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It’s amazing that this album was put out by the same Therion that exists today. Where as later albums have been pretentious wank for those who want to “listen to something intelligent”, thinking that pointless orchestra backing is something intelligent, here is an album that has more presence than any of those other albums, an album that almost feels like there’s some monster threatening to tear the listener asunder, or at times gives the sorrowful feel of watching one’s life flash before their eyes before death, or on some of its more epic moments a pure joy for life. Simply put, this is a monster of death metal.
Riffing throughout the “heavier” sections is similar to most “Stockholm” style DM bands, with power chord riffing that has a classical harmonic sense, and is usually melodically aware as well, and with lead riffing that focuses entirely on melodies, which are usually not dissonant. However, not being a one trick pony, this is frequently subverted into doomy riffing that retains that power (which is partially attributable to chord construction and partly attributable to production) and sense of melody. There’s a few spots that aren’t rhythmically straight-forward ( the beginning of Pandemonic Outbreak or the 2:41 riff of Cthulhu for instance), but those are the exception- there’s no odd time signatures as a whole, and this album relies on the melody and harmony of those riffs, as well as the changing tempo between them.
As for percussion- there’s not much in the way of blasting on this one. The drums tend to either follow the tempo of the guitars, or hang back a bit slower, their main purpose either creating syncopation by accenting the weak beat, or occasionally playing harder and on every guitar note, creating a dramatic accent on through those sections (which are not the norm). There are occasional rolls and double-bass sections on some of the slower riffs, which serve to create some interesting layering in rhythm, but once again, those are not the norm. Overall, an excellent performance- perhaps it won’t have people gawking at its technicality, but it supports the album perfectly.
Bass for the most part acts as a secondary rhythm instrument that has a slight sense of tone, creating a bit of counterpoint, or plays along with the guitar, at a slightly lower note for harmony with the riff. Not a huge element of the album in this respect, but definitely adds some depth. However, it’s also frequently used for the “riffs” in the quieter sections, and in that respect it’s huge- one of the things that makes this album so effective is the role of dynamics in the structuring.
Structuring is definitely in line with Euro-death conventions - narrative structures that flow and tell out a whole “story” through the music. And like any story, there’s rising actions, climaxes, and falling sections to let you relax… if only so that the next climax hits you harder. These are frequently created by dynamics- having only the bass, drums, and a quiet lead guitar rather than a big loud guitar set on destroying all in its path- but are also created through tempo, changing chaos of the melodies, and at times even vocals- shifting from female vocals to that raspy, mid-pitch growl in “Symphony of the Dead” or having the one downright inhuman sounding growl in the title track to create a climax, for instance.
Vocals are, as mentioned above, a mid to high pitched raspy growl, with a female vocal section in “Symphony of the Dead”, and a few particularly nasty deeper growls used as accents. They fit the atmosphere of the music well, and don’t take the focus off of what the instruments are doing.
This wasn’t produced at Sunlight studios, but it’s got that typical sound- sharp guitar distortion, good power without being overly bass driven, and everything placed correctly in the mix (the drums here are a bit lower in the mix than a typical Sunlight production, which is probably a good thing).
Overall, this album is a classic of death metal, and is a must buy.