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Guess What, Therion Is a Metal Band! - 90%

Sean16, August 29th, 2009

Of course they’re less symphonic as before. Denying this would be stupid.

However what’s always puzzled me since this opus came out more than two years ago is this is often the main argument used by its detractors to justify a supposed (and totally imaginary) decrease in quality from our Swedish occultists. Instead let’s face it: this was the cleverest way to go. Lemuria/Sirius B had featured a whole symphonic orchestra, extended choirs, various novel instruments such as mandolins and balalaikas, and of course what had been the culmination of everything, the famous wow they even used a real church organ! thing. While in every further album since the very first one Christofer Johnsson had tried to add a little something more, the point had probably been reached when it was no longer possible. Gothic Kabbalah, where the orchestrations are merely programmed and the only alien instrument is a poor occasional flute, is exactly this: a return to SIMPLICITY.

For the unlucky ones who aren’t familiar with the band yet I’ll immediately add this has nothing to do with the failures most long-established artists call returning to their roots. The roots of Therion were death metal, and this album doesn’t show a single hint of death metal. Hell, even the bombastic Lemuria/Sirius B was more DM than this, with Johnsson’s occasional growls. Now he’s officially stopped singing those have thus forever (?) vanished in oblivion. Gothic Kabbalah isn’t Therion looking behind – it’s looking forward, as always. But let’s look closer, we’re sensing something bizarre. Indeed, a BAND PICTURE! There hadn’t been any since Theli a decade ago and even that one, relegated in the corner of a page, was of very poor quality. The meaning is clear, Therion finally presents itself as a genuine metal band more than Christofer Johnsson’s personal brainchild. Furthermore the guy, precisely, is relegated in the background, lost and wild, flanked by the sombre, monolithic figures of the Niemann brothers here looking more like demonic executioner’s assistants than actual musicians. Eventually if we except drummer Peter Karlsson (not to be confused with lyricist Thomas Karlsson) the forefront is exclusively taken by the four lead singers who aren’t even considered as full bandmembers. Indeed an inverted band pic may be something funny in itself, but it above all underlines the main point here: the key role will be devoted to singers.

How? The contrast between two female lead voices, a warm one and a shriller one, will be once again exploited, though those voices sound far less “operatic” (if this term, after all, means anything) than on Vovin for instance. Besides, and this is fully novel, a similar contrast will now be built between Mats Leven’s energetic power metal voice and the exalted, tortured wails of Snowy Shaw. Occasional drummer for King Diamond, exuberant frontman of the grandiloquent horror band Notre Dame, the man is eventually given the opportunity to show his full potential, and he takes it. He’s an inborn showman, what his voice betrays more than once, and his range is amazing. The additional guest tenor and soprano end up with a part pretty much restricted to the choirs which have now become anecdotal, all the more they’re often undertaken by the four aforementioned singers.

The songs, thus, seem to have been written for this sole and only purpose: allowing said vocalists to shine. The band feeling is once again reinforced by the fact almost everyone has contributed to the writing process, with ironically only a negligible part abandoned to Christofer Johnsson, echoing his lacklustre presence on the previous picture. Don’t be fooled though: Mr Therion still wrote and programmed all the orchestrations, and you can be ensured nothing here has been slipping through without his approval anyway. However as may be guessed the result is a highly varied album which will most probably sum up to another unique piece in the band’s discography especially given both Peter Karlsson and, more importantly, the Niemann brothers left hardly a couple of years after. Varied, and metal. The overblown grandeur of Lemuria/Sirius B is gone, but as a direct consequence Kristian Niemann’s extended, fluent guitar solos now will finally be appreciated to their true value while the riffs, though overall not as impressive as on HDHM, are often worth of mention (e.g. TOF – The Trinity). Without forgetting his brother and bassist Johan who isn’t only well present, but even sometimes indulges in short solos.

Writing FIFTEEN different songs – genuine songs without a single interlude – isn’t easy matters, but the guys somehow managed to do it while all along never abiding to the two key words, simplicity and priority given to the singers. Wisdom and the Cage will thus be Snowy Shaw’s song, the first half being exclusively supported by his insane voice alone. The following Son of the Staves of Time is by contrast Leven’s song, what isn’t surprising given he wrote it himself, though this still won’t hamper the addition of some beautiful female vocals; female vocals which will in turn take the best in The Falling Stone. On the opposite The Perennial Sophia, The Wand of Abaris or Three Treasures are all slow, melodic tracks where the leading role isn’t devoted to a particular singer, but they all share roughly equal duties in a harmonious whole. By contrast again (will you finally understand this fucking thing is all about CONTRASTS and nothing else?) a couple of much heavier moments have been thrown in, culminating in a TOF – The Trinity oddly reminiscent of old Symphony X. Symphony X robbed us with their album V, in turn we’re robbing them. Not a complaint, though. And, last but not least, an EPIC! There hadn’t been any true Therion epic since Via Nocturna (No, I’ve never considered Kali Yuga as an epic). As the final, ultimate contrast, Adulruna Rediviva takes the opposite way of the entire album with a long, bombastic, complex track more in accordance with the popular view of Therion as a symphonic/operatic band. Genius in irony!

There’s no need to say more, this versatile gem is one of Therion’s best. Granted the overall concept and lyrics will remain secondary as they aren’t the best the band’s ever pulled out; the journey through various religions and cultures Lemuria/Sirius B consisted in was much more convincing that these obscure prophecies the exact meaning seems to be reserved to Dragon Rouge members, but I can’t imagine anyone listening to Therion solely for lyrics anyway. Second, let’s admit they should have kept it to a single CD. These wonderfully crafted little tunes are a pleasure to listen to at random, a pleasure the two-CD format of course hinders. Getting rid of Chain of Minerva and Trul could have helped, as though I don’t have any serious grievance against the latter it still somehow breaks the flow of the album, while the former is the only bad track here, sounding like a mediocre sequel to Emerald Crown which wasn’t a particularly remarkable song to begin with; perfect snoozefest here. But again, a filler and a disposable track on a total of fifteen is still a nice performance.

And indeed, this isn’t gothic!

Highlights: Der Mitternachtslöwe, The Perennial Sophia, Wisdom and the Cage, Son of the Staves of Time, The Wand of Abaris, TOF-The Trinity, Adulruna Rediviva