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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.