Therion – Theli (1996)
Well, this is it. This is the album that singlehandedly changed everything Therion was about… if you ignore Lepaca Kliffoth. The stylistic jump from Symphony Masses to that album might not be as large as the one that occured between it and Theli, but in many ways, Lepaca Kliffoth showcased the major elements of latter day Therion’s sound before they fully defined it here. It’s probably worth noting the historical context – during the mid 1990s, extreme metal was seeing a low in its popularity, Christofer Johnsson was delving ever deeper into Dragon Rouge, and Therion was having trouble keeping a steady lineup – they probably hemorrhage more live musicians than Incantation even in the present.
Rest assured, the band did not crumple up and collapse, but instead did more research on the occult, and came up with an early work of symphonic power metal. None of these elements were new on their own – even Black Sabbath and Deep Purple tried their hands at adding symphonies to hard rock/heavy metal. On the other hand, no metal band (not even the vaguely contemporaneous Rhapsody of Fire, although they didn’t release their debut until 1997) before Therion had decided to do an accessible fusion for an entire album, as far as I know. To be honest, that side of power metal is not my strong point. More importantly, due to the success of the “Beauty in Black” single, the band had a large built-in audience to preach to, and 15 years later, symphonic power metal has been done to death. It’s been done significantly better than this, even by Therion themselves – Vovin alreadyshows significant improvement, and Lemuria/Sirius B are almost as good as the band’s death metal albums. But this album remains historically important, just because of some strategic keyboard patches and operatic sections.
Clearly, I’m understating Therion’s cohesion for comedic effect. The entire album is built with its operatic chorus and symphonic backing in mind, to the point that the metallic aspects sometimes suffer. Make no mistake of it, the riffing here is actually quite unremarkable, relying greatly on power chords and consonant progressions. Clearly, most of the songwriting effort went into these non-metallic aspects – for instance, veteran drummer Piotr Wawrzeniuk makes his first vocal contributions to these songs, with his distinctive timbre. In this respect, he probably doesn’t perform as much as the operatic chorus who handles most lines. Anyways, the end result of all this shuffling is that Theli has a greater deal of polyphony and harmony than the albums it preceded, but with severely stripped down, simplified song structures. Even Lepaca Kliffoth wasn’t this obvious when it was going to go into a chorus.
As for quality? This is one of those albums where how good the songs are is directly proportional to how long they are. In short, the interludes are basically useless, the shorter real songs like “Invocation of Naamah (I Liked You Better When You Were A Dark Princess)” and “In The Desert Of Set” are at least reasonably entertaining, and the high point is either “In The Nightside of Eden” or “The Siren Of The Woods”, depending on whether you like goth rock or ‘majestic’ ballads in Akaddian more. Those of you who choose the latter probably don’t have a good enough pool to properly make the decision, while those who choose the former have thousands of options (probably more, too) to form an opinion with. Meanwhile, there are moments like the buildup at the end of “To Mega Therion”, or the middle of “In The Desert Of Set”, but overall, this does not live up to its predecessors or successors. It lacks the edge of the death metal, the refined composition of the symphonic metal, and has only in very limited quantities the psychedelic atmosphere of the two albums before it. Despite this, people seem to like it for being accessible, crowd pleasing metal. It does certainly succeed at that, offering a few small thrills without causing people to run screaming from their computers, or the bands’ shows.