Therion – Leviathan Review

If forced to describe my relationship with Therion over the past 30 years, I would have to call it “complicated.” I was there at the start when they were a simplistic but enjoyable doom death band. I watched with interest as they slowly integrated opera and symphonic orchestration, making them one of the most unique extreme metal acts of the 90s. They had their ups and downs over the decades that followed, with the lowest moment coming on 2018s 3-hour, triple album rock opera atrocity, Beloved Antichrist. For all its vast ambition, there just wasn’t much about it that was interesting or enjoyable, and the miniscule quantities of metal were drowned beneath layers of flat symphonics and faux-operatic bombast. Now Therion is back with their 17th album, Leviathan. It’s a far shorter platter featuring a cast of notable guest stars like Marco Hietala (Tarot, ex-Nightwish), Mats Leven (ex-Candlemass, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), and Noa Gruman (Scardust), and cover art that looks suspiciously like a gatefold version of Amon Amarth‘s Twilight of the Thunder God. Can restrained ambitions and a star-studded cast return Therion to the good graces of Steel?

Not even close, but this is a much easier spin than Beloved Antichrist. Opener “The Leaf on the Oak of Far” is bright, upbeat, and lightweight at first, like a modern Battle Beast tune with both male and female metal vocals doing fine work. Then the layers of opera vocals, cloying choral pieces, and all the modern Therion shortcomings arrive to ruin the lowbrow keg party. There’s talent aplenty involved and scattered good ideas, but it all gets lost in the determined effort to cram in as much symphonic schmaltz as possible regardless of consequence. “Tuonela” is a bit better, sounding more “metal” and aggressive, aided greatly by the vocals of Marco Hietala. Sure, it ends up sounding like off-brand Nightwish, but it isn’t bad and the song is given some breathing room away from the pomp and circumcision. There are other decent if unessential moments, like the mostly metal “Great Marquis of Hell” where a very Hammerfall-esque Euro-power tune1 is powered along by spry metal vocals while symphonics are kept to a relative minimum.

Sadly, these kinds of mildly entertaining selections are offset by a collection of what can now be called Therion‘s typical fare – compositions that are metal-adjacent and opera-forward, with uninteresting faux-opera vocals and dull, overweening symphonic layering. In a nutshell, MOAR of everything metal fans will find tedious. Look no further than the lackluster title track or “die Wellen der Zeit” to get the gist. These kinds of tracks fail because the symphonics are placed front and center and always seem to fall flat, while the “metal” aspects are either too diluted or entirely absent and incapable of adding the extra punch the compositions sorely need. There isn’t enough done with the symphonic elements to make them demand attention on their own, and they really only work in the context of a decent metal tune, which there aren’t many of here.

The various guest stars are quite good and in some cases they save the day (especially Hietala and Gruman). The core band itself is very talented, led by Christofer Johnsson, the crazy ringleader of this rogue troupe. I can’t help but continue to admire his ambition and verve as he steadfastly strives to blend genres that don’t lend themselves to that end. He surrounds himself with ace players like Thomas Vikström (ex-Candlemass) on vocals and Christian Vidal on guitar, but the problem is never the caliber of the performers. The compositions just lack much to make them stick out despite the copious use of orchestration and operatic vocals. They often end up sounding like interludes to bigger, better songs, but by themselves they lack substance. Those opera vocals are also problematic. Too often they come across as corny or silly rather than powerful or atmospheric. This is an ongoing issue with Therion‘s recent ventures and I don’t know if it can be corrected. I mean, who is the demographic for this stuff really anyway?

The space between Therion and acts like Nightwish and Leaves’ Eyes isn’t vast, but Therion continues to struggle with their songcraft in ways that have hamstrung their recent output. This is a more easily digestible offering than their triple-platter “a month at the opera” bomb and it has a bigger metal edge, but there’s still nothing on Leviathan that makes me want to hear it again. That’s sad, because when you’ve had as long a relationship as I’ve had with this band, you want to see them find continued success. No such luck here though. For the hardcore opera crowd only.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: therion.se | facebook.com/therion
Releases Worldwide: January 22nd, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. It actually sounds WAY too close to “Glory to the Brave” for comfort.
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