Always my personal favorite of the Swedish death metal bands, Therion have combined Celtic Frost aesthetic and style with heavy death metal on several albums, reaching from their roots on Of Darkness... to the epic and melancholy Beyond Sanctorum to the apocalyptic Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas, and continue to produce reasonable music although with their following albums they've sold out.
Production: Bulwark solid layers of bass and midtones with backgrounded highs; perfect for death metal of the era, though not as loud (compressed) as is the current convention.
Review: At a time when death metal verging on protest music, Therion brought forth an album that took its listeners on a descent into the dark and primordial world of the subconscious, then built from a sense of mystery within it and concept of existence beyond the obvious physical and numeric manifestations of modern society. It is an album intensely divided, being culled in parts and whole from three demos, and still retains the absurdly straightforward lyrics decrying pollution and negative politics as it merges into the more enchanted territory of psychological symbolism.
In this its guide is the flawed but ambitious Celtic Frost album "Into the Pandemonium," which it resembles aesthetically and musically, although "...Of Darkness" is clearly from a later generation that has already incorporate the essence of rudimentary death metal into its vocabulary. To that raw and guileless genre Therion add a sense of enigmatic majesty in the creation of bassy catacombs of musical pathways that lead to oblique directional shifts, staggering possibilities inside of a major theme of hollowness with mortal weight. At the time of its emergence, this refuted both the functionalist 1980s and the pacifistic, materialistic futurism of the decade that followed. What defines this album as an art work are the hints of mystical union beyond its thunderous heavy metal and death metal mechanics, a sense of expectation and undiscovered potential in the atmospheric sonic gestures -- somnolent basslines silhouetting a chord progression in ambiguous harmony, evaporative lead guitar fomenting chaos and then lapsing into oneiric circular harmonies, unexplained fallings-away into the promise of a partial chord or ambulatory tempo -- that indicate not so much a clear function to sound, but its role as introduction to possibility.
Atmosphere forms like fragments of vapor condensing on a suddenly chilled night to form the forest miasmas that from a distance trap light and appear to have their own luminous glow, and is maintained by our inability to ever approach it as listeners: we are anchored in the unstoppably infectious rhythms of these timeworn songs, combining bounding heavy metal riffs with the fluid columnar riffs and staggered or arpeggiated inverse breakdowns of death metal, and yet from the other side of that solidity something beckons. At first glance, this is a standard death metal band from the era, with deep vocals alternating with hissed shrieks, and detuned guitars thundering in a progression of riffs built around a succession of not as much notes as patterns anchored in certain tonal positions; drums are more like a rock or 1970s heavy metal band than the faster and more fill-intensive work of later metal, and bass doubles chord roots in eights. Yet for all the music of this era, there are few examples that match this mysterious and rewarding album as listening experiences.
Production: Similar resonant roomy sound to earlier albums, thin upper guitar range contributing to its sense of vast distance and emptiness.
Review: Staging within dynamic spatial pattern a sequence of tonal transitions to familiarize the listener with range of tone and shape of motion, the second death metal offering from Therion defines its locations to be manipulated through the ongoing descriptive narration of inter-evolutionary riff progression as motifs variegate with dark power chord riff and its counterpart in melodic and agile lead playing which shows the recent crowd of Göthenberg clones how an open and passionate mind sees the creation of sequence in tone. Its study in metal anchored in recurrently synchronistic cyclic riffing using muffled chords to punctuate sequenced phrases, begetting a technology of pattern logic which allows its narrative strength to reveal in music a cerebrated theory of the dark emotions and their existential relevance.
1. Future Consciousness
2. Pandemonic Outbreak
4. Symphony of the Dead
5. Beyond Sanctorum
6. Enter the Depths of Eternal Darkness
7. Illusions of Life
8. The Way
10. Tyrants of the Damned
Copyright © 1992 Music For Nations
Celtic Frost and Obituary allusions exist as interwoven parts of songs encompassing a narration of distinct textures which deliver through tonal and rhythmic convergence on structural narration a satisfying depth to both aural distance and abstract parsing within mental recombinations of the repeated interchanged symbols of this work. In lyrics and concept in sound and symbol, a mystical interpretive facility suggests harmony with the architecture of each song breathing a transfer of fundamental creation between darkness and motion. Its thick but flexible riffing, percussive shading and accentuation hybridized with a tendency for melodic resolution by way of introducing motif alteration, provide a basis for the experimentative layering of melodies that, with similar techniques also in use by Godflesh, became an important technique for black and death metal to come.
With practiced musicianship illustrating a deft but non-technically-obsessed sense of timing, melody and endlessly inventive gentle articulations of alterative treatment shadowing metal traditionalism, this offering of epic majesty in the artistic revelations of great journeys in solitude survives time for appreciation of its uniqueness and natural vision of power derivations from creation and its opposite. Of note among musical additions to metal are a wiry sonorous soloing that carefully manages its energy to minimize needless drama, and a deft inventive bass accompaniment. Rough vocals merge with textures of tremolo and abrasive timbral strumming.
As in other albums, the passionate voice of emotional contrast gives rise to an unfettered embrace of the world in light and dark, coming close to Burzum in its seeming desire to stimulate fantasy and thought above any form of polarized action. In romanticist metal combine consistency and narrative intensity asserting the distinctive naturalism of this classic of the Swedish death metal from the early nineth twentieth century decade.
Production: Relatively clear and bass/metal intense, not tremendous ambient effect.
Review: And bringing their country from the void of abysmal rock, Therion save the day with their newest, Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas (Pavement). The demise of fantasy/dungeons and dragons/H.P. Lovecraft in metal lyrics may have been proclaimed some time ago, but Therion refute this powerfully with their third release in this country, a conceptualized album which combines the best of death metal with older traditions of metal, ending up with something normals can listen to as well.
Therion emerged on the Swedish scene with Of Darkness... (Grind Core), a Celtic Frost-influenced album which took the best of current Eurometal and mixed into it a new perspective on song construction, adding unpredictability to their music and influencing a spawning of European bands. Attention never really came from across the big pond, and consequently Therion are almost unknown to American listeners.
Having done the standard-metal thing well and being sort of bored, Therion detoured into epic rock with Beyond Sanctorum (Active), a well-structured album which took metal beyond the cliches of songwriting, riff-making and general aesthetics it had become accustomed to: the songs varied in tempo widely, weren't afraid to slow down, and broke from more extreme styles to more comfortable ones repeatedly to give the listener a conception of a more limitless world. Lyrics changed from environmental/societal to Lovecraftian fantasy, a thread of writing that continues to Symphony Masses.
1. Baal Reginon (2:10)
2. Dark Princess Naamah (4:18)
3. A Black Rose (4:00)
4. Symphoni Drakonis Inferni (2:33)
5. Dawn Of Perishness (5:51)
6. The Eye Of the Eclipse (5:01)
7. The Ritual Dance Of The Yezidis (2:08)
8. Powerdance (3:06)
9. Procreation Of Eternity (4:05)
10. Ho Drakon Ho Megas (4:18)
Copyright © 1993 Megarock
A lot of hard rock drifts into this album, but it comes more in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal style than an overblown video-rock processed cheese spread feel, toward which certain other (Met-- damn.) bands have migrated. It's well done -- better than well done. I don't believe I exaggerate when I say that Therion may be Europe's most underrated metal band, given the attention they've received around here.
But this album is available at least for the time being at Rhino, and I recommend to anyone who appreciates the style of metal Iron Maiden and others used to write in, and wouldn't mind an update to that with some modern metal touches.
Indeed -- lurking in the passages of this album are hard-rockish riffs alongside inventive death metal powerhouses, obscured by the general fabric of the material. There are also brilliant lead guitar parts, proving Therion to be one of metal's most technically-versed acts at this time. Jazz-fusion guitar intros, prowling lead guitar, and machine-perfect human drumming fill this album, as well as a real surprise -- real bass lines, instead of riff-chasing high-speed runs.
The power of these players combined comes forth in an intricate and concentrated album, intensity without reliance on pure speed or smash appeal. Synthesizers are used here, but not as lead instruments: occasional keyboard riffs protrude oddly, but most the electronically-generated sound comes in background support for expansive riff-structures and other creative blasts. At first the listener may be tempted to group this album with the endless procession of cheesy, heavy blues-rock, pseudo-metallic cheese bands which periodically upset parents, but this is far from that nadir of musical integrity.
Fantastic lyrics and occasional weird chanting appear at appropriate times throughout this album, but if you hadn't realized the inclination of this band to take up metal's oldest lyrical tenet from the title, you can't be much surprised after reading the song names. The title track ("Ho Drakon Ho Megas") is too much chant and synthesizer to really work, but it's unobtrusive, and every other track on this album is solidly excellent -- highest recommendations.
01 The wings of the hydra
03 Arrival of the darkest queen
04 The beauty in black
05 Riders of Theli
07 Darkness eve
08 Sorrows of the moon
09 Let the new day begin
10 Lepaca Kliffoth
11 Evocation of Vovin
12 Enter the voids
13 The veil of golden spheres
Lepaca Kliffoth (Nuclear Blast, 1995)
At its core, this album is crowd-pleasing heavy metal of all the familiar patterns, and although songs are well-written in a technical sense, their void of artistic direction is filled with technique and distraction, giving this album a schizophrenic character. A typical song is a time-honored heavy metal riff and blockhead drum pattern tied to a distinctive even if too familiar melodic pattern, usually borrowed from classical interpretations of Egyptian or Hungarian music. To dress this up as a novel approach to the genre, gratuitous keyboards and chanted vocals and extensive bluesy guitar solos are added. Vocals have degenerated from a death growl to a hoarse shout of rigid cadence, sounding like a dockworker communicating a defect in lift machinery instead of music. The consequence of this aesthetic salad is to accentuate the rudimentary heavy metal riffs and verse-chorus aspects of song structure, producing profound boredom. Like their inspiration Celtic Frost, Therion seem determined to fulfill the classic rock tragedy of gaining just enough recognition to try too hard for more, at the same time abandoning the hard work and pride in their music that made earlier albums while sometimes amateurish communicative music, and have thus created their "Cold Lake." Undeniably, it will be popular because it is easy to listen to for heavy metal fans and, having enough similarity to soundtracks and other recognized "important" music, will seem like an upgrade to high culture for the great unwashed. Moments here show the same brilliance that crowned earlier Therion albums, but here it is as ornamentation and not structure, melding the aesthetics but not conceptual power of progressive rock and operatic vocals into what is ultimately very cheesy radio hard rock. When this album came out, people heaped the same praise on it that is now reserved for Opeth, not noticing the similar dearth of ideas. Perhaps Therion are craftier than thought, and realizing that metal's audience was downgrading with the end of creative impetus in death and black metal, decided to be a big fish in a small pool by making distracting and pompous music for fools. Whatever their intent, this carnival music is a sequence of unrelated ideas competing for attention and relying on short attention spans to be taken seriously as a continuity of musical idea, and should be avoided by the serious listener.
1. In Remembrance
2. Black Fairy
3. Fly To The Rainbow
4. Children Of The Damned
5. Under Jolly Roger
6. Symphony Of The Dead
7. Here Comes The Tears
8. Enter Transcendental Sleep
9. The Quiet Desert
10. Down The Qliphotic Tunnel
11. Up To Netzach/Floating Back
12. The Fall Into Eclipse
13. Enter Transcendental Sleep
14. The Gates To A'arab Zaraq Are Open
15. The Quiet Desert
16. Down The Qliphothic Tunnel
17. Up To Netzach
18. Floating Back
A'arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming (Nuclear Blast, 1997)
It's hell on metal bands who want to leave the underground. In trying to popularize their style, they usually kill whatever appeal it had, because those who enjoy their music have found truth somewhere in the alienation and whatever values the band managed to sustain under that assault. Further, the band usually confuse themselves, and end up prostrating themselves as whores, thus losing the respect of their fans. This CD is a collection of outtakes from Theli, a soundtrack and some Therion odds and ends that chronicle this band's descent into commerciality and simultaneous rise in the esteem of metal fans as a whole. The first two tracks represent everything disgusting about trying to make popular neoclassical music, in that they focus first on making foot-stomping crowd-pleasing music, and adorn it with bits of classical allusion and the like, creating in the end a carnival of confusion. The next track, "Fly to the Rainbow," is apparently a cover of an old Dio tune, which is amusing considering how similar it is to "The Way" from Therion's epic second album. This is followed by one of the cheesiest Iron Maiden covers ever, with overdone vocals drowning out the subtlety of the original, and a Running Wild song that comes across as blockheaded, but is less dramatically re-enacted, and therefore is more welcome. It sounds very much like punk hardcore with a metal chorus. Next is an off-the-cuff cover of "Symphony of the Dead," from the second album as well, but its mix emphasizes the keyboards to the point where it becomes muzak. Good song, terrible version, and as fully meaningless as the Emperor keyboard-only Inno A Satana. The band have lost their grasp of what made their earlier material great, that it blended the raw and the beautiful, not that it standardized itself for radio airplay as this CD clearly does. All finesse is gone, all artistry, and what replaces it is the populist heavy metal mentality. There's no class to this, or self-respect, and while any of its elements are quite powerful, the whole is tediously directionless. This syndrome blights the remaining Therion tracks on this CD, which then takes us to the soundtrack portions - these are actually promising. Like a synthesis between Dead Can Dance and Summoning, these are wandering keyboard background musics that maintain a mood and are kept in check by the need to be less disruptively attention-seeking. Although plenty of cliches and obvious figures work their way into this music, it's clear that (were Swedes to control Hollywood) soundtracks are where the "new" Therion belong.
1. Seven Secrets Of The Sphinx
2. Eternal Return
3. Enter Vril-ya
4. Ship Of Luna
5. The Invincible
7. Emerald Crown
8. The Flight Of The Lord Of Flies
9. Flesh Of The Gods
10. Via Nocturna Part I,II
11. O Fortuna
Deggial (Nuclear Blast, 1999)
To their credit, Therion formulated a vision before its execution, and it took several albums to adapt. After the excellent "Beyond Sanctorum," they deviated into aggro-heavy metal territory (much like continent-mates Sentenced) with "Ho Drakon Ho Megas," and then as if trying to simplify it into the abrasive, simplistic, death-metal influenced rock of the era, boiled down everything they did and added keyboards and choral vocals, producing the excremental "Lepaca Kliffoth." This however won them a new audience, and the path became clear... their goal was not to become a death metal version of Emperor, but a power metal version of Iron Maiden, much as Iron Maiden inherited the space Led Zeppelin left behind. Steadily they grew toward this goal with increasing musical confidence, and as with all Swedish rock, a profound sense of judgment that unifies the conventions of their music's sound with its inner structure and values, creating several unstable variants before really hitting their stride with "Lemuria" and later works. Deggial has many impressive aspects, but they are jerkily disunified, as if its many elements - gothic folk rock, stadium rock, thinking person's heavy metal - had not yet come together into a new language, and were different voices carrying on a conversation in which all parties could only marginally follow the topic line. The result is more like a dinner theatre than a visually- and musically-integrated artistic experience, as we are taken from an exhibit on basic heavy metal riffs to a chorus of melodic folk rock and finally given a rock/jazz lead guitar exposition that, no matter how hesistant, reveals the power of its player in measuring out emotional change over a journey between harmonies. This album is far from the execrable mess that "Lepaca Kliffoth" and roughly contemporaneous works made us suffer, but it's still in a phase of abrupt transitions between unfinished elements, and even the beautiful backing choruses cannot salvage that. The result is like a soundtrack or techno set in that musical stuff goes on, but there must always be a dominant sound that distracts us from the relative disunity of the composition as a whole. This album is far from terrible, but seems extraneous in contrast to later (or much earlier) Therion. Bonus points for the Orff cover that concludes the album, an interesting take on the music that introduced one of the first proper death metal albums (Sepultura's "Morbid Visions").
2. Uthark Runa
3. Three Ships Of Berik, part 1: Calling To Arms And Fighting The Battle
4. Three Ships Of Berik, part 2: Victory!
7. The Dreams Of Swedenborg
8. An Arrow From The Sun
10. Feuer Overtüre / Prometheus Entfesselt
Lemuria (Nuclear Blast, 2004)
Probably the most "power metal" album Therion has produced, this fusion of heavy metal songwriting and styles ranging from punk through speed and death metal exemplifies what defines that niche genre. Like a fusion of Overkill and late Iron Maiden ("Seventh Son of a Seventh Son"), it is highly operatic and dramatic like a high school production of Hamlet, but the essential musicality of Therion has been rescued from its true nadir, the execrable "Lepaca Kliffoth," which attempted to fuse the simplicity of underground styles with heavy metal riffs and ended up boring most of us silly. Really, it's unwise to even consider listening to this album unless you like power metal enough to have a cheese tolerance worthy of a French chef. It's bombastic and ludicrous like a soundtrack to a Roger Waters production of "The Three Musketeers," but inside of this comedy, there's some vital heavy metal best expressed through the expert and evocative lead guitar. Unlike many metal bands, Therion seem to have made a systematic study of all past successes in glam, stadium, NWOB and Tolkien-inspired heavy metal; what you get as a result is simple, folk-rock adaptations of classic heavy metal riffs, and later Bathory- or Celtic Frost-style integration of choirs and keyboards, giving this music the quality of a visual production. Like distant ancestors DBC and Powermad, Therion integrate death metal precision strumming into heavy metal in a form that produces fluid cadence in which the changing of notes defines an offbeat rhythm that drives the song. Of note is the cover medley "Feuer Overture/Promotheus Encore," which despite simplifying its source material preserves its beauty. While this is clearly an upgrade for heavy metal and an extension of its attention span, it is a step back from the riffcraft and involved song structures of Norwegian black metal from the early 1990s; perhaps in the future these two can be fused without losing the compositional integrity of the black metal, or the appreciable beauty and easy-listening aspects of this CD. What makes this band intriguing is its fusion of ancient knowledges, from Phoenician to Norse to Indian to Nietzschean, in an attempt to discover a greater meaning in life than our functional, utilitarian jobs'n'shopping survival. Every generation must have its introductions to the halls of ancient learning, and as Iron Maiden must have been to the 1980s, Therion is to the now.
1. The Crowning Of Atlantis
2. Mark Of Cain
3. Clavicula Nox
4. Crazy Nights (Loudness Cover)
5. From The Dionysian Days
6. Thor The Powerhead (Manowar Cover)
8. To Mega Therion (Live)
9. The Wings Of The Hydra (Live)
10. Black Sun (Live)
Crowning of Atlantis (Nuclear Blast, 1999)
Two divisions separate this album from the underground past of Therion: aesthetically, it is a fusion of classical vocals/keyboards, progressive lead guitar and moronic 1980s heavy metal; musically, it is composed more like rock music which aims for a harmony of notes and not structure as occurs in underground metal (more like baroque music or free jazz). A good comparison would be Queensryche if they had focused less on writing complex riff structures and more on lead guitars, or later Iron Maiden, and for this kind of listening experience, it's quite successful: the simple, bass-heavy riffs throb along and while we the listeners are paying attention to the pleasant female and choir vocals interlaced with elegant keyboards, the song reaches a point where lead guitar can guide it. And here is where Therion really shines: it's hard to recall a heavy metal band since Deep Purple with this much poetic sentiment in its lead playing, or as much rhythmic or harmonic variation. It's a mistake to compare the lead guitar exclusively to progressive rock, as its sensibilities are reminiscent of the later European classical-influence jazz guitar, with poignant staccato fills and pensive pauses. Although the choice of appearance is disgustingly cheesy, and this music resembles radio AOR more than heavy metal in its dependence on long verses and choruses building two-dimensional moods (the best public art captures a very simple mixed emotion so that anyone can groove to it), it is a culmination of everything Therion has attempted since "Ho Drakon Ho Megas," and has been magnificently successful for them. Try not to think of it as the same Therion that recorded a true underground metal epic, "Beyond Sanctorum," but imagine it as a heavy metaller's Dave Mathews Band. A cover of "Crazy Nights" and three live tracks augment the consistently strong album material, the quasi-epic "To Mega Therion" revealing how far this band have come in adapting to their new style by being relentlessly repetitive in contrast. Several themes from the second and third Therion albums are repeated here in different context, to similar but less theatrically extreme effect. In fact, one way to describe the difference between this style and earlier Therion is that this music aims for a consistent sensation interrupted by the voice of lead guitar; older work was like opera, ranging between experiential extremes with lead guitar and vocals as icing on the cake. Musically, there's not much to disagree with here, as it's basically a higher-caste incarnation of Motley Crue with a pseudo-medieval/pseudo-prog aesthetic; artistically, it seems to act as a popularizer of Odinist theology while keeping up the stadium-filling power of early radio-friendly metal; this begs the question of whether crowds groove more to lyrics/aesthetic or to the underlying simplistic amalgamation of styles, and which they take home when the concert's over.
1. Time shall tell
2. Dark eternity
3. Asphyxiate with fear
4. A suburb to hell
Time Shall Tell (House of Kicks, 1990)
As a band matures, much as a person does, it grows into those limbs that seem ridiculous and too large or gangly; so was the case with Therion, who blasted through three demos of cerebral and doomy grinding death, eventually on "Time Shall Tell" developing the aesthetic that would enable their subsequent album to wrap its dark sound in mysticism and contemplation instead of absurd bursts of energy followed by vigilante riffs which like nightstalkers close in for a combat so absolute it necessitates rapid change the instant its spell of shock and terror lifts. Production is messier and the band has just begun to fully utilize the enigmatic partial phrases fading into harmony without conclusion that distinguished lead guitar on "...Of Darkness." Most interestingly, rhythms are uptempo with a degree of complexity achieved by assimilating the subordinate counterpoint to a dominant rhythmic theme into a core of internally divided patterns like a spiral staircase descending into a dungeon. These songs are most of the way to the final versions heard on the album, but are more rock 'n roll in tempo and as of yet have not adopted the subtleties of transition that made the album both mysterious and familiar.
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