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The Miskolc Experiment - 70%

Sean16, June 20th, 2010

This is a perilous exercise. And this is a far too common one. I’m pretty sure a few years from now we’ll have to single out rock/pop/metal bands which have NOT played with a symphonic orchestra at least once. Alright coming to Therion, perhaps the only orchestral metal band which hasn’t usurped this name, it at least doesn’t look totally out-of-place. So for the encounter of the metal world with the classical music one (to approximately quote Christopher Johnsson) we get a show divided into two parts: the first part opens on a reworked version of Therion’s dark, gloomy epic Clavicula Nox performed by the orchestra and classical singers alone, followed by excerpts of classical pieces on which the band will add its little personal touch, while the second parts looks more like a standard Therion show – only with white shirts, bow ties and a genuine orchestra.

Let’s put it clearly, while the band overall did the job quite well on both the metal meets classical music and the classical music meets metal parts, the big drawback here is the production. Conveniently mixing a symphonic orchestra and an electrified rock/metal band on the same stage isn’t an easy challenge – perhaps even an impossible one. In spite of all of Johnsson’s claims and purposes, the band WILL always end up partially overwriting the orchestra, that’s simply a TECHNICAL issue, more than any kind of moral one. This important reservation set apart the arrangements aren’t badly done, Mr Therion obviously knowing the classical music / opera world pretty well if there was still any doubt left.

The choice of the classical pieces could be endlessly discussed, and will leave a strong taste of frustration regardless of what it eventually is, given said pieces couldn’t be performed in their entirety due to the show length and format. Playing (very) short excerpts of operas and symphonies is for sure a heresy, but a heresy which could hardly have been avoided but by choosing a single piece to be performed for the entire show, what wasn’t the initial goal. Now amongst the chosen excerpts you’ll find a predominance of opera of course, and amongst it a predominance of Wagner, which is hardly surprising to anyone knowing Therion and Christofer Johnsson a single bit. However, coming to this same Wagner the choice of not less than three excerpts of Rienzi is pretty odd considering it’s a rather obscure, early work not really representative of the Master’s style, but perhaps the unlimited respect Johnsson is paying to the later works prevented him from doing anything with them – except for a rendition of Siegfried (Notung! Notung! Niedliches Schwert) which is probably the highlight of the first part. Wagner was obviously meant to be the main dish, and the other excerpts to work only as mere complements. Amongst those, the short excerpt of Saint-Saens 3rd Symphony is most delicate and charming, strongly contrasting with the worn-out and almost vulgar Dvorak’s New World Symphony – c’mon, everyone has covered the damn stuff now (including Rhapsody if I’m not mistaken, you would have thought Therion to be more subtle).

Besides, there’s the eternal question: did the band, the electric guitars, the drums, really add something? Of course, no. Wagner, Mozart haven’t waited for them to sound great. Siegfried would kill anyway, and indeed a good part of Notung!.. is performed without the band. However, Therion isn’t disfigurating the classical works either and, again, could hardly have been asked for more – this is a perilous exercise. Eventually is a (semi-official) band member would have to be singled out in this particular show this would be Lori Lewis, definitely the best voice to have worked with Therion so far, who alone would make this release valuable. This is no wonder as a classical-trained singer she shows her full – huge – potential with classical musicians.

The second part of the show is above all a unique opportunity to hear, and see, Therion songs performed fully live, meaning with a live orchestra replacing the usual tapes. Again, there’s this little reservation about the production I already mentioned, and all this could have sounded undoubtedly better, but there’s no need to be too picky – on a sidenote this isn’t the very first time the band makes such an attempt, as they performed at least a few shows in 1999 with a strings quartet on stage. The setlist will be of particular interest to the fan, as it features a mix of classic songs and songs the guys seldom, or never, play live. The latter include the as slow as majestic Eternal Return, an unjustifiably overlooked track from the Deggial album, the epic closer from the same album, Via Nocturna (a song they also played on the 2007 Anniversary Tour, though), complete with its mad witches dance (which unfortunately suffers quite a lot from the production) and introductory organ part, as well as probably the most unexpected track ever... Sirius B. I have to admit as much as I hold the album of the same name in high esteem, the same can’t be said of this song which is more a lengthy semi-ambient interlude than a genuine “song” to begin with – but you know, Therion will no longer be Therion the day they’ll stop surprising their listeners.

On the “classics” side Schwartzalbenheim is for the first time performed in its entirety, including the ominous brass intro which had been so far always truncated from the live versions, restoring this great song back to the full glory of its initial album version; the same may be said about The Draconian Trilogy becoming again, well, a real TRILOGY with the return of the wonderfully arranged “Opening” part – probably the highlight of the whole evening. The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah was mandatory; though that one is usually played in its “full” version hearing a sampled strings intro while the band stands idle on stage had so far always looked a tad ridiculous, what of course is no longer the case with the real orchestra. Picking the Grand Finale from Theli is a nice alternative to the eternal To Mega Therion, the gentle ballad Lemuria sounds as nice as usual and coming to Blood of Kingu if having the orchestra playing will be far more anecdotal – it’s primarily a full-strength metal song, which consequently works well even with mere samples – it’s an ever-renewed pleasure to see Mats Leven fronting HIS song in all his rock-star exhibitionism, though he’d definitely need a true, complete metal stage to shine at his full potential.

Bonus features include a documentary mixing excerpts of the show preparation with various panoramas of the Miskolc city probably put there at the mayor’s request, the kind of stuff you’ll never watch but once, and excerpts from the similar show the band did in Bucharest earlier in the same year. This one is more interesting as it includes songs which weren’t performed on the Miskolc show, like The Flight of the Lord of the Flies or the intros of The Wondrous World of Punt and The Khlisti Evangelist, two top songs one may only regret they weren’t played in their entirety. All this eventually summing up to a release which is of course mandatory to the fan, shedding a new light on an ever-changing act, but which I wouldn’t probably recommend to the newcomer I’d instead advise to pick the 2006 Live in Mexico City to get a far more complete Therion panorama.