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Some Opera in my Metal (part 3/4) - 75%

Sean16, November 19th, 2009

After having visited Ancient Greece (or, more prosaically, the United States) and Portugal, our little opera metal trip is now taking us to Warsaw, Poland, to hear the masters of the genre at work, of course under the patronage of the Great Red Dragon. Granted, it’s always very hard to comment on a live recording taken from a show you’ve been to – not this exact one, but one from the same tour – as this will inevitably bring back a pack of memories which will be of no use to the mere listener (I might mention I’ve never watched the DVD of the same name, though). Nevermind, let’s try.

Things have changed a bit since the Lemuria/Sirius B tour. The core lineup may be the same, including Matts Leven, but gone are the four-persons choir as well as Karin Fjellander, all replaced by three immediately recognizable new singers, now turning the ever-changing Therion into a band with nothing less than FOUR LEAD SINGERS – indeed, that’s opera we’re talking about here! Some might however object the two female vocalists aren’t too recognizable. If there’s no doubt the contrast was stronger on Gothic Kabbalah (where some Hannah Holgersson sung in place of Lori Lewis), as both are excellent singers there’s no need to complain. Also, it shouldn’t escape anyone the busty Lori sings in a much sober fashion than with Aesma Daeva, while the same can’t apply to Snowy Shaw (who never sung with Aesma Daeva, but we don’t care). This guy is grandiloquence incarnate; all in turn shrill, imposing, tenebrous (what a low range indeed!) or totally ridicule. In comparison Matts Leven and his characteristic rock n’ roll screams would almost appear unobtrusive, that’s saying something. Perhaps the reason for him leaving the band soon after shouldn’t be looked for elsewhere. Oh, still the enormous Blood of Kingu is HIS song, and there he won’t let anyone, including Snowy, steal the show from him.

Of course as the voices work as the main attraction, the production will put the emphasis on them. I mean, will STRONGLY put the emphasis. To this respect the rendering is perfect, and all would be for the best if Therion wasn’t also about guitars. Granted, the guitars can undoubtedly be heard, and the sound is nothing near atrocious – besides I’ll still rank the production of our present opus, with all its little imperfections, far higher than a polished, overdubbed “live” recording sounding like a studio one with only token additional crowd noise – but let’s face it, they appear a bit weak. The solos just don’t shine enough, what’s a pity as Niemann (the Elder) is far from being the worst guitarist ever and, if the rhythm guitar usually benefits from a better treatment, some of the most subtle songs (Birth of Venus Illegitima...) will still suffer. Alright, the fan I am is probably a tad too picky here. Another constant of Therion live (see the Live in Mexico City ’04) is the bass being mixed far, far higher than on the studio albums, what might come on the nerves of a certain fringe of listeners more accustomed to the more melodic side of the band. Personally, I quite like it even if Niemann (the Younger) isn’t exactly Steve Harris. Also, please drop Ginnungagap from the setlist: first this song boasts the most horrible title ever, second the middle section will always sound like a tragic mess live regardless of how good it sounds in its original album version.

Precisely, the setlist, as we’re at it... It doesn’t matter much given such an ideal lineup would turn even St. Anger into a killer – though I’m happy they chose to cover Manowar’s Thor The Powerhead instead – but still a couple of remarks has to be done. First, the now complete absence of any pre-Theli song is highly unfortunate and disputable. The fact Christofer Johnsson has now officially stopped singing is little more than a poor excuse, as pieces like the shortened version of Symphony of the Dead, The Beauty in Blaaa-aaaa-aaack or Evocation of Vovin certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place here, and they don’t really require Chris’s singing (Snowy Shaw could have easily taken the “shouted” parts of Evocation of Vovin for instance). Hell, who wouldn’t vote for any of those songs over the... Grand Finale of the Theli album, which mostly consists in SAMPLES? Or even over Muspelheim, one of the most obscure tracks from SotR and not exactly a piece of genius? Or over this drums solo which was, like most drums solo, unnecessary? No need to bitch too much however, all the classics are here, laced with a good amount of songs from the excellent Gothic Kabbalah as well as a couple of nice surprises: Nightside of Eden is a clever pick from Theli pleasantly changing from the worn-out Cults of the Shadow and In the Desert of Set, while a crystalline, much-lighter-than-the-original version of Deggial sheds a new light on this overlooked song from an overlooked album.

So, worthy? Of course, even regardless of the fact it’s Therion playing. However let’s be honest, on the band’s three live recordings so far it’s perhaps the least interesting. The Live in Mexico City ’04 is likely to remain the ultimate Therion live for long, first because of the top-notch songs selection, then because of a slightly better sound, and eventually because the interaction with the crowd is much better there. As for Live Gothic it’s above all a showcase for four not-so-well known, though truly exceptional singers we probably won’t see together again before long; later, it may even additionally become a nostalgic testimony from a now bygone era. Indeed the Johnsson/Niemann lineup wasn’t to last long after...