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! WARNING AND DISCLAMER: I am an opinionated preacher. !

Therion – Theli (1996) Review

-by Vish Singh

Therion is the most magnificent band to emerge from Sweden. Their superb blend of classical symphonic music and metal is absolutely perfect. Precise playing, epic proportion, lush atmosphere, Theli possesses this all in spades. Christofer Johnsson is a genius. Forget Symphonic Metallica. NO ONE has ever combined the mad, intense energies of thrash with the soaring melody of classical music this well. No one. It’s a shameful injustice that here in the United States, the melting pot of ethnic culture, the home of jazz fusion and the seat of freedom of the civilized world, innovative musical thought such as this takes a distinctive back seat to clichéd, recycled sounds perpetuated by bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. Trends rule the day in this sorry haven dominated by MTV’s sad notions of what is acceptable and what is not in pop culture. Ignorance is not bliss. It is simply, ignorance. Having said this –

Therion have their roots in death metal. However, like bands such as Amorphis, and in their own manner, Candiria, they have branched out dramatically. Christofer Johnsson, the driving force behind the band, aspires towards classical composition as much as metallic extremity. The ten tracks on Theli range in style from gothic/doom to operatic thrash. Every track is played with technical precision and dramatic flourish.

The band’s lineup has since changed, but at the time of this album, it was composed of:

Christofer Johnsson – GUITAR / VOCALS / KEYBOARDS

Piotr Wawrzeniuk – DRUMS / VOCALS

Lars Rosenberg – BASS

Jonas Mellberg – GUITAR / ACOUSTIC GUITAR / KEYBOARDS 

Many musicians lent their talents to the creation of Theli. Among these were the legendary Dan Swano (vocals), Anja Krenz (solo soprano), Axel Patz (solo bass, barryton), Jan Peter Genkel (grand piano, additional keyboards/programming) and Gottfried Koch (programming/additional keyboards). Additionally, and perhaps this is what truly made the album shine, the North German Radio Choir, the Siren Choir, and the Barmbek Symphony Orchestra recorded with the band as well. Now, on to the album:

‘Preludium’, the opening piece, is a keyboard-heavy instrumental. It is followed by the inspiring ‘To Mega Therion’, which the band used to open many of its live shows. The title is a Kudo to Celtic Frost, as is the band’s name. ‘To Mega Therion’ introduces the North German Radio Choir, and sets the tone of the rest of the album. Mid-to-fast paced, with galloping double bass drumming, alternating choir and shouted metal vocal tradeoffs, the energy is meted out in measured dosages. There is a definite progression from beginning to end with varying riffs, keyboards jumping over the rhythm guitar, and expansive leads hinting at grandeur. With all its talk of prophecy and revelation, this is the track to burn in church with.

‘Cults of the Shadow’ follows, with full on choir courtesy of those Germans again, and Dan Swano’s darkly dramatic vocals. The keyboards have a slightly 70s psychedelic rock feel. The choir’s vocals are neatly placed between guitar riffs and when they do overlap, they layer, building into their own melody over the thrash riffs. The play between male and female choirs is very well executed. At times it almost sounds like dialogue from a play.

Next is ‘In the Desert of Set’, the first song I’d heard from this album, which can also be found on Nuclear Blast’s Death Is Just The Beginning IV compilation. This track is fast, making use of speedy riffs as well as a constant play by those Germans and both Christofer and Piotr taking turns on vocals. The beginning riff, especially, uses middle-eastern scales heavily, which adds an exotic feel to the entire song. This is classic metal infused with classical music. It is, perhaps, the best song from this album to introduce the band’s range. The male and female vocals, their buildup, and their crossover are utterly dramatic.

The ‘Interludium’ comes fast on the heels of ‘In the Desert of Set’. Another instrumental, this time the Siren Choir sings melodically throughout, lending mournful yet expectant atmosphere to the track.  A marching drumbeat prepares the listener for war, and the Sirens sound like something out of a Conan movie. The track plays directly into ‘Nightside of Eden’, gothic in its glory, highlighted by Dan Swano’s suitably dark voice. The final third of the song is a guitarist’s feast to the ear. The rhythm and lead are both fast and beautiful, something noticeably absent in a lot of music today. It’s almost virtuosic.

‘Opus Eclipse’, another instrumental, would have fit in the center of a Greek tragedy with no problem. Again, the Siren Choir lilts gracefully and sorrowfully throughout the piece. The piano/ keyboard parts poise the listener for attack, or for flight and are a strong contrast to the opening of ‘Invocation of Namaah’. It begins gloomily and then explodes into a frantic pace. THIS is a song to speed with. It is the chase, and is perfect for a sword fighting scene or the hunt for the grail. The last quarter of the song is an onslaught of double bass drumming, fitting in perfectly with the apocalyptic Sirens’ announcing the oncoming clash. Majestic, exciting, precise, it’s like having a whole movie soundtrack in one song.

Finally, we have ‘The Siren of the Woods’. This song is almost medieval. The lonely sounds transport the listener to haunting glens and glades lost to the human eye during its buildup. Then they announce the discovery of something almost mystically faerie right up until the siren (Krenz) herself begins to sing. The lyrics are not English, but instead come from a dead mystical form. This is the most soothing track on the album. It is almost ambient.

‘Grand Finale / Postludium’ is the closing track of the album, and totally plays the role of the climatic last battle. Was this a movie, this would play when the army finally breached the castle walls and the hero was having his final showdown. It is the invasion, or the rearing of the serpent. Blood and ashes, swords and fire, keep this song in mind during your next beheading. It is melodrama at its finest. With its imminent-death, violin fueled, funeral dirge motif, this is impending doom.

Theli is possibly the most ambitious album of the past decade. Few bands have managed to capture the sheer scope of theme and emotion in their entire careers that Therion has attempted on one outing. Their execution is virtually seamless. Their style is innovative. Every time I listen to this CD, I find something new. If you enjoy experimental, avant-garde music, fusion, classic metal or classical music - GET THIS CD!

Copyright©2000 GrayHaven Magazine and contributors