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In Mexican Spanish, “cagada” has two meanings. The literal meaning is, “a pile of shit”, but there’s also a colloquial meaning, which is, “a big mistake”. Therion’s Gothic Kabbalah, the Swedish symphonic metal ensemble’s eleventh long play, actually fits in both concepts, though to be honest it’s not entirely worthless. It’s just that compared to their previous output, it really seems like a really big, steaming “cagada”. There’s some quality to be found here but you’ve got to dig deep to find it. I was extremely disappointed when I first listened to this, and though I’ve occasionally tried to enjoy it these past years, I still find it pretty mediocre, undoubtedly the band's worst so far. And the fact that it's a double album just makes things worse.
It all starts to suck right away with its boring cover, a pretty generic “mystic-looking” eye with flames that looks like the logo of a mediocre and poorly conceived online game. Yeah, that’s right, I’m even complaining about the artwork. Whatever happened to the dark, abstract compositions full of symbolism that adorned their classic albums? Anyway, at least they kept their logo intact, so there was hope for this one. Or so I thought. For what I found here is a shitload of half-assed ideas thrown in, and an overall lack of catchiness. Also, I’m not a huge fan of both Mats Levén and Snowy Shaw vocals on this album, on which they are an overused resource. They sound out of place and try too hard to sound operatic and grandiose. They work better when singing calmly or narrating-like. Therion should have kept their “one power metal singer song per album” formula and stick to REAL operatic vocals for the rest of the songs, which is what used to set them apart from other symphonic metal bands in the first place. Finally, the "metal" here so many claim to be amazing, mostly consists in lackluster riffs and insipid songwriting, and is in fact very generic, far from what Therion used to produce.
Disc one is the shortest and also the worst, though “Der Mitternachtslöwe” is not a bad of opener at all. In fact, I find it to be one of the best tracks of the whole double album, its overall composition reminding me of the excellent Secret of the Runes album. Its varied array of vocals works magnificently, unlike most songs of the album. And after that, one of the albums nastiest surprises arrives. “Gothic Kabbalah” itself it’s just too flute-happy and folksy for it’s own good, giving Jethro Tull a run for their money. It’s followed by a couple of totally mediocre tracks displaying extremely boring chorus and virtually no hooks, then “Son of the Staves of Time” slightly augments in quality. After that, we have another forgettable song and finally the first disc ends with a couple of ok tracks, “Trul”, which bears some Blind Guardian-esque riffage and chorus, and “Close Up the Streams” which boasts nice melodies and an interesting rhythmic section.
Disc two is marginally more interesting, with opener “The Wand of Abaris” carrying a smooth cadence not unlike “Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah”, albeit with a less powerful chorus. “Three Treasures”, despite its-top notch musicianship (a constant in both discs, truth be told), is totally skippable. “The Path of Arcady” is a good song, with mildly catchy chorus, solid riffs and a remarkable extended instrumental outro. Then, “TOF – The Trinity” appears. It’s by far the heaviest song of the whole album and my overall favorite, displaying a progressive structure, great riffs and solos, memorable melodies and powerful chorus, including those sung by Mats Levén. “Chain of Minerva” seems promising with its jazzy drum and bass parts, yet develops into not much. “The Falling Stone” attempts to be heavy, yet it’s as weightless as anything produced by any random Nightwish clone. And finally, the longest song ever produced by these swedes, “Adulruna Redivivia” arrives. I have to admit it’s a fairly strong way of ending the album and a good, if not mind-blowing, song. Unsurprisingly, it is composed of several distinct sections, which traverse between amazing and plain uninspiring (the main guitar solo is pretty weak) and most of the time merge well with each other. It ultimately works fine, but clearly it isn’t the epic masterpiece some claim it to be.
So, in the end we’re left with 50 minutes or less of solid, yet not excellent, material, enough for a decent album. But no, Christopher Johnsson and the lads choose to release this 85-minute, pretentious snooze-fest. Perhaps they though they could manage to do another Lemuria/Sirius B double punch. Truth is they didn’t succeed. And be no mistaken, I’m a huge, HUGE Therion fan, not only because I firmly hold some of their albums as absolute favorites, at the same level of timeless classics of any genre (metal or not), but also because they were one of the first bands I saw live, during a time most international metal acts just ignored my home town Guadalajara (at a 4 million people populace, Mexico’s second largest city and home to a great deal of faithful metalheads like myself) or simple couldn’t make it here. And since the first time they came (year 2000), they’ve kept on returning at a rate of almost two times per year. In a few words, they hold a special place in my metal-coated heart. And that’s why, my dear metal brothers and sisters, I just can’t stay put and indifferent when they release sub-par material. In fact, I have to WARN you all, to better listen to their previous albums. Things would somewhat improve with their following album, but that’s another story.