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Well, if in my review for Therion’s Gothic Kabbalah I said that things would somehow improve on their following record, which is 2010’s Sitra Ahra, I didn’t mean it would be a major change. In fact, the swedes’ twelfth long-play in their fructiferous career is like a condensed version of that preceding fiasco, only that instead of an eighty-plus-minute poor excuse for a double album, we have roughly an hour of some decent highs and very pronounced lows of material. That’s really an improvement on itself, since the agony is fairly shorter and the filler is less. However, the elegance and awe of their glory past is still missing and the cheese that has replaced them is in no short supply here. Those Therion newbies that call this adventurous, progressive and artsy should really listen to the band’s back catalogue to get a hint of what those words really mean. As I have written before, I’m a huge fan of this band, and that’s precisely why I just can't abide worshiping their crappy stuff just because it has their name and logo on it.
So, production and musicianship are excellent here, very suitable for Therion’s grandiose musical display. The problem is that those qualities are of no good when you have a collection of uninspired and uninspiring songs, such as the majority of Sitra Ahra’s tracks. Nevertheless, Christofer Johnsson has yet again found a great ensemble of musicians to give form to this musical vision, and those fans fearing that the departure of the Niemann brothers and Petter Karlsson (who still provides a small contribution here, singing in “2012”) would leave Therion in ruins should rest assured, as Christian Vidal, Nalle Påhlsson and Johan Koleberg are more than capable replacements, and they prove their worth with their metal-solid input here. Påhlsson’s bass and Koleber’s drum conspire to create a rhythmic section that’s precise and interesting, adding some flourishes here and there, instead of just constraining themselves to do their jobs. And the Argentinean’s guitar work is also high quality, from a technical point of view, working proficiently along ringmaster Johnsson to deliver the chops.
Now, we can separate the good from the bad, and since there’s more of the later, I’ll start with that. The opener and title-track is a good example of the poor and meandering songwriting found here. It’s only five minutes long yet it seems to drag on and on without having any real substance to it. Its pretty boring, despite featuring operatic choirs, diverse instrumental passages traversing different genres (metal and beyond) and a symphonic encasing on the background. Another example is “2012” that’s as generic as its title, seeming to be entirely made up of former Therion songs, and featuring a really intrusive violin that feels like it shouldn’t be there. “Cú Chulainn” would be an ok song if not for the awfully pathetic “harsh” vocals, but it actually gets worse, with the extreme cheese-fest that is “Hellequin”, bearing a multitude of laughable vocals of all sorts, or the towering mess that is “Land of Canaan”. That 10-plus-minute mixture of half-baked motifs even features some harmonica that sounds totally out of place in an “epic” that tries to evoke Old Testament ancient times.
Fortunately, not everything is shit, and on the brighter side of things we have the amazing “Kings of Edom”, which being an eight-minute composition and track number two, really is the saving grace of this album. It’s like a more concise and perfected version of “Adulruna Rediviva”, with several distinct and compelling sections morphing into one another with ease. With tight guitar parts, complex rhythmic dynamics and amazing voices this song almost manages to achieve the greatness of Therion classic works. Then, a few steps back in quality, “Unguentum Sabbati” bears decent riffs and good vocals (though I still don’t like Mr. Johnsson’s later set of vocalists), and the closer “After the Inquisition: Children of the Stone” is a calmed and melancholic piece in the vein of “Siren of the Woods”. The fast “Din” is an amusing mixture of power metal riffage, black metal rasps and blast-beats, while both “The Shells Are Open” and “Kali Yuga III” feature the expected Therion elements working in a focused manner to good avail. In fact, I remember listening to the later live, as the swedes played it at a gig in my home city just before this album came out, and it gave me false hopes for a return to form release. Damn you Therion! From now on, I won’t be that easily fooled.
So, as you can see and, what’s more important, hear, Therion hasn’t recovered from their “Gothic Cagada” yet, and are still carrying the stench of their failure. They need to wash it up, let loose the cheese and start analyzing what used to make them one of the most influential and transcendent bands a decade ago. The potential is still there, and we the fans won’t give up on them that easily. The alternative for them is to mimic Metallica and other once-great bands in becoming just an amazing live act living upon their past glories. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Therion is one of the most influential and notable symphonic/operatic metal bands of all time. Who can forget such amazing metal masterpieces as 1997's Lepaca Kliffoth or 1998's Vovin? Even 2008's Gothic Kabbalah, despite some disenfranchised fans labeling the goth-influenced album a "sell-out", was undeniably top-notch. Yes, Therion has had some amazing releases in the past. But the key words in that sentence are "in the past". Sadly, we are no longer in the past, and Therion's latest release is proof that the band no longer has any idea what they're doing.
To be entirely honest, this is a really annoying album, and it is entirely undeserving of the praise it seems to be receiving. It basically feels like an opera album with a little bit of metal tacked on, and even the metal elements feel closer to generic metalcore than the amazing symphonic/gothic metal that brought glory to previous Therion releases.
What good can be said about the album is that even if the music is really annoying and repetitive, the lyrics are still poetically written, the themes are interesting and deep, and the production values are excellent. This does little to save the album since the music is garbage, but it's nice to know that the band hasn't completely stopped trying.
Fans new to this band may be able to enjoy this release, but anyone who is a fan of the band's earier work will be bitterly disappointed. Perhaps the album wouldn't seem as bad if were made by another metal band, especially one without talent. This album might actually be forgivable if it wasn't such a shameful step down from Therion's previous material, but it's hard to be positive about any album that's such a fall from grace.
To fans of symphonic or operatic metal, Therion's latest release might be good for a spin or two, but it's never going to be touched again. Unlike the band's previous albums, many of which were majestic, melodic, and beautiful, this release is forgettable, annoying, and generally not worth the trouble. There might be a few out there who actually enjoy this sort of thing, but I frankly can't imagine why. Skip this mediocre recording and pray that this is just a sad hiccup in the influential symphonic metal band's career.
So it's three years and Swedish metal giants Therion are on the road again with their album Sitra Ahra. The sound of this album takes the band further away from their death metal roots and the and develops on the sound they achieved on the twin masterpieces of Lemuria Sirius B. This album as usual draws influences from traditional heavy metal, power metal, prog metal, symphonic metal but on this album we see a tremendous rise in the influence of opera music over these other forms. The album sounds too light, fluffy, or sometimes even a bit poppish when compared to the band's earlier outputs. OK let's for a minute forget that we are listening to Therion and that the music is atleast supposed to be heavy if not brutal as in the days of 'Of Darkness', still the album isn't enjoyable. Even if we treat this album to be a pure opera experiment, still the songwriting and the arrangements of songs are too poor to take anything seriously.
Among the individual performances the vocals suck big time. As in a usual Therion album there are many types of vocalists used, but on this album none of the vocalist manages to bring out a dark, occultic feel as was the case with their earlier vocalists. The guitar work is not quite inspiring either and much simpler than their earlier outputs. The lead work is good if not great. The drum is again OK and suffers mostly because of the "I have heard better" syndrome. The orchestra used here is pretty weak. The orchestral melodies are not even a shadow of the band's past and many times the orchestra actually makes the music poppy rather than creating a dark, mystic atmosphere. The production is pretty weak too. The guitars drowned down in the album in favor of the orchestra. The music looses whatever heaviness it would have had due to this.
As already discussed, the music is further away from Of Darkness and is more opera inspired. It seems many a times that Christofer Johnsson after a night of heavy opera overdose wrote a complete opera album. But the after writing the whole stuff he remembered that Therion is actually a metal band, so in come guitar riffs, solos, drum work of such poor quality which will make your latest 'troo' metalcore band swell with pride at their output. The earlier Terion albums used to have a magical, occultic atmosphere about them thanks to excellent arrangement of orchestra, superb lyrics and strong vocal performances. Here the all the above elements fail to do their respective jobs. Among the highlights (if I can call them highlights) Kings Of Edon is the best song in the album. It is the only song in which the orchestra works well and is the only song which can fit in a Secret Of The Runes or Theli, as bonus track of course. 2012 is a fairly enjoyable track and so is the opener. The rest of them are utter abominations. Low quality, orchestra with feather light rhythm guitars churning out basic level, mediocre riffs topped with vocals. Even the vocals get on the nerves after sometime. Then above all they try to make the music proggy. So in comes couple of epic numbers in the form of Land of Canaan and the utterly laughable closer, which actually are not at all epic but just barely manage to plod along by the numbers. Some heavy tracks are attempts like Kali Yuga III and Din but the fact that the rhythm guitars are as heavy as in a Bon Jovi album does not help them. 'Kali Yuga III', again a clean evidence of lack of ideas. There is actually nothing original going on here. Pretty much everything is recycled and whatever is recycled is pure crap. The rest are more of the same all twisted together in my memory.
Sometimes I seriously doubted while listening to the album whether I had accidentally put in the wrong album. I mean how could the band that released Of Darkness, Secret Of The Runes, Lepaca Kliffoth, Theli, Lemuria/Sirius B.... ever begin to compose so hideous music. Agreed that I was never a big fan of the consistency of a Therion album, but then the music would be so craftily arranged that I would be glued to it. If you want a true taste of this band's imagination and composing capabilities, listen to Secret Of The Runes. Not the album, but the bonus track called Summernight City, and just listen how they converted a sappy, pop anthem into a dark, mystical, occultic song. While on this album we find that the songs which are actually written to sound mysterious and occultic actually sound comical and poppy. Innovation, there is nothing of any kind on this album. The songs do not transport me to wherever and whatever their lyrics spoke off, as was the case with their earlier efforts. Instead I am sitting on my chair, yawning, scratching my head out of sleep, boredom frustration and what not other things wondering why and what am I listening to. So concluding, please do not buy this album because this the very epicenter of boredom and frustration.
I really like this album. After the brilliant "Lemuria/Sirius B" double album and the still solid "Gothic Kabbalah" which had its lengths and strengths, the band is now back and presents their best album since the innovating "Theli".
But attention, dear metal heads: While "Theli" was an album build on 75% on heavy and death metal and 25% symphonic and classic music, it is now the opposite on "Sitra Ahra". The "Miskolc Experience" and the line-up changes seem to have influenced the band to go even further in their connection of metal and classic. I was already afraid that the line-up changes may destroy the uniqueness of the band and make it go in another direction, but I am very happy to see that those line-up changes have been a fresh rebirth for the band and that Therion continues its journey towards the perfect symbiosis of metal dynamic and power and classical and symphonic intellectual elegance. When you listen to the album, you feel that this band exactly knows what they are doing and where they want to go. And that's why this album isn't a copy of the previous works as "Gothic Kabbalah" already began to repeat the style of "Lemuria/Sirius B", but a really fresh new beginning for the innovating and creative Swedish band.
Only the still brilliant opener "Sitra Ahra" which connects metal and classic equally and the darker, heavier short old school song "Din" remind a lot of the old style of the band.
Medieval, choral-influenced traditional songs as the harmonic "Hellequin", the Celtic and very powerful and happy "Cu Chulainn" or the on Arabian and Persian folklore based epic monster piece "Land of Canaan" - to just mention to 10 out of 10 songs - represent what Therion is today: an open-minded, cultural, historical classic band who plays well developed symphonic mini-operas with some minor metal influences.
The album makes its listener voyage and discover ancient cultures and their folklore and he or she becomes the stunning tourist who admires the amazing sightseeing tour. And after the tour, you have gotten so many interesting insights that you automatically want to voyage again and again and watch the photos of what you have seen over and over again. Once you have listened to the first four songs, you are not able to not finish this album, you get sucked into a maelstrom of exotic impressions, hypnotic melodies and the music creates a lot of images in your head. Therion makes you dream and even if the songs are very complex and elaborated, they have are so light and soft that you don't need more than one try to adore this album, to get into its atmosphere. The album is diversified and progressive without being complex, complicated or mixed-up. It is easy to listen too, but you still discover more and more elements after each hour of pleasure and the album grows more and more on you. Even the "weaker" songs on the album like " Unguentum Sabbati" which has the lack of the famous certain something or "2012" which begins brilliantly but never comes to the punching highlight after its brilliant introduction, fit perfectly with the rest of the album.
This harmonic album is surely nothing for the average metal fan, but Therion has never been a band for that kind of metal head. This album is for the more intellectual people who are not afraid of discovering classical opera and symphony elements, strange languages and exotic cultures and who really take their time to listen to an album as a whole work in peace and harmony. You must listen to it while you are lying on your bed, dreaming, discovering, taking your time, it is surely no music to listen to on your mp3-player on your way to the job in the morning. It is just like an opera: The music creates something visual and wants to tell a story and this album is more than just music, it is a concept, it is a compilation of images and words in perfect harmony, it is a voyage into the past: It is a piece of art and works as a whole. And it is certainly already now the best album done in 2010 to me.
After two simultaneous albums in 2004 then a double album in 2007, just one hour of Therion seems a bit paltry. I suppose I've been spoilt a little. Although the death metal 'head in me wants to cling stubbornly to ...Of Darkness, in all honesty I'm pretty convinced the 2004 duology and Gothic Kabbalah are Therion's finest records. Sitra Ahra is the final part of a quadrilogy that began with the 2004 albums, and much of the material here was written alongside those albums and the Gothic Kabbalah material.
The vocal arrangements on Sitra Ahra follow the 2004 material and earlier albums, with female vocal solos augmented by big-sounding male choirs, and with Snowy Shaw and Thomas Vikstrom relegated to complimentary roles. Vikstrom, famous for captaining a sinking ship when he recorded vocals for Candlemass at their lowest ebb, is a good find for Therion and his often one-line contributions sound awesome.
Although the vocals are more in line with Deggial, the songwriting derives equally from Gothic Kaballah, with a reduced power metal feel and also references to the expansive songwriting of Deggial. The guitars retain the bouncier sound from the previous album, less chunky and distorted than they were in the early part of the decade. It makes sense that this wouldn't have meshed with Sirius B or Lemuria, as it bears more of the curious quirks and proggy rhythms of Gothic Kabbalah - the upbeat bass riff in the verses of the title track, for example, and the interesting structures of songs like 'Kings of Edom' and 'Hellequin.'
The melodies and riffs aren't too original for this band, but the construction and attention to detail is what puts it above and beyond. The standouts here are the epics, and with Sitra Ahra they are at tracks 2 and 4. 'Kings of Edom' is easily among Therion's finest songs, winning me over with its epic, romantic oboe lines and power chords the way 'Adulruna Rediviva' did at the end of the last album. Halfway through it breaks into an awesome, edgy power metal break (all sizzling guitar chords and hissing snares) that hampers my ability to type descriptions of it.
'Land of Canaan' is a ridiculously eclectic explosion of ideas, flutes, chimes, accordions and spanish guitars whipping you from one culture and time period to another throughout its nearly eleven-minute running time. It even gets quite funky with the upbeat rhythms, scat piano and twanging instruments at the halfway mark. The bass guitars here and on the rest of the album are better than on any other Therion effort, right up there in the mix and groovily complimenting the grandiose choral singing. It's in the list for best song this year.
Therion draw more and more these days from old proggy tropes from yesteryear and also from more happy sounds.'Cu Chulainn' is worth a mention for its wonderful big, celebratory chorus, Therion sounding more effervescent and joyful on this disc than before. 'Unguentum Sabbati' combines slamming riffs with male lead vocals and the famous melody from Pink Floyd's 'Echoes.' 'After The Inquisition' features more whining keyboards (sounding for all the world like some '70s US prog-rock) and even a children's choir. I'm not sure where I stand on this. Some people will hate it, and it is admittedly a bit cheesy with the hammond organ outro accompanied by this bunch of young'uns singing. Considering the astounding brilliance of the first two parts 'Kali Yuga III' doesn't quite cut it, but mostly because it seems to have been written to almost fit with the aggression and pounding heaviness of the Sirius B tracks, and had the guitar tone been as heavy then this would have made a fitting conclusion with its rocking lead vocals and smooth synths.
I rather selfishly expected all the brilliance of an expansive double album condensed into one hour here, but the album isn't quite as audibly chocolate as it could have been. 'Hellequin', '2012' (who else is bored of songs with this title by now? Just imagine when we actually fucking get to the year 2012), 'The Shells Are Open' and 'Din' all have interesting features and memorable parts, but don't quite tie together with the awe-inspiring cohesiveness of Gothic Kabbalah. Perhaps limiting himself to one disc is not a good idea for someone who thinks as big as Christopher Johnsson does.
Most of the really good stuff is during the first four tracks of the disc, and though there are plenty of great moments after its not as strong a showing for Therion as usual. With the title track and those mentioned excellent epics aside, the majority of the album doesn't quite have the diversity and immediate appeal of Gothic Kabbalah, and the explosive intensity of 2004 songs like 'Blood of Kingu' and the first two parts of 'Kali Yuga' might not be happening again, BUT Therion succeed in crafting a layered and complex album that pushes their sound in a variety of directions like a man trying to escape from a latex egg. Well worth picking up if you already have their other stuff from the 21st century.
It's a safe assumption that Swedish mainstays have jumped the shark at this point, their best material long behind them, their last stretch of interesting work beginning to gather dust. Sure, Secret of the Runes, Lemuria and Sirius B all had their moments, but the previous album Gothic Kabbalah was average its best, lamentably lame for the remainder of its playtime. The problem really is that the band has become a caricature of what it once created: the fusion of dark, occult themes and symphonic overtures lanced through a fat metallic boil. The male and female choirs have grown stale like old bread, no longer feeling so fresh as they did in the days of a Theli or Vovin, and the band seems to be recanting themselves and not progressing forward. Stale bread might be suitable for starving dogs or the squirrels and crows that clutter your back lawn, but not for someone seeking a deeper musical inspiration.
The reason that Therion's progression is important, is that the band carved out their name upon such an inflated sense for exploration in sound, transforming their death metal roots Of Darkness... and Beyond Sanctorum into the slightly bewildering Gothic death/thrash masterpiece Lepaca Kliffoth and then into a more accessible, bigger budget productions that launched the band out of the underground and into the radar of Nightwish drones, Everquest addicts and closet Renaissance fairgoers the world wide. Truth be told, though, they were still putting out some good music, but that all changed with Gothic Kabbalah, which felt like some phoned in approximation of the band's former strengths, drowned in pomp and cliche. I might not have been the hugest fan of, say, a Deggial or Lemuria, but at least there I still recognized the craft of Christofer Johnsson and his troupe, deep at work. With Gothic Kabbalah, that all came to a roaring halt as the lame fairy metal vocals and such overtook the work.
I feel like Sitra Ahra continues along this same downward, weeping path, though the album as a whole is subtly stronger than its predecessor, successful in at least a few of its tracks. With all of the original lineup now long in the past, only Johnsson remains, surrounding himself with his latest traveling circus. Johan Koleberg of Lion's Share on the drums, Nalle Påhlsson of Treat and recent prog metallers Vindictiv, and guitarist Christian Vidal make up the core, with vocals contributed by Lori Lewis of Aesma Daeva, Snowy Shaw of Notre Dame, Dream Evil, King Diamond and so forth, and primarily Thomas Vikström, who fronted Candlemass on their worst album, along with several progressive metal oriented projects. Obviously, this is a metric shit ton of talent and experience, not selling short Christofer himself, who is the sun at the center of this mutant solar system.
Like previous Therion efforts, both the male and female vocals are contrasted between a pair of styles that provide for most of the album's 'diversity'. The male opera choirs and shrill female opera vocals are both executed well enough, as we've come to expect since the band dropped Theli in the 90s. Whether or not the actual lines are that interesting depends on the particular track, but the non-operatic vocals on the entire album are generally quite weak, from the acidic and goofy males to the standard fairy metal tripe of Lewis. Occasionally, you will hear additional voices in between these two sets of poles, usually acceptable, but the album is constantly cycling through highs and lows of brilliance and awkward, unformed ideas that should have been left in the Johnsson's belly to gestate before being shat out across the album. Below this, the music shifts between traditional metal with sporadic flavours of ethnic and progressive influence, woodwinds and so forth.
It's a giant mess, with a number of songs jumbled together like a jambalaya of suck. "Land of Canaan" in particular is a snoozefest of laughable constituents shoved together to prove the band's ability to drop on a dime through various genres, as much Billy Joel as Diamanda Galas. Hearing such a 10.5 minute monstrosity makes me long for a simpler time, when Johnsson himself performed Tom G. Warrior-like riffs and vocals and the band kicked ass upon a dark, mesmerizing platform. This track is simply folly, and so many unfortunately follow suit, like the forgettable and predictable "Cú Chulainn" or the not so epic progressive metal opener "Introduction/Sitra Ahra" with some pretty terrible female vocals that only occasionally border on welcome (it sounds like something Epica might write, but with a male opera singer guesting). Of course, the band drops in hints of power metal as they have since "The Wild Hunt" on Vovin, appearing here on the brief "Din", "Hellequin" or the often raging "Kings of Edom", which in parts is one of the best songs on this album.
I mentioned earlier that there were several effective compositions here, and that is the truth. I found myself somewhat submerged in "2012", which feels for the most part like a mid 90s Therion piece, despite the acidic, higher pitched vocals which counterbalance the shrill female backdrop and doomed atmosphere. This seems to gel together through its entirety, and I appreciated the Godzilla-like horn sections. "Unguentum Sabbati" makes the best use of Shaw's vocals and a dirty, pumping gait whilst the guitars and horns once more excel in unison, though there are a few puddles of weak sauce dotting its landscape. "The Shells Are Open" has the best, pure choral segments on the album and "Kali Yuga III" feels like Therion took a bite out of Senmuth's acid ethnic doom-prog and supplanted it back within its own fertility center to spawn a beautiful little offspring. "Din" rocks, even with the King Diamond wannabe vocals.
So, with half the album being a busted vein of scrotum tightening Gothic vampirella vaudevillian wretchedness, and the other half proof that Johnsson still has the muster to craft the carnal, occult mystique that made us adore his band in the first place, the ability to immerse oneself in this spectrum of sound will rely on just how apathetic you've been towards the last (shitty) record and all the superior work that came before it. There are bits and pieces for fans of almost any phase in this band's career, with the exception of the first two death metal records, but it very often clashes, with the band lurching from one style of music into the next, the only glue fixing them together being the vocals or production. Nothing feels so fresh or fulfilling as the band's evolution throughout the 90s, and to that extent it does seem to be playing it safe, treading little to no new ground. For about 20-30 minutes of Sitra Ahra, I sat with rapt attention like the rest of the squirrels and birds as they squabbled over the scraps being fed out, squandered against the lamer compositions, but too soon did I feel the urge to go inside and close the door on this forever.