An annotated discography of

THERION

according to CRITICALTOM

There are a few band whose essence is distilled (and controlled) by the personality of one eccentric, driven individual. Therion is one such band and Christofer Johnsson is one such individual. What started out as an early 1990’s Death/Grind band has evolved into a symphonic, neo-classical Dark Metal band that makes use of orchestras and choirs in ways that makes Metallica sound like a ska band. As it goes with individual’s like Johnsson, his musical vision was too large for the original line-up and over the course of years he became the sole driving force behind the band. Seen below my analysis of the releases that I possess (I do not have them all). I hope that my critique will inspire those who have a desire to hear real music to check them—or him!—out.

 

1991 – OF DARKNESS is released. (Reviewed here is the 2000 re-issue from Nuclear Blast which features the original eight tracks and four bonus tracks).

(12 songs. 57:59). You could simply listen to this disc and enjoy the excellent Death/grind music contained here. But when you take a few other things into consideration such as the age of the band, the fact that it was recorded and mixed in six days, etc., you have to be astounded. If nothing else, Of Darkness is evidence that Christofer Johnsson is a genius. This initial recording by Therion is best described as a mixture of the early 90’s death/grind sound of bands like Benediction crossed with some noticeable Celtic Frost influences in the song structure. It might also be argued that the song titles and lyrics are reminiscent of Bathory’s Black Metal albums (not the Viking ones, though). As it stands, Of Darkness is an excellent blending of both styles and ten years later still sounds great. The bonus tracks include demo versions of "A Suburb to Hell" and "Asphyxiate with Fear". The other two bonus tracks are unreleased versions of "Time Shall Tell" and "Dark Eternity".

 

1992 – BEYOND SANCTORUM is released. (again, I am reviewing the 2000 re-issue from Nuclear Blast with bonus tracks).

(14 songs. 69:51). By the recording of this album bassist Erik Gustafsson had already defected from the band. Beyond Sanctorum was the last full-length to feature the rest of the original recording line-up of the first album. It continues in the Death/grind style of the first album using some slower tempos and upping the Celtic Frost influence a bit, especially on songs like "Pandemonic Outbreak". The song titles take on a noticeably more occultic flavor as can be seen from the album title and songs like "Cthulhu". This album was recorded under similar circumstances as Of Darkness, only here the band had four more days than on the previous album! Also, with this album Johnsson begins to experiment musically. Most noticeably beginning with "Symphony of the Dead" which includes female vocals, keyboards, and some slow passages, and continuing through "Beyond Sanctorum" and "Enter the Depths of Eternal Darkness". It seems that at this point Johnsson was really bitten by the creativity bug. These songs were certainly an indication of things to come. The re-issue includes an unreleased song called "Tyrants of the Damned" and the demo versions of "Cthulhu", "Future Consciousness", "Symphony of the Dead", and "Beyond Sanctorum".

 

1993 – SYMPHONY MASSES: HO DRAKON HO MEGAS is released. (re-issued in 2000).

(10 tracks. 37:48). Let me translate the subtitle for you as I have studied Greek formally in college. The subtitle means, "the Great Dragon". "Ho" is the definite article, and as is the case with most languages, the adjective ("megas") follows instead of precedes the noun ("drakon"). Again, it is hard to avoid a reminiscence about Celtic Frost as their definitive album also has a Greek title, a title which is likely where Therion got their name, "To Mega Therion". The word "to" there is not the locative "to" as in English (e.g., I am going TO the store). Instead, it is the first person singular definite article for "great" (mega) and "beast" (therion). Okay, but enough for the Greek lessons, on with the analysis.

Unfortunately the re-issues do not contain lyrics, but it is obvious that as Therion progressed musically, Christofer Johnsson delved deeper into the occult for lyrical inspiration. Featured inside of the insert are pictures of rituals no doubt from the Dragon Rouge, an occultic group Johnsson is associated with. Musically this album raises the standard of memorable riffs and catchy tunes for Therion. There is a sense of Into the Pandemonium without all the gay moaning. Titles like "Procreation of Eternity", "Dawn of Perishness", and the title song once again also hint at Celtic Frost influence. But with this album is a shift to a more unique style of writing: Middle Eastern paganism. This is most noticeable with songs like "Baal Reginon" and "The Ritualdance of the Yezidis". Johnsson will pursue these themes more and more with subsequent releases.

1995 – LEPACA KLIFFOTH is released.

(11 tracks. I have the cassette so I don’t know the playing time). With this album, to my knowledge, Therion introduces many of the mythological characters which appear and reappear on the albums to follow: Theli, Vovin, Deggial, etc. ("Riders of Theli", "Evocation of Vovin"). This statement may be inaccurate, however, as I don’t have the lyrics to Symphony Masses, nor do I have any of the releases that occurred between these two albums. Ironically enough, it begins with a Greco-Roman theme in "The Wings of the Hydra". It is also ironic that as Lepaca Kliffoth marks a move away from the Celtic Frost influence in the songwriting (remember, this is my opinion), it features a cover of CF’s "Sorrows of the Moon".

 

A’ARAB ZARAQ: LUCID DREAMING is released.

I am sorry to say that I do not have this one.

 

1998 – THELI is released.

(10 tracks. 51:36). I cannot be sure as I do not have the entire catalog, but to my knowledge this album is the first fully orchestrated Therion album. It also features a real choir. The result is a breathtakingly original album, one that makes that poseur San Francisco band sound like a bunch of amateurs. Unfortunately, most music buyers will never know that. While still very aggressive in the guitar department, it really shouldn’t be classified as Death Metal anymore. But what to call it? I don’t know. Anyway, Johnsson still sings here, but vocal duties are also done by drummer Piotr Wawrzeniuk; and of course, the choir! This is the album that turned me onto Therion and it will impress anyone with a discriminating ear and an open mind!

 

1998 – VOVIN is released.

(11 tracks. 55:17). Vovin continues Therion’s progression into complex orchestral metal. It is also noticeably less heavy than Theli, but it is still a breathtaking piece of work. Also, all vocals are handled by the trained vocalists of the choir. Some songs are sung by single vocalists like a soprano or a baritone, other times the choir sings in parts. By this point Johnsson is certifiably a musical genius. He has done for Death Metal what Rhapsody has accomplished for Neo-classical Metal. The themes here involve the usual Middle Eastern mythology ("The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah", "Eye of Shiva", etc.), but also some European elements come through as well ("Birth of Venus Illegitima", and "The Wild Hunt").

 

1999 – THE CROWNING OF ATLANTIS is released.

(10 tracks. 50:49). This is a special disc because it features three new songs, "The Crowning of Atlantis", "Mark of Cain" and "From the Dionysian Days" in the style of the Vovin album. It has an alternative version of "Clavicula Nox" with an excellent Baritone vocalist. Three live tracks appear at the end, "To Mega Therion", "The Wings of the Hydra", and "Black Sun". But in the middle is the diversion which makes the disc special. I’m referring to three cover tunes. The first is an impressive rendition of "Crazy Nights" by Japanese Power Metal legends, Loudness. Next is "Thor". I cannot remember where that song comes from. Finally, is a cover of Accept’s "Seawinds". These three covers afford Therion the opportunity to "play for fun" and it sounds good. Highly recommended.

 

2000 – DEGGIAL is released.

(11 tracks. 57:57). This is the album that received mixed, love-hate reviews. By now the Metal community has decided whether they like Therion. As for me, I enjoy this album as much as Vovin. As the preceding albums, Deggial has the choirs, the orchestra, and the mythological subject matter, so you pretty much know what to expect, though you could say that Deggial is a little more brooding and melancholy at times. But there is also a cover tune here, only it isn’t a cover of a Metal or rock tune. It is the opening piece to Karl Orff’s modern era opera Carmina Burana called "O Fortuna". If that title doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry. You will recognize it.

THERION

“The Secret of the Runes” (11 tracks).

I have been a dedicated fan of Therion since I discovered Theli. I have enjoyed every successive release despite the lightening of the approach. And I have also enjoyed discovering their older, heavier, more death metal oriented material. Regardless of the format, I found that all of Christofer Johnnson’s work to be enjoyable. And yet while I seem easy to please in regards to this band, it is difficult to understand why so many have been critical of recent works like Deggial. Granted, there are occasional moments where the melody line sounds faintly like other Therion melody lines. Granted, there was a lightening of the sound over the years, though not necessarily in terms of commercialism. So now I wonder what will be the overall reaction to this new epic masterpiece.

Well, at least as far as I am concerned, The Secret of the Runes is another great Therion album. But I am also happy to report that I also regard it as the strongest album they’ve done since Theli, the album that started it all for me. For one thing, while the orchestrations and choirs more resemble Vovin or Deggial in terms of form and structure, the guitars and production sound far more like Theli. There is a sense of energy here that was toned down with Vovin and Deggial. But it would be wrong to simply paint a picture of Therion revisiting or combining older elements on this album. There are some new elements here as well. For example, instead of the lyrics focusing on magical motifs from Middle Eastern mysticism, the whole album is an epic based on Scandinavian mythology. From the opener, “Ginnungagap”, to the closer, “Secret of the Runes” this album is sure to please Vikings, myth-lovers, and Tolkien fans everywhere. And to add to the air of authenticity, Johnnson sings it all in his native tongue, the native tongue of the story, Swedish. It seems that this pride in his own ancestry is the spark that has infused new life into this fully developed band. Anyone who listens to this album and is not astounded had better check their pulse.

 

THIS SPACE IS RESERVED FOR A REVIEW OF THE NEXT THERION OPUS!

 

 

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