Therion – Sitra Ahra Review

Therion // Sitra Ahra
3.0/5.0 —Good, but tough for me to Sitra through.
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU | US]
Websites: |
Release Dates: EU: 17.09.2010 | US: 10.26.2010


All aboard the Trans-Si-Therion Express! Conductor extraordinaire Christofer Johnsson will be along shortly to check your Avant-card to be sure you are worthy of the long, strange and bewildering musical odyssey he carefully prepared for you. And quite a journey it is through Therion’s fourteenth album Sitra Ahra (fourth in the quadrilogy made up of Deggial, Sirius B and Lemuria). Continuing along with his own unique vision of sympho-orchestro-gotho-metal, Johnsson may well have outdone himself here in scope and excess. If forced to describe Sitra Ahra in one word, that word would be bombastic. If granted another word, it would be pretentious. If given but three more, they would be over-the-top. How pretentious and over-the-top is Sitra Ahra you ask? So pretentious that it makes Nightwish and Epica sound like AC/DC. So over-the-top, it could only be equaled by a production of The Vagina Monologues staring both Gwar and Immortal. Now, clearly restraint was never the point here and Johnsson’s motto has always been a “more is more” and that’s great. But when is more TOO much?

Sitra Ahra is such a dense, crazy hodge- podge of styles and influences that a 500-600 word review can’t even begin to explain what this album sounds like. This is a enormous stew of musical ideas and simply has to be heard to be believed. There’s a dizzying array of vocalists onboard and nearly every instrument imaginable is present and accounted for. The only instrument I didn’t hear at some point was a steel guitar but maybe I just missed it. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out when dealing with a mad scientist like Johnsson.

Some songs manage to remain relatively straight forward (relative to other Therion works) like the title track. Of course, it still contains multiple vocalists and heavy use of choral arrangements and sweeping orchestration alongside a traditional metal guitar. Not until “King of Edom” does Therion truly release the musical Kraken with ultra-dramatic and over-the-top male opera vocals, siren-like female vocals and instruments layered in until there simply is no more room. “Sabbati” features vocals sounding eerily like Mark Shelton of Manilla Road. with music that veers very close to The Phantom of the Opera at times. “Land of Canaan” runs completely amok at well over ten minutes and meanders from cult ritual to epic marching music before transitioning into something akin to German cabaret music. My personal favorite is “Hellequin,” for the unintentionally hilarious vocals by a heavily accented male baritone who sounds as if he escaped from Moulin Rouge. Whenever he comes in, I giggle like a schoolgirl. On tracks like “Cu Chulain” and “Din,”you even get harsh black metal vocals that reminded me of Vintersorg. Basically, it’s all here folks!

Now, here is my problem with Sitra Ahra and Therion. I just can’t take this type of music in big doses. I mean, when does one listen to this sort of album? Do some people come home at night and say to themselves, “wow, I could go for some big sweeping sympho-metal chamber music with endless orchestration, layered vocals and endless pomposity!” Outside of reviewing this, I can’t see having it on again unless I was hosting a LARPing party in my backyard. I enjoy moments here and there and totally appreciate how amazing in scope this all is, but I don’t think it will be making my regular listening rotation due its very nature.

There’s simply no way to fault the amount of effort and talent that went into the conception and execution of this monsterpiece and Johnsson is to be praised. As a reviewer, few bands could be as daunting to critique as Therion and one almost feels unqualified to pass judgment without a degree from some exclusive European musical conservatory. Be that as it may, this is just too much and too all over the place for my tastes and that accounts for the less than perfect score. If you love this kind of stuff and/or graduated from a conservatory, feel free to add a point with confidence. Interesting stuff for sure!

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