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Beyond Sanctorum, Beyond Nocturnes, Beyond Death - 82%

bayern, October 10th, 2018

Christofer Johnsson, this tireless maniac; having started two projects at the same time in the late-80’s, determined to make a lasting trace on the scene. Some mourn for sure his abandoning the Carbonized stint early in the mid-90’s in order to concentrate more fully on the one under scrutiny here… since Carbonized was one of the bravest, most experimental acts at the start of the spaced-out, left-hand-path movement…

the one that came close to claiming Therion as well once the album reviewed here came out. Johnsson and Co. have never had any intentions whatsoever on following well-trodden paths on either front; Therion’s first two were already visionary, original death metal recordings which never fit into any of the running trends in their homeland, the one of the early pristine Swedish sound inaugurated by Entombed, Unleashed, and Dismember, and the other which took voluminous proportions and ruled the scene for a while, the Gothenburg melo-death wave as presented on the works of At the Gates, In Flames, and Dark Tranquillity.

I remember a friend of mine describing Therion’s early endeavours as “poor man’s “Nocturnus”, a description which kept me away from their repertoire for quite some time, until “Theli” reached my and many other fans’ ears in 1996, sweeping the scene with its encompassing, operatic swagger. That was one great band I had missed out on, and before you know it all their previous four albums fell into my hands. The Nocturnus reference made by my friend regarding the first two efforts was only a loose one, largely evoked by the use of keyboards/synthesizers by both outfits, as the Swedes had a bigger interest in creating atmosphere and mood than shredding with nocturnal… sorry, infernal complexity. Besides, their repertoire also included borrowings from doom and even black metal the final result being one diverse, enthusiastically assembled, extreme metal opera before this particular niche had even been conceived on the mental plane.

Yes, Johnsson and his cohort were pioneers in quite a few respects, including with the album reviewed here which was another addition to the “beyond death” listening experiences (Entombed’s “Wolverine Blues”, Cemetary’s “Godless Beauty”, later Sentenced’s “Amok”, Amorphis’ “Tales from the Thousand Lakes”, etc.) that had nearly become commonplace in the mid-90’s with quite a few acts looking to depart from their brutal deathy roots (for reasons which still continue to escape me…).

And the “wild beasts” seem only too eager to join the instigated diversification campaign by throwing literally everything they have kept hidden from their arsenal, the first part a bizarre, dishevelled, but strangely listenable conglomerate of styles and influences, the brooding atmospheric doomisms of “Baal Reginon” co-existing turbulently with the brutal remnants from the guys’ death metal past on “Dark Princess Naamah”, with Johnsson not too willing to leave his vociferous growling death metal baritone behind; before “A Black Rose” throws in a thoroughly unheralded rock-ish psychedelic vibe with rowdy shades of early Venom, the surreal setting further aggrandized by the short outlandish symphonic sketch “Symphoni Draconis Inferni”. A larger-than-life stylistic concoction disorienting the listener big time as the old fans would have realised that death metal land would be a “no go” territory from now on. The delivery nicely gets stabilized mid-way (“Dawn of Perishness”, “The Eye of Eclipse”) these cuts the first genuine harbingers of the band’s later inordinately attractive symphonic/operatic metal, again something not exactly heard before, the dark bursting thrasher “Powerdance” another plus with its brooding undercurrents bringing sweet memories of British stalwarts like Deathwish and Sabbat, the contrasting finishing stroke thrown by the title-track, a compelling eccentric amalgam of macabre doom and more optimistic operatics.

The audience must have been quite befuddled, to put it mildly, by this eclectic combination of genres and moods which was swinging in any existing at the time direction without holding onto a particular motif or nuance for too long. For some this may have been the ultimate display of artistic genius, with the lustrous albeit subdued production definitely working in the guys’ favour, provided that the new music order of the 90’s showed tolerance towards all kinds of blends as long as they were not obeying any strict classic canons… However, how open the mind of the average early/mid-90’s fan was to absorb this exuberant metal symphony, that remains quite debatable as the band weren’t targeting any particular niche; they were simply playing with possibilities and configurations, taking full advantage of the amorphous times… Some of them they developed further on subsequent releases, some they abandoned right after use, the final result here not as overwhelmingly consistent as Cemetary’s “Godless Beauty”, or as instantly memorable as, say, Sentenced’s “Amok”, but by all means worth remembering as an important footnote from this small “rebellion” stirred within the death metal roster once upon a time...

Johnsson helped his colleagues, also with his vocal talents, from Messiah with the stirring of another similar “cocktail” on “Underground” a year later before embarking on one of the most impressive careers in the annals of metal with his main band with which he reached several heights (the extraordinary “Vovin”, the 2004 double-disc masterpiece “Lemuria/Sirius B”) and continues going strong regardless of whether he sings odes to Jesus Christ and his miracles, or chases mythical dragons over the fields, mountains and far away. The man survived one of the most risky, most eventful transitions on the scene; the untamed “wild beast” within would definitely lead him and his team to other daring musical metamorphoses…