album.
If you’re unaware this 16th album could be seen as the pinnacle of Johnsson’s ambition as he has always wanted to write a rock opera and hinted some time ago that that would be the next Therion project. That process started in 2012 with some compositions he had written, but nothing materialised as I kept checking and hoping the rock opera Johnsson had always wanted to do would appear. Instead we got a stop-gap covers album called ‘Les Fleurs Du Mal” that arrived in 2012 but subsequent to that all attention was focused on the rock opera done Therion style. It is an emboldened realisation of Johnsson’s vision and spans over three hours across three CDs (six vinyls if you buy that instead). Contained within are an array of vocalists each taking a crucial part in the opera which is centred loosely on Russian philosopher Vladímir Soloviov’s “A Short Tale Of The Antichrist”. Like any opera the pinnacle of this release will be to perform the whole thing live with all the artists and contributors being present though some of the tracks are being aired during the tour which started in February. Long term vocalists Thomas Vikström, Lori Lewis and Chiara Malvestiti are here along with 27 other vocal contributors each taking on a different part of the opera within three ‘Acts’.
From the moment “Turn From Heaven” starts there is an electrifying tension as a lone bass riff and backing symphonics are introduced, accompanied by a wonderful choral vocal piece that is emotive and solemn. As the track unfolds the complexity of the arrangements is staggering as the vocal arrangements alone are colossal. The opener is a typical Therion symphonic metal song that established fans will love as the whole album flows from one song to another with few if any breaks between the songs. “Where Will You Go” is beautiful with the vocal styles especially the choral backing which are mesmeric and magisterial. The musicianship is exemplary displaying panoramic orchestration that the listener can completely immerse themselves in. The album goes through phases of emotion but it is the ballad like strains on a multitude of songs that are delivered with the most passion creating searing heart wrenching moments on “Through Dust, Through Time” and “The Solid Black beyond”
Fans of Therion’s material circa ‘Theli’ have something to get their teeth into with songs like “Morning Has Broken” with its upbeat metalized delivery and fans of “Vovin” have songs like “Garden Of Peace” with its solemn pace and melancholy female vocals cemented to equally doleful male vocals creating that theatrical approach we have come to know about Therion’s music. “Anthem” begins as full opera with orchestration only as the percussive strains add depth right up until the track hits the gas and side steps into metal with a much faster pace that had me thinking about “The Wild Hunt” from “Vovin”. A calm “Nothing But My Name” closes disc one with its morose texture that smoothly flows into “The Arrival Of Apollonious” which has a superb chorus that will mark indelibly in your head.
“Night Reborn” is straight metal and hints at Johnsson’s love of old heavy metal with its straight laced riff as a deep resonating male voice booms forward. The contrasting waves during the album are bountiful creating wonderful apices and nadiral like qualities that are dramatically expressive such as the brooding “Dagger Of God” and the relatively jolly “Temple Of New Jerusalem”. Some parts of this release listen like Ghost material due to the choral vocals typified by the opening sequence on “Bringing The Gospel” before it slides cohesively into metal territory. “Laudate Dominium” has a plethora of emotions executed via the myriad of vocals that embellish the sombre musicianship only for the mood to change on “Remaining Silent” with its slow permeating opening phase that leads into a much quicker beat with, as always, the vocals taking centre stage as the ranges by the contributors is exceptional. I must talk about the title track which has an insidious aura to it, with a much lower tone that is amplified by the percussive elements and low male vocals that make the track sinister and slightly funereal. As the track unfurls the metal components lift the song into a more optimistic ambience. Even here the song twists around billowing vocal opulence as the song is a stand out progressive tones are abruptly inserted to great dramatic effect. The last section of disc two has more metal components with “To Where I Weep” and “Astral Sophia” being heavier, exuding a menacing aura within a more traditional metal structure with the male vocals adding depth to the chorus lines.
On monumental sonic creations you often find the latter sections and songs are weaker but here as disc three starts with “Shoot Them Down”” that momentum is retained and even escalated as the song is a straight up rock track with a fine melody which I’m sure will be on the set list for the tour. That rising crescendo of the music is pinnacled with the vocals which bombard the listener with the multiple styles. The dulcet bass hook of “Beneath The Starry Skies” has a rich opalescent facia that is festooned with vocals and a muscly metalized riff, but it is the bass that retains the focus along with the vocals. “Forgive Me” is epic, a nine minute plus sortie into classical orchestration that goes through affluent and mournful female operatic vocals. As the music is added the pace is funerary initially as male vocals balance the track out which also sees the mood uplift marginally. The song reminded me of “Clavicula Nox” but with far more ornate vocal arrangements as the song delves into a vat of solemnity that is tearful yet ominously presented. “Burning The Palace” increases the density substantially along with a rise in pace as the high end vocals pierce the song with a shrieking intonation that dissolves allowing the music to flood in with a big jump in tempo.
As we get into the last quarter of the album “Day Of Wrath” isn’t as heavy as the title suggests as that density immerses the riffing within a blanket of bristling vocals with an upbeat chorus style. “Rise To War” continues with a metal riff and dramatic orchestrations as it feels like the album is rising to a finale with each song in this last quarter or fifth of the release. I did like the piano start of “My Voyage Carries On”, it is mournfully decorated before the song switches into a far quicker velocity that is metal based as the orchestration and vocals fill the track with fervour. This whole sonic expedition ends with “Theme Of Antichrist” as a harpsichord melody is heard punctuated by the orchestration and defined percussive elements. The song escalates in intensity as different orchestral components are painted onto the track culminating in the vocals and guitar riff. There is an epic flavour to the song despite its short duration as the plethora of vocals are dominant, flamboyant and unerringly sincere. A spoken piece is narrated that signals the finale of the song as the dramatic aura deepens developing into the climax that concludes with church bells.
I know this is a long review but the new opus by Therion deserves it, it is every bit what I expected and beyond what I imagined as “Beloved Antichrist” will surely go down in history as the first true metal opera and gets a rarely awarded ten from yours truly.
(10/10 Martin Harris)