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Therion - Beloved Antichrist

CD Info
Nuclear Blast
46 tracks
Mostly English lyrics, I think

Therion has been around a long time and they’re one of the big names in Gothic Femme Metal.  They’re also a kind of evolutionary band.  Historically they started out as a male vocal death metal band but somewhere along the line things evolved.  I’ve covered a lot of that evolution but even my information is somewhat limited.  They’re not a band that’s easy to contact, for whatever reason so you kinda got to find things out for yourself.  And I’ve done that with a lot of Therion reviews which is an interesting way to spend your time.  They tend to focus on interesting terrain ranging from the historical civilization of Lemuria to Gothic topics and even a bit of Kabbalah.  Their last release covered a number of 60s French tunes which related to, well, I don’t know what it related to actually.  But it was kinda fun.

This one, however, has been in the works for a long time, a very long time.  It seems to be band leader Christofer Johnsson’s crowning glory, something that has been in development in his mind for decades although formal development has only been underway for about the last 4 years or so.  But the final product is, well, lets say HUGE.  We get 46 tracks with a total of 29 characters, each with their own vocalist in a three CD package that takes care of a bit over 3 hours of your listening time, should you find yourself with that bit of free time available.  Most will probably have trouble siting for that entire time, bring a full bottle of rum or vodka, I had one of each.  Now, I did find lyrics so I can go over some of that but it doesn’t really help much with the actual storyline.  The story evolved from the work of a 19th century Russian philosopher Vladímir Soloviov "A Short Tale Of The Antichrist". But, it’s an adaptation of that novel; seems ol’ Vlad had only male characters and Johnsson changed things a bit and included a whole lot of ladies.  Johnsson talked a little about the release, “At the beginning it was 50% based on Soloviov’s work, but as the songwriting proceeded we changed the story more and more  I would now say it’s rather inspired and partly based on it. Certain scenes are more or less exactly from the book, but most scenes have no connection with it at all. It is simply the main idea of the antichrist character that is very much based on the book. Stories of musicals and operas are either too political, too shallow or too complicated to be good. Those that are exceptions are also the successful ones. We have taken a great story by a classic Russian philosopher and modernised and perfected it into a great new story that could make it worthwhile for a very broad audience.” 

I tried to contact the band to get some first hand information but they are on a world wide tour and not exactly responding to journalistic inquiry.  Fortunately, however, I was able to reach American vocalist Melissa Ferlaak from Minnesota who participated in the project as one of the female vocalists.  Mel commented,” Christofer and I have long been in communication—in fact, since shortly after the time that Lori joined Therion.  A few years ago Christofer reached out to me to inquire if I would consider joining Therion but at the time, I was pregnant!  But I recommended he reach out to Chiara who I thought would be absolutely perfect and exactly what would work for Chris.  At the same time, Chris asked if I would be interested at some point in singing on the opera that he was creating so I said, ‘of course!’  So a few months back, he sent me the parts for Sophia.  I recorded them and that was that.  It’s beautiful music, all of it, and it was so wonderful to hear everyone’s hard work bringing Christofer’s vision for his first opera to life.  He has worked for a long time on this piece and I think he has to be proud of what he has accomplished—he definitely should be.”  And that, folks, is how we make music in the 21st century.

Although this is a “Metal opera”, some may find it short on the metal part.  Thats not to say it isn't there, it is, but virtually all the vocal work is classical in nature.  What do you compare it to:  Tommy, Jesus Christ Super Star, maybe a few others.  But those were rock operas, a very different animal.  If you're looking for death vocals or long, drawn out guitar solos you won’t find them.  Even the male vocals are classical.  If you're one of those who is terribly opposed to classical music, stick to the Bieber, Country/Western, rap or traditional death metal.  But, if you're looking for something that pushes the envelope with a metal flavor combined with over the top vocals, this is truly something to consider.

The story is a little difficult to follow, even if you read the Soloviov work upon which it is based.  The short interpretation, mine anyway, goes something like this.  There’s this somewhat charismatic man who just might be the Antichrist, working diligently to subvert all the modern religions and bring a form of Satanism to a world truly in need of it.  Think Trump administration to get a general feel for the concept. You get to hear His Satanic Majesty at various locations, starting, I think, with Bring Her Home on the first CD.  Even sounds a little like Trump, although with a better voice.  You get better vocals with Mel’s part, Sophia, first on the early track Through Dust, Through Rain.  Hard to identify many of the other vocalists although some, like Thomas Vikström, Lori Lewis and Chiara Malvestiti are easily recognized from previous releases.  Understanding how it’s all put together can be a challenge, however, so if you're listening with the intention of following the story, good luck.  According to Johnsson, however, the intent of the work is to be performed live in opera halls.  The current tour does not do that, it presents some of the music from the opera along with more traditional music from past releases, Therion has a considerable library of material to choose from.  

Lyrically, it’s pretty much written to classical standards, not metal.  Which means it’s somewhat less dark than a lot of traditional Therion material.  The symphonic is there, great choirs and, of course, classical vocals.  Temple Of New Jerusalem is pretty much representative of this direction.  We get the entire package musically and the interaction of characters goes something like this:


Listen now thee, Caesar to me: / Christians are speaking of pain
Open shall I the gate beyond high / To the astral domain?


Gates must not be opened / Nothing but the flow is for us to follow
Hear me now / There used to be a temple in Jerusalem
That shall reach the heavens once again / Palace dreams of ancient might
Bring the past through time to the light / Let's build a temple


Caesar, we hear

American Evangelicals are gonna love this stuff; I can see the package flying off the shelves to rural churches in Alabama and Nebraska like free beer on beer night.  But, that’s not who it’s intended for.  Johnsson commented, “In all honestly, a huge part of our fan base is very open-minded, so I guess more than half of them will appreciate the full opera, even if it’s different. THERION was and still is about challenging ourselves and those who listen to us. We need to continue to reinvent ourselves, or we will wither and die. Ever since we made our second album back in 1992, each new release has caused some fans to say we are geniuses and some to say that we betray our old fans. Even our big breakthrough album ‘Theli’ got a spit in the face by many old fans (even half the people in the band hated it at the time). So it would not be THERION, if we didn’t do what we want to do. Those fans who are as crazy as I am will always follow us on the journey. Some will pop in and out along the path. And some will continue to say we’ve lost it and haven’t done a good album in 20 years. That’s how it goes…“

Being a huge Therion supporter I find little to fault with this work.  Ah’ loves’ me death metal, me Gothic metal, me doom metal.  Couldn’t live without it.  But, symphonic, operatic femme metal has always been number one for me, and this one is the apex of the genre.  I may not make the current Therion tour but I will make a solid effort to see this one at an opera house in Europe.  And well worth the money.