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Criminally overlooked early gem - 92%

Nameless_Rites, September 18th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, Nuclear Blast

Therion's relatively unknown beginnings as a "standard" death metal band seem to be misunderstood by many metal listeners. Although the general consensus seems to be that Beyond Sanctorum is just "straight up death metal" while their later releases are neoclassical style, upon closer inspection, the opposite seems to be true. Although Beyond Sanctorum uses mainly instruments and performance aspects of standard death metal(aside from a few synth background parts), the songs are composed in a style more similar to actual classical music, with nonlinear song structures, leitmotifs and consistent musical themes that develop over the course of the song. Their later "neoclassical" works sound closer to the standard verse/chorus arrangement of basic rock music with the addition of violins and choirs.

"Future Consciousness" starts the album off with a churning Morbid Angel style intro alternating with dark tremolo melodies and some heavy groove. The song maintains an unconventional structure throughout its length, smoothly transitioning from one riff to the next and building to a satisfying conclusion. There are no clumsy or awkward segues, but many different parts arranged in a gradual flow.

Other bright spots include "Cthulhu", featuring deep, cavernous doom sections evoking the famous sunken city, alternating with frantic fast passages. "Enter The Depths of Eternal Darkness" goes from a sludgy opening section to fiery death metal, with some eerie lead guitar moments and is also quite satisfying.

The highlight of this album is definitely "The Way". This is where the bands developing symphonic style is most obvious, so "Theli" fans should definitely hear this song first. Over the first few minutes, it gradually builds and builds into a triumphant, thundering climax starting around the six minute mark, with some epic lead guitar/synth work. Just when it seems the song has spent its fury and starts fading out into clean guitar arpeggios, it comes suddenly back with another triumphant "encore" climax guitar solo. While not instrumental, much of the song is unaccompanied by lyrics, allowing the music its own clear voice to carry the development of the song. I cannot recommend it enough - "The Way" is not only the best song on the album, but one of the best examples of adventurous, progressive (yet uncompromising) death metal one is ever likely to hear.

This album released around the time when death metal was abandoning its primitive roots and going off into more complex territory, and it stands shoulder to shoulder with works like Blessed Are The Sick, The Red In The Sky Is Ours and Unquestionable Presence. If you're a fan of later Therion, don't write this album off - it's not as primitive as you've been led to believe. For anyone willing to take the time to really listen to music beneath surface level aesthetics, this is actually a surprisingly complex and rewarding listen. This album is light years ahead of their debut, and I actually much prefer it to their later works.

Rise of extreme progressive metal mastery - 77%

kluseba, August 26th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2000, CD, Nuclear Blast

Therion’s second full length album was recorded and mixed in December of 1991 and released quickly in January of 1992. The band worked as a trio on its sophomore release, and even though this can still be called more or less a death metal record, Therion sounds much more progressive here than on the very straightforward Of Darkness….

Opener “Future Consciousness” starts with a fast and pitiless mixture of death and thrash metal, but the rhythm section, and in particular the drum play, already sounds much more varied than on the debut. As the opener goes on, it ventures into a heavier mid-tempo section. Toward the end, the track slows even more and becomes almost doomy. A slow, melodic guitar solo and a decent use of keyboard then leads into a surprisingly beautiful finale. The opening track is full of great ideas without denying the band’s roots, and the song writing and production already sound much more consistent and elaborate than just one year earlier.

The band heads continuously further into experimental territory. “Symphony Of The Dead” features more atmospheric keyboard sounds as well as soprano vocals and classically styled clean male vocals by two guest musicians. The epic, bleak atmosphere and the sophisticated mixture of genres take the place of the typical technical ecstasy of the extreme metal approach. For the very first time, one gets to hear a prototype of the sound that would make Therion famous a few years later. The bleak album closer, “Paths”, uses a very similar approach. Interestingly, at this point in its career, Therion is playing more or less the kind of music that bands like Crematory and Moonspell would become very successful with several years down the road.

The most outstanding song on this record, and one of the best songs in Therion’s long and varied career, is “The Way”: an atmospheric epic with a running time above eleven minutes. It’s a largely instrumental, mid-tempo track featuring many samples of doom and gothic metal filling its long passages with a smooth flow that never gets boring if you like these genres. In addition to this solid base, the track includes some stunning surprises like short Asian instrument samples from keyboardist and guitarist Peter Hansson, a versatile drumming performance by Oskar Forss, and the surprisingly laid back guitar tone of Christofer Johnsson in the last third of the track. The more I listen to this complex (but not overly complicated) song, the more it impresses and grows on me.

Beyond Sanctorum was a big step forward for Therion. The band steadily shifted into more experimental doom and gothic metal territory, and had already set out to develop its own avant-garde sound. Extreme metal purists won’t like this progression, but fans of Therion’s future symphonic metal records without too much aversion to the extreme should try this album out. Despite a few fillers here and there, Beyond Sanctorum is an overlooked early milestone of what would become Scandinavian gothic metal, and should definitely be revisited for those who have forgotten it.

Originally written for Black Wind Metal

More personal. Something was changing... - 87%

CHRISTI_NS_ANITY8, April 17th, 2009

The second Therion album, Beyond Sanctorum, more or less follows the same style of their death metal debut because that period was not yet influenced by symphonic metal. A few traces can be already found but they are just for some breaks and the rest is easily labelled “death metal”. The early Swedish conception of death metal is heavily present, so prepare to be attacked by violent riffs, obsessive drumming and a voice from the caves.

The first track is called “Future Consciousness” and it’s immediately fast. The old grindcore remnants are always present for the blast beats sections and the putrid riffs. The classic up tempo is present too as the vocals puke their contribution to the darkness for this CD. The mid-paced moments are somehow less impulsive but always heavy and dark thanks to a more dominating atmosphere by the lead guitars and the keyboards. “Pandemonic Outbreak” is mid-paced but the riffage is heavy as fuck and the vocals parts here are demonic. The different vocal lines clash together to raise that dark atmosphere, as the galloping riffs come for the middle parts, giving more dynamism. The overall atmosphere is spirited and really gloomy.

“Cthulhu” is a long instrumental track with an incredibly heavy progression and some dissonant riffs, following partially what a group like Carbonized did for the debut album For The Security. The influences are strong, also when it comes to the dark noises under the more mid-paced parts. “Symphony of the Dead” shows a higher use of the keyboards and somehow now the band’s approach is more melodic and dark with clean male/female duets and gothic style arpeggios. The second part degenerates because it explodes in blast beats and schizophrenic riffs. The title track is full of syncopations, dissonant breaks, fast restarts and growls that come out from nowhere even if the dark touch isn’t altered.

“Enter the Depths of Eternal Darkness” is grooving, deep and dark. When the tempo increases its speed, the grind elements are clearer for the guitars and for a few drums blast beats. Once again, the riffs seem spirited and the thrash metal style comes with the following “Illusions of Life”. The up tempo is dynamic but soon we return to the mid-tempo and the gloominess that comes from. The long “The Way” is again weird for the dissonant riffs and the various drumming to sustain grotesque lead lines. The keyboards sustain the horror atmosphere, while the heavier breaks are always welcome to give variety. The last “Paths” features ghosts-like voices and it’s really dark, as the growls enter too and we rest on mid-paced tempo till the end.

Well, all things considered, this is a far more personal album by Therion. The debut was far more canonical for its classic approach to the swedish death metal and this one already showed a few signs of change. The atmospheres here are far more important even without forgetting the heaviness this album deserves. A good, forgotten work.

The fourth best death metal album of all time - 95%

Cynical, October 9th, 2004

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.

Standout tracks-
The Way

Evolution in progress - 83%

Egregius, June 16th, 2004

Quite original death metal, from a period where Therion still played surprisingly original death metal. Complex structures built from simpler smaller parts, some of these parts being basic and some quite surprising, make for a varied listen. The addition of very sparsely used keyboards and even the appearance of some clean vocals (on Symphony of the Dead) by two guest singers prove it can be done in death metal, and set Therion out from the rest as groundbreakers. The clean vocals and keyboards would also be a sign of things to come on the following albums; here they appear too little to annoy any clean-elements hater (although the occasional production-effects might). The general variedness coming from the non-typical elements and the occult atmosphere allow this record to be enjoyed by most fans of dark metal, although it's quite a jump from this album to Therion's later work. This is recommended death metal, and quite some progress from their debut, both in terms of originality and execution.

The Nuclear Blast re-release lacks the original artwork and lyrics, but adds 5 bonus tracks (Tyrants of the Dead is listed as bonus). The tracks are just slightly less polished versions of the albumtracks, except for Symphony of the Dead which has a different vibe being slightly rawer.