• Judas Priest – Redeemer Of Souls

    July 28, 2014 in Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Judas Priest - Redeemer Of Souls

    Judas Priest Redeemer Of Souls (2014)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    One of the most influential metal bands of all time has gone through a lot of strange phases. I even adored the controversial Jugulator in 1997, which headed for a dark groove and industrial approach with a vivid new singer. The last three Judas Priest records, Demolition, Angel Of Retribution, and Nostradamus, were of an average quality at best. Priest still has its moments at live shows, and I would go see the band in concert anytime, but it wouldn’t be for its more recent material. Redeemer Of Souls is pretty much on the same level as the previous three releases. It’s an average record with a few highlights and a lot more filler.

     

    I feel that this record is only slightly better than the boring, inconsistent, and overlong Nostradamus, but it’s on the same level or even slightly below the comeback of Angel Of Retribution, and even the hit-and-miss compilation that was Demolition. Judas Priest delivers predictable mid-tempo heavy metal stompers where everybody performs in a very solid way. But apart from new guitarist Richie Faulkner (who feels motivated to perform with his biggest idols), nobody really performs with unchained passion. The record is okay, but if the name Judas Priest wasn’t written on the album cover, not many people would care about this old-fashioned release. While comparable bands like Aria, Iron Maiden, and Loudness still have the pace and the passion and the will to experiment here and there, Judas Priest sound like it has never arrived in the new millennium.

    The new record kicks off well with the dynamic mid-tempo stomper “Dragonaut” and the catchier, more melodic title track. However, listeners soon realize that many tracks sound quite alike. Almost all of them come across as reinvented and slowed down songs from classic records like Painkiller or Screaming For Vengeance. A good example is the longest entry on the regular version of the album, which happens to be “Gates Of Valhalla”. This mid-tempo song tries to be heavy and anthemic leading up to a simplistic but powerful chorus, and I’m sure it will be a great live song. On the other hand, I feel like I’ve heard very similar and better executed songs from Priest in the past. It’s the same thing with the faster “Battle Cry”, which is probably the heaviest track on the album, but it simply sounds like a cheap “Painkiller” rehash. These kind of songs would have been original and passionate thirty years ago, but today they feel crippingly old-fashioned and will only please the most nostalgic of heavy metal fans and die-hard Judas Priest maniacs.

    A couple of songs start in a promising way, as if the band wanted to try out something new. The beginning of “Hell & Back” has a melancholic touch, but it ends up being another standard mid-tempo track. “Cold Blooded” sounds much better, because the calmer and psychedelic parts are recurring elements throughout the entire track, and also because Rob Halford tries to sing in a more longing manner than usual. Logically, it’s one of the better songs on the record, but the band should have needed to sound atmospheric and original to really impress me here. The band finally evolves in a more distinguished way with the closing blues rock-infused ballad “Beginning Of The End”. It’s maybe not the best song around (it sounds a little too tame to me), but there is no doubt that this is by far the most original track by Judas Priest in 2014.

    The limited edition version of the album includes a second disc with five more songs that continue to not impress. The slow ballad “Never Forget” would have been an emotional closure if Rob Halford’s powerless vocals had sounded a little bit more passionate. The song feels somewhat strange, as if this last track of the special edition was the very last song of Judas Priest’s entire career. It saddens me to realize that these old heroes might soon be history, and that they’ve chosen to end their career in such a lackluster manner. Listening to this album is almost more sad than it is just plain boring. It feels like watching your once powerful childhood heroes limp around as old, broken men on crutches in a rest home. I say this with no malice, but with some tears in my eyes. Redeemer Of Souls is a record that drives home the loss of people that are living in the past. A loud and heavy band is slowly fading away in a scarily shy and silent way.

    Maybe it’s time for these legends to go, and maybe they should have gone much earlier. I’m a big fan of anything Judas Priest released between 1974 and 1997, and I really wanted this new record to be a return to form for the British legends. If it had been at least as solid as Angel Of Retribution, this album would have been acceptable, but this is not the case. Listen to the band performing tracks like “Judas Rising”, “Angel”, and even “Lochness” and then listen to “March Of The Damned”, “Crossfire”, and “Secrets Of the Dead”. There is a world of difference between these performances, and if you compare the new songs to the classics of the seventies and eighties, the new release pales even more. I don’t really believe in miracles, and the new album sounds as if the band believed even less in them than me. The final result is a lukewarm, mid-tempo heavy metal release with far too many fillers, tame instrumentals, and vocal performances, as well as sad rehashes of ideas from glorious days long passed. Maybe Judas Priest will carry on, because it would be disappointing to leave with such a weak release, but it’s hard to believe that this band can still improve and progress at this point in time.

    My final say is still probably a little too generous, but when I take into consideration how old this band is, that it has had to deal with an important line-up change recently, and that this record would have made a better impression on me if it had been released thirty years in the past with Rob Halford in top form, I am moderated. As it now turns out, this record is for a few extremely faithful Judas Priest fans and truly nostalgic heavy metal fans only. Everybody else will either feel bored or sad about this record (or both), just like me.

    2.5 // 5

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  • Wara No Tate / Shield Of Straw (2013)

     

    "Wara no Tate" or "Shield of Straw" is a Japanese action-thriller and drama based on a novel by Kiuchi Kazuhiro. This movie convinces with a balanced mixture of brutal and gripping action sequences on one side and philosophical discussions on the other. It tells the intriguing tale of a disgusting psychopath who needs an ambitious police escort to get transported from a rural town to the capital Tokyo where he should be sentenced by a public prosecutor. The grand-father of the psychopath's latest victim, who is terminally ill with a heart disease, wants the man to get killed at all costs. He bribes editors and reporters to announce that the billionaire is willing to offer one billion yen to anyone who would kill the psychopath and then turn her- or himself in to the police and prosecutor to get judged for her or his actions. The vengeful billionaire goes even further and bribes criminals, nurses and even police officers to get the psychopath killed. Five courageous police officers get the dangerous job to get the psychopath to Tokyo via transporters, trains and even cars as they have to face one hundred twenty-five Million potential opponents. Soon, their conscience come into play. Is it worth to risk your lives to save a monster that is probably going to get sentenced to death anyway? Are their accuracy, honour and sense of responsibility strong enough to bring their job to an end? And is there even a traitor within the small group who wants to get the Money and help the billionaire to get his worst enemy killed? "Wara no Tate" is not only an entertaining but also thought-provoking piece of art that works very well despite a few minor lengths during a running time of over two hours. The question the viewer is constantly asking her- or himself is: Would I hand the psychopath over to the prosecutor or would I kill him, get the hefty reward and go to jail?

    This movie is clearly above average not only due to its balanced mixture of profound dramatic elements and vivid action sequences but also due to many excellent actors. From the honest police officers and the scary psychopath over the sick and grieving old man and many potential headhunters, every single actress and actor does an excellent job no matter if his or her screening time is about two hours or just two minutes. The different characters are profound, diversified and credible and many of them develop in an interesting way throughout the movie. The greatest actresses and actors are the intelligent female cop and single mother portrayed by Matsushima Nanako, the desperate and lonely police officer with a strong will portrayed by Ohsawa Takao and especially the wicked psychopath portrayed by Fujiwara Tatsuya. The psychopath gets more and more evil as the movie progresses and especially the last sequences show us the abyss of the human soul. On my list of the most evil characters in cinema, I would place him third just behind the sinister serial killer Kyung-chul portrayed by Choi Min-sik in the Korean psycho-thriller "I Saw The Devil" and the evil spirit Bob portrayed by Frank Silva in the "Twin Peaks" series and movie.

    Apart of the balanced storyline and the acting performances, Japanese cult director Miike Takashi did one of his most memorable works in recent years. The images, setting and special effects are well employed and feel real and spontaneous yet wisely arranged and chosen. There are neither shaky camera passages as in many Hollywood movies nor an overload of predictable and stereotypical visual effects. Miike proves once again that he is one of the best current directors and he took advantage of a decent budget and excellent cinematographers involved in this project.

    The only reasons why somebody could not like this movie is because of its mixture of philosophical dialogues and grisly action sequences. Action fans might get bored by the dialogues while fans of more sophisticated dramas might find the movie too repugnant for its violent content. Any open-minded cinephile with a soft spot for Japanese extremes should though watch this high-quality movie that gets easily in my top twenty of the best movies of the year. It's a shame that there were only three people in the cinema when I watched this film as this movie is definitely better than many of the exchangeable Hollywood sequels where you exactly know what to expect.

     

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  • Prometheus (2012)

     

    "Prometheus" is a prequel to the revolutionary "Alien" movies and explains how the bleak creature created by surrealist designer, painter and sculptor H.R. Giger came to life. In addition to this, the film introduces us to the creators of mankind who were eventually planning to extinguish their own creation but failed to do so. You might want to know that the ending of this film has a cliffhanger and leads to a possible second part of this prequel where we could find out why the creators of mankind wanted to destroy their own work and where the new-born Alien creature could evolve to what it might become one day.

    To be honest, "Prometheus" doesn't come close to the atmosphere of the first two Alien movies and is maybe on the same level as the fourth Alien movie and slightly better than the rather disappointing third film. There are several reasons why this new movie is only a good average movie at best.

    First of all, all actors apart of the talented Noomi Rapace are really weak and exchangeable. This might also be due to an unimaginative script. As viewers, one doesn't really care enough about the fate of the different characters to get an emotional connection to the film and to really get into it. The original movies were much more convincing from that point of view.

    This leads me to the second biggest flaw. The story of the movie is predictable and has been used in a similar way many times before. I don't mean the obvious creation of the Alien but the evolution of the different characters and a very predictable twist in the last third of the film. The script really feels as if a young science-fiction fan borrowed bits and pieces from famous genre films and put them together to a new half-hearted movie.

    Obviously, the movie also has its strengths and you might already guess what they are. First of all, the special effects are obviously very well done. The universe, the more or less deserted planet and the strange cave system on it are very beautiful to watch. The different humanoid creatures as well as the new Alien should also please to fans of the old movies.

    The action sequences of this film are nothing extraordinary but very well done. Especially the last third of the movie sets a higher pace and we get to see many mysterious technical holograms, a couple of gripping fighting scenes and obviously a few earthquakes, explosions and storms here and there. After the slow and almost dull pace of the first two thirds of the film, the last part is probably worth the wait.

    As I told before, the movie doesn't quite catch up the original movies but it includes at least a couple of atmospheric settings and scenes. These moments especially happen in the bleak cave system on the planet and involve aggressive humanoid aliens and the Alien prototype. These scenes don't come close to the horror of the original but they build up some kind of tension at least. If the movie had included more of these horror moments, it would have been much more gripping.

    As it is now, "Prometheus" is a good average science-fiction movie that convinces with a strong main actress, great special effects and a vivid last third. I recommend you to experience this movie without comparing it to the Alien movies because you will probably end up being disappointed if you do so. In addition to this, you should only watch this movie if you are ready to watch more sequels of this prequel. In my book, it was a solid movie to watch once but in comparison to the Alien series, I wouldn't necessarily watch this movie again. I must also admit that I wouldn't watch a Sequel to this film or a fifth Alien movie either. Enough is enough and one should leave this great series untouched instead of harming its reputation with more exchangeable scripts.

     

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  • Therion – Of Darkness…

    July 17, 2014 in Artist Rewind, Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion1

    Therion Of Darkness… (1991)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    We all know Therion as an ambitious, innovative, and skilled symphonic metal band around the only remaining founding member, Christofer Johnsson. This Swedish legend has developed its very own, unique operatic sound over the last couple of decades, but Therion was always open-minded about experiments, and has played in rather different genres and styles. The band has continued to do so since its foundation under the moniker of Blitzkrieg in 1987, when Johnsson and his band mates were only about fifteen years old. The band quickly changed its name to Megatherion and then on to Therion in 1988. Therion itself started to play a mixture of thrash and death metal on its first demos, which led to a full length debut, Of Darkness…, which was released in early 1991. If you are one of those who have known Therion for its later symphonic metal milestones, you should be cautious before purchasing or even listening to this record. It’s a good release to my ears, but is very different from the band’s later works.

     

    Of Darkness… offers a style of death metal that unites bleak atmospheric passages with faster, unchained technical instrumental work. There are also slower moments that are clearly influenced by early doom, and there are even ambient, atmospheric hints at black metal, which was very popular around this time in Scandinavia.

    Despite raw production (no matter if you purchased the original or the remastered The Early Chapters Of Revelation compilation from 2000, which includes Therion’s first three records plus a couple of mostly forgettable bonus tracks in the form of alternate versions and demos of some songs from these albums) and the young age of all involved musicians, this album is filled with stunning atmosphere, great song writing ideas, and solid technical abilities. Especially those songs which include slower passages deliver soundscapes that would fit into any grisly horror movie. The opening “The Return”, featuring a lot of synthesizer, is probably the greatest achievement from this point of view. “Asphyxiate With Fear” varies from pitiless death and thrash riffs to slow doomy bits with a melancholic touch. The varied first single “Time Shall Tell” is another apocalyptic dark ride filled with unexpected and creative changes in pace and style, and certainly needs several spins to grow. This track in particular proves to me that already Christofer Johnsson has huge song writing potential.

    The faster, more straightforward death metal tracks are engaging, but end up sounding similar, and are not my cup of tea. “Genocidal Raids” is the most interesting candidate among these songs. It has really fast and evil passages that will bring you to the edge of your seat, and is probably among the most aggressive songs the band has written in its career.

    In the end, it’s interesting to discover Therion’s roots on Of Darkness…. Recorded back in August and September 1990 in Stockholm, the band definitely did the best it could if we take the age of its members, their financial possibilities, and their talent into consideration. This record is an atmospheric death metal release with lightly amusing horror lyrics and a few bleak twists here and there. Fans of Scandinavian old school death metal and those who occasionally listen to bands like the creative Swiss extreme metal band Celtic Frost should be happy with this. It’s really not a bad record, but bears no comparison to the band’s later accomplishments. Anyone else should start their musical discovery of Therion with a more recent release. The follow-up, Beyond Sanctorum is changed and much more original than Of Darkness….

    3.0 // 5

     

    Therion – Beyond Sanctorum

    July 31, 2014 in Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion2

    Therion Beyond Sanctorum (1992)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion’s second full length album was recorded and mixed in December of 1991 and released quickly in January of 1992. The band worked as a trio on its sophomore release, and even though this can still be called more or less a death metal record, Therion sounds much more progressive here than on the very straightforward Of Darkness….

     

    Opener “Future Consciousness” starts with a fast and pitiless mixture of death and thrash metal, but the rhythm section, and in particular the drum play, already sounds much more varied than on the debut. As the opener goes on, it ventures into a heavier mid-tempo section. Toward the end, the track slows even more and becomes almost doomy. A slow, melodic guitar solo and a decent use of keyboard then leads into a surprisingly beautiful finale. The opening track is full of great ideas without denying the band’s roots, and the song writing and production already sound much more consistent and elaborate than just one year earlier.

    The band heads continuously further into experimental territory. “Symphony Of The Dead” features more atmospheric keyboard sounds as well as soprano vocals and classically styled clean male vocals by two guest musicians. The epic, bleak atmosphere and the sophisticated mixture of genres take the place of the typical technical ecstasy of the extreme metal approach. For the very first time, one gets to hear a prototype of the sound that would make Therion famous a few years later. The bleak album closer, “Paths”, uses a very similar approach. Interestingly, at this point in its career, Therion is playing more or less the kind of music that bands like Crematory and Moonspell would become very successful with several years down the road.

    The most outstanding song on this record, and one of the best songs in Therion’s long and varied career, is “The Way”: an atmospheric epic with a running time above eleven minutes. It’s a largely instrumental, mid-tempo track featuring many samples of doom and gothic metal filling its long passages with a smooth flow that never gets boring if you like these genres. In addition to this solid base, the track includes some stunning surprises like short Asian instrument samples from keyboardist and guitarist Peter Hansson, a versatile drumming performance by Oskar Forss, and the surprisingly laid back guitar tone of Christofer Johnsson in the last third of the track. The more I listen to this complex (but not overly complicated) song, the more it impresses and grows on me.

    Beyond Sanctorum was a big step forward for Therion. The band steadily shifted into more experimental doom and gothic metal territory, and had already set out to develop its own avant-garde sound. Extreme metal purists won’t like this progression, but fans of Therion’s future symphonic metal records without too much aversion to the extreme should try this album out. Despite a few fillers here and there, Beyond Sanctorum is an overlooked early milestone of what would become Scandinavian gothic metal, and should definitely be revisited for those who have forgotten it.

    3.75 // 5

     

    Therion – Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas

    August 22, 2014 in Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion3Therion Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas (1993)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    On its third output entitled Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas, Therion slowly starts to sound the way that most fans of the band are used to. This album still features some death and gothic metal influences however, especially in the form of powerful growls. The guitar work has become much more melodic, however. There are still a few faster riffs, but also classic-sounding melodies and some moments of melancholy. The twin guitar solos through this work recall several NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden, and the use of keyboards becomes more prominent as well, in the form of atmospheric, instrumental soundscapes.

     

    These aren’t the only changes. Christofer Johnsson remains as the only founding member on this record, and even though he recruited new bassist Andreas Wahl, drummer Piotr Wawryeniuk, and guitarist Magnus Barthelsson, Symphony Masses… is pretty much a solo album where the band leader experimented with effects and sounds in a way that old members never would have accepted. The song writing also changed as Therion moved even further away from standard song structures in verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus form. The new songs have a more narrative feeling and aren’t really catchy at all. Several tracks have direct transitions, as witnessed by the title track in two parts. The songs have also become much shorter and the eleven tracks here clock in at slightly below thirty-eight minutes. The lyrics remain occult, but feel much more elaborate and serious than before, relating to different ancient civilizations.

    Therion clearly made a step forward here, and Christofer Johnsson describes this release as being perhaps the most experimental album Therion ever did. Despite all these positive innovations, I don’t like this release as much as its predecessor Beyond Sanctorum, or even as much as the band’s goofy but consistent and honest debut, Of Darkness.

    How come? I simply feel that Christofer Johnsson wanted too much on this record. He wanted to experiment with new effects and sounds, while recording an album without any compromises by heading in a new direction. This album feels completely like an overambitious and directionless one-man project. Even after multiple spins, the eleven new tracks rush past me without leaving any deeper impression. There are no atmospheric goosebump moments, no catchy choruses or sing-along passages, and I miss the emotional, pitiless vocal outbursts of the first two releases. The keyboards are overused and sound pretty artificial, which wasn’t the case on the previous albums where they were used sparingly in the background where one wouldn’t hear how cheap they actually sounded. The death metal riffs are rehashed from past efforts, and only the new solos are convincing on this release. The rhythm section is less energizing than before, and sometimes doesn’t have much to do at all. In a few songs, the bass guitar breaks through the exchangeable riffs and keyboard layers and is able to prove itself with solid musicianship, but it’s not the standard. Finally, the growls are less brutal than before, but the few clean vocal parts work well and add an almost sacral tone to the record.

    The few songs that unite these vocals, melodic guitar riffs and solos, and a few breaks for the rhythm section to shine show the enormous potential of early Therion. The highlights on this release are the hypnotizing and well-narrated “Dark Princess Naamah”, the short atmospheric “Symphoni Draconis Inferni” (that would later inspire bands like early Septicflesh), and the epic “Dawn Of Perishness”, due to its outstanding instrumental qualities. A couple of other songs have short interesting passages, but suffer from directionless song writing where too many ideas are put into a single track, or where passages drag on for far too long. Ironically, the shorter songs feel too short to develop their few promising ideas, while the longer tracks feel stretched and imprecise.

    In the end, Therion wasted a lot of potential on its third record because of this imprecise song writing. The three songs I mention are brilliant, while the rest sound half-hearted and unfocused. The experimental side of this release can be seen as a step forward toward Therion’s newer, unique sound that would guarantee the band’s international breakthrough. Many people will tell you that this is the best chapter of Therion’s early days. I can’t agree at all: I think Therion made one step forward but three steps back with a lack of gripping atmosphere, emotional, honest, and simplistic musical outbursts, and truly memorable music. I would only recommend this symphonic gothic metal release to die-hard Therion fans and those who are really into stuff like early Amorphis, Atrocity, Celtic Frost, Eternal Tears Of Sorrow, Paradise Lost, Septicflesh, and the like.

    2.5 // 5

     
     

    Therion – Lepaca Kliffoth

    October 3, 2014 in Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion4Therion Lepaca Kliffoth (1995)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    After the headless predecessor Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas, Therion took a short creative break, focused on more consistent song writing, and grew together as a new band and unit to release Lepaca Kliffoth in 1995. Along with band leader Christofer Johnsson, who would perform vocals, keyboard, and guitars, Polish drummer Piotr “Docent“ Wawrzeniuk, who was once involved in a Polish punk rock band called Panzer Service, returned. Parts of “Evocation Of Vovin“ mix classic heavy metal with Middle Eastern-tinged melodies with a vivid punk vibe, which may be due to his influence. The trio was completed with Fredrik Isaksson from the death metal band Excruciate, who would later play in another famous Swedish death metal band called Grave. The few death metal moments on this release are restricted to “Let the New Day Begin“, however.

     

    Lepaca Kliffoth has nothing to do with Therion’s death metal roots anymore, apart from a few select harsher riffs here and there. The guitar play has evolved in a more melodic direction and even features some power metal-inspired passages, such as in “Melez“. It’s the same thing for the vocals. The growls have been replaced by a shouted singing style by Christofer Johnsson. The band leader is giving more and more space to professionally trained operatic guest singers in addition. Hans Groning performs bass and baritone vocals and Swiss singer Claudia Maria Mokri, known for performing on Celtic Frost’sTo Mega Therion and its follow-up Into The Pandemonium, performs soprano vocals on “Lepaca Kliffoth“. In addition to this, the album includes a decent Celtic Frost cover with “Sorrows Of The Moon”. Another Swedish background singer and a German guitarist complete the list of invited musicians. The combination of different vocalists works especially well in the soft “The Beauty In Black“, and my personal favorite, “Evocation Of Vovin“.

    The thing that strikes me most when listening to Lepaca Kliffoth is how much the song writing has evolved in the past two years. This symphonic gothic metal record goes back to the atmospheric occult sound elements of the past, but also surprises with beautiful and truly catchy melodies that stay on your mind. The mellow and mysterious goth-rock single “The Beauty In Black“ comes around with appeasing orchestrations and beautiful piano melodies. The experimental sound effects of the predecessor have been reduced and are now employed in a more harmonious manner, as seen in the mystery-infused title track “Lepaca Kliffoth“. The new songs feel less overloaded and more balanced, and give the melodies and vocals the time to unfold and become memorable.

    This album finally sounds like what would make Therion famous over the next two decades, but the lyrical content has also improved and refers to more and more mythological elements from Middle Eastern cultures. The term “Qliphoth“ refers to the representation of evil spirits in Jewish mysticism. The realm of evil is also termed “Sitra Ahra“, “Vovin“ means “Dragon”, and “Theli” is the name of the great Dragon according to the Sefer Yetzirah, the oldest book of Jewish esotericism. All three names would later on become titles for other Therion records. On that subject, the artwork is a mixture of a hydra and a vovin as well.

    Despite several intriguing tracks, the album needs several spins to grow on, and isn’t always easy to digest. In addition to this, no track comes close to the epic mastery of “The Way“ from Beyond Sanctorum. This would be different on the essential follow-up Theli, which would be released one year later.

    Lepaca Kliffoth was more than just a transitional album for Therion, but a visionary record that would define the new band sound and its lyrics for the years to come. It’s probably the most interesting release of the early years for those who have known Therion as a symphonic metal band only. The mixture of symphonic elements and operatic vocalists, Middle Eastern folk influence, and an angry punk vibe is definitely very original. If Therion hadn’t released several masterpieces in the years to come, the reception this record would surely be better nowadays. Had it been released by another band, Lepaca Kliffoth would be a highlight in almost any discography.

    3.5 // 5

     

    Therion – Theli

    October 24, 2014 in Artist RewindReviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion5Therion Theli (1996)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion’s Theli may be the most essential symphonic metal album ever released. It’s the kind of work that is necessary to listen to at least once in a lifetime of fandom. It’s an album worth exploring thoroughly for Therion fans, as it exists in many different versions and formats including bonus tracks and even additional live cuts. I’m aware of the fact that many bands experimented with heavy metal music and symphonic elements. Let’s cite Lizzy Borden’sMaster Of Disguise or Savatage’s Gutter Ballet - which were both released in 1989, and followed by others. What makes Theli stand out among these other ambitious releases is the consequent will to fuse operatic and symphonic elements with doom, gothic, and even power metal in equal parts to invent something extremely courageous and completely unrivaled in originality. It’s something new from an intellectual point of view, but also from an atmospheric and technical approach. Sophisticated tracks including dark and raw vocals, full choirs, gripping riffing, vivid rhythm work, and the crowning keyboard orchestrations. Classical music and heavy metal have rarely come into such close contact as on this release. At a time when the metal scene seemed to be waning in power, bands like Amorphis, Moonspell, and Therion kept an entire scene alive with their determined approach to inventing and reinventing themselves with each new release.

     

    I first listened to Therion’s In Mega Therion around ten years ago when it was included on a double DVD collection as part of Nuclear Blast’s highly recommendable “Monsters Of Metal“ series. There are a very few precious moments in your life when you listen to a song and realize that it will change your perception of music. Listening to this song was one of those moments. The longer I listened, the more I sat in speechless surprise. The beauty and the beast mixture of heavy riffs and powerful raw male voclas with male and female choirs was special enough. When the incredible solo with dueling guitar and keyboard came up, followed by a section of sacred-sounding choirs, I got heavy goosebumps and a racing heartbeat. The conclusion kicked in, with enchanting piano and trumpet, and I had tears in my eyes. Choirs, pianos, violins, and even trumpets in a metal song? This was something completely new to me, and it shook up my fifteen year-old world. Thanks to Therion, I started to listen to and to appreciate classical music at that young age. These long-haired death metal musicians had just reinvented a whole genre with a song.

    It’s hard to believe it, but the most amazing thing about Theli is that the rest of the album is just as amazing as the opening “Preludium“ and “To Mega Therion“. The relaxing bass and the mysterious keyboard tones of “Cults Of The Shadow“ immediately grab my intention, and the song becomes a catchy, yet diversified symphonic metal anthem with two different gloomy male vocalists in addition to the grandiose choirs. This song is very easy to approach and catchy from the beginning onward. The following “In The Desert Of Set“ comes around with an obvious Egyptian feel. From the intro on, guitars take control and lead into passages where gracious female and male choirs interchange with both clean and harsh male vocals. The song surprises with its impressive structure that includes a short bass guitar interlude, recurring folk elements, majestic grand piano, and faster orchestral parts. Therion put more ideas into this single impressive song than most others put into entire albums or discographies. “Nightside Of Eden“ continues to convince with more progressive, almost space rock-infused sounds a passionate ending with guitar solos of the highest quality. “Invocation Of Naamah“ is the only faster track on the record that goes musically back to the band’s early days. The fast melodic death metal verses meet the band’s typical orchestral elements and operatic vocals for most of the rest of the song, and the final result sounds refreshingly balanced. “The Siren Of The Woods“ is by far the longest track on the record, and it’s a very appeasing and elegic song that delivers more mysterious keyboard sounds, sacral chants, and an epic atmosphere. It is mostly instrumental, and features almost no metal instrumentation whatsoever. The soothing female vocals make me think of new age music, but they also have a tender Asian folk-like touch to them. The calm male singing that complements the female performer could have come straight from an Italian opera. Among many very impressive songs, this one is definitely Therion’s most courageous and radical, as it nearly breaks with any expectations held by critics and fans, as well as Therion’s own doom and death metal ridden past. It’s very symbolic to choose exactly this title as a single. It shows the world that with Therion, you can only expect the unexpected. Despite its length, this floating lullaby definitely has its very own charm. It’s a perfect track to peacefully fall asleep to.

    There is no questioning in my mind, Theli is a revolutionary record. The only tough decision when purchasing is to choose the perfect version of this milestone. The digipack offered by Scarecrow Records from 2003 features live versions of “To Mega Therion“ and “Black Sun“, while the 2007 version from NEMS Enterprises comes along with the tracks from The Siren Of The Woods single, which includes edited versions of the title track and “Cults Of The Shadows“, as well as the rare track “Babylon“, which is solid but not really impressive. The most recent 2014 versions from Scarecrow Records and Nuclear Blast include a remastered version of the original album in addition to three bonus tracks. These are “In Remembrance“, which is a darker but rather generic track apart from its catchy chorus; the more vivid “Black Fairy“, which includes some punky shouts in the chorus; and finally, a rather average cover version of Scorpions’ “Fly To The Rainbow“. These three songs are also included on the 1997 release A’Arab Zaraq – Lucid Dreaming, which is a weird compilation that is considered to be regular full length release by the band. The current editions of Theli also include an extra DVD that features a live performance of the entire regular album recorded in 2007. These live cuts are a part of a bigger concert which was released in the highly recommendable 3-DVD set Adulruna Rediviva And Beyond. No matter which version you choose, have fun with this mindblowing masterpiece!

    5 // 5

     

     

    Therion – A’arab Zaraq – Lucid Dreaming

    December 5, 2014 in Artist RewindReviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion 1997Therion A’arab Zaraq – Lucid Dreaming (1997)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    In its long career, Therion has released two limited compilation efforts that are nonetheless considered by the band to be regular full lengths releases. The first of these has the weird title A’arab Zaraq – Lucid Dreaming. It was released as a ten year anniversary album, and is really for faithful fans and collectors only. Occasional listeners really don’t need this offering that is by all usual measures of the band, very sub-average.

     

    The most interesting songs on this output are the first two, which are entirely new songs left over from the Theli sessions. Both songs are atmospheric gothic doom metal tracks but don’t have the symphonic majesty and the creative classical influences of the songs on the previous output. These tracks are still diverse and enjoyable enough to listen to, but don’t impress me as much as any other songs from Theli. The next couple of songs are cover tracks and re-recordings of Therion’s past efforts. The progressive take on the Scorpions’ “Fly To The Rainbow” is definitely the highlight amongst these, and one of Therion’s best cover tracks ever.

    All other songs here are connected with a soundtrack to an obscure movie entitled “The Golden Embrace” that was directed by Per Albinsson. These tracks are mostly instrumental and have much more to do with pure symphonic and classical music with an occult atmosphere than with metal. These songs inspire images in my mind and develop a certain kind of dark but elegant atmosphere. It’s really the kind of thing to listen to in your bed at night with your headphones on. After a while, the tracks become more than a bit repetitive, and the orchestrations by the Barmbek Symphonic Orchestra sound artificial and limited, as if they were cheap keyboard sounds rather than actual orchestral passages. Maybe this negative effect is also due to a limited budget at that time, as the compositional efforts themselves are not bad per se.

    In the end, this compilation offers only a handful of interesting songs. Later on, Therion combined the best material of this release with the greatest songs from the other compilation entitled Crowning Of Atlantis, which was to be released in 1999. This combination, called Atlantis Lucid Dreaming and released in 2005, is worth a purchase if seen for a reasonable price. Otherwise, this record was only an appetizer for the growing fan base between the brilliant records of Theli and Vovin. This release is for die-hard fans only.

    No rating (2.5 // 5)

     

     

    Therion – Vovin

    January 30, 2015 in Artist RewindReviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion - Vovin 1998Therion Vovin (1998)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion continues to evolve on its 1998 release Vovin, as mastermind Christofer Johnsson gathered a new guitarist and drummer around him and invited a total of twenty guest musicians and singers, including big names like guitarist Waldemar Sorychta of Grip Inc. and Voodoocult, Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear and Gamma Ray fame. and Sarah Jezebel Deva, who had been involved in bands such as Cradle Of Filth and her own group Angtoria. While the previous genre milestone Theli contained maybe seventy percent bleak heavy and gothic metal and thirty percent orchestral arrangements, Vovin is more balanced and is closer to fifty percent occult and yet melodic metal balanced against fifty percent majestic orchestrations and even more impressive male and female choirs of the highest kind. While the songs on Theli covered completely new ground and managed to touch me emotionally, Vovin is a more elegant, intellectual, and sophisticated output. One really gets the impression of witnessing elaborate classical symphonies of the grandest kind, but the songs are a bit more distant from an emotional point of view. While I slightly prefer Theli over Vovin, it is great to see that Therion moved on and tried out new things again on this excellent release.

     

    There is really not a bad song on this release. “The Rise Of Sodom And Gomorrah” is a perfect opener. It feels like listening to a Beethoven symphony where the songs starts in a really dramatic and cinematic fashion. You can really see the downfall of the two famous cities in front of your eyes while listening to this bombastic metal masterpiece. The male and female choirs are spot on and create an elegant, yet apocalyptic atmosphere. There is no doubt that this song is one of the best in Therion’s stunning career. “Birth Of Venus Illegitima” is a little bit more elegiac, and convinces with a dark yet chilling atmosphere. This is not just music, this is a very fine piece of art. The epic “Clavicula Nox” and “Eye Of Shiva” have more mournful feelings to them, and are rather slow and appeasing songs that convince with enchanting angelic female vocals that make me think of several impressive new-age artists like Enigma or Vangelis. “Eye Of Shiva” includes several beautiful guitar solos, and is probably the most touching song on the expression-heavy Vovin.

    “Wine Of Aluquah” has a Middle Eastern feeling and is overall a little bit faster and heavier than most of the other tracks, and the female choirs really stay on your mind. The fastest track and only song that clearly hearkens back to Therion’s earlier output is probably “The Wild Hunt”. It’s a fast, almost power and thrash orientated song with dramatic choirs, vivid melodic guitar solos, and a hectic yet catchy chorus performed by Ralf Scheepers. This is one of the few songs that clearly has more metal than classical elements, and should definitely please the power metal community.

    Every single song on this release is worth mentioning, and “The Draconian Trilogy” resumes all the stunning qualities of Therion again. I have to highly recommend that you purchase Theli and Vovin and discover these artistic masterpieces of classical music and metal on your own. You really miss out on something as a listener if you don’t get in closer contact with the most imaginative metal band of the nineties.

    4.75 // 5

     

    Therion – Crowning Of Atlantis

    February 20, 2015 in Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion - Crowning Of AtlantisTherion – Crowning Of Atlantis (1999)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Crowning Of Atlantis is the second compilation that Therion considers a regular full length effort. While this release is more interesting than the rather pale A’arab Zaraq – Lucid Dreamingoffering from two years earlier, this compilation is still only interesting for collectors and die-hard fans. Occasional listeners should simply go for the Atlantis Lucid Dreaming release, which combines the best moments of both compilations.

     

    What we get here first of all are two leftover tracks from the Vovin sessions, plus a completely new recorded song. While the short and elegant (but somewhat shy, and therefore unimpressive) “From The Dionsyian Days” and the solid mid-tempo track “Mark Of Cain” are decent, it’s the title song “The Crowning Of Atlantis” that really stands out as best song on this compilation. Imagine a gloomier and more grounded version of the excellent “The Rise Of Sodom And Gomorrah”, where the guitar play is overall more prominent than the string sections, and you know what you should expect here.

    The second part of this compilation is composed of one darker and more alternative version of the excellent “Clavicula Nox”, from Vovin, as well as three well done cover songs. Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear and Gamma Ray fame captivates in his attempts at covering Loudness’ “Crazy Nights” and Manowar’s “Thor (The Powerhead)”. The first interpretation stays true to the original and is a rare excellent heavy metal rendition by Therion, while the second track also includes a few ambitious and majestic choirs that are similar to what Manowar  keeps attemptings, but continously fails to make worthwhile. The last cover song is Accept’s “Seawinds”, which turns out to be an amazingly calm and enchanting ballad with hypnotizing female vocals. Therion really reinvents this song and makes it sound like a mixture of a pop song of the eighties combined with spiritual classical music.

    The last third of the disc offers three very well done live tracks. While the present versions of “The Wings Of The Hydra” and “Black Sun” are decent, I must point out the incredibly energizing rendition of “To Mega Therion”. I can’t help but have massive goosebumps and bang my head with passion and pride to this explosive version of a milestone in metal history. This is maybe the best live version ever released of this song despite many great future live records from the band. Along with the stunning title song and the great Accept cover, this is by far the best track on this compilation.

    While this compilation offers only a handful of interesting songs, it has a much better hit and miss rate than A’arab Zaraq – Lucid Dreaming. Still, I would simply recommend that you purchase the Atlantis Lucid Dreaming version from 2005 or, even better, simply focus on this band’s excellent original studio releases.

    No rating (3,25 // 5)

     

    Therion – Deggial

    March 6, 2015 in Artist RewindReviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion - Deggial 2000Therion – Deggial (2000)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion’s mastermind Christofer Johnsson wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t try out a few new experiments with each record. The first release of the new millennium marks the addition of the Niemann brothers (consisting of guitarist Kristian [Sorcerer] and bassist Johan[Evergrey, Mind’s Eye]) to the line-up of this eclectic project. Both would go on to stay with the band for the next four records in addition to this release, which brought some stability to an ever-changing project. The third new member onDeggial is drummer Sami Karppinen, who would only stay for two full studio records, but remains connected to the project, as he recently played on a tour and helped out with editing and engineering of the last studio album to date. In addition to these three new band members, a total of twenty-three session musicians and singers from all around the world participated on this release. This album follows the style of Theli and Vovin, even though Christofer Johnsson has progressively modified the sound of the band over these three releases.

     

    Deggial is once again a record where classical music and heavy metal harmoniously collide in nearly equal parts. I would say however that this is the very first time on a Therion album that the classical influences are much more powerful and more important to the song writing than the heavy metal passages. From this point of view, this album is almost a revolution in the symphonic metal genre. Still, there are some important differences between Vovin and Deggial. The guitar play is a little bit more in the foreground on this release. Many tracks come around with appeasing acoustic guitar passages, strong heavy metal inspired riffs, or even psychedelic guitar sounds inspired by classic progressive rock acts. The occasional extreme metal riffs hearkening back to the band’s early days are completely gone. Another difference between this release and its predecessor is that vocal duties are shared by classically trained female and male choirs in equal parts. They either work separately in different passages of a given song or together, mainly in the choruses. Solo singers and more conventional rock and metal vocals only appear in a few exceptional cases on the record. The most interesting exception is Hansi Kürsch’s presence on the powerful “Flesh Of The Gods”. I always liked his unique vocal style, but it rarely works for me in the unnecessarily fast and overloaded tunes of Blind Guardian. In this short and concise mid-tempo track however, his vocals work very well for me. The song doesn’t really fit to the rest of the album but it’s still an amazing track.

    Even though most of the songs on here fail to touch me as much as those on Theli or to impress me musically as those on VovinDeggial is a great album with several notable highlights. The title track includes very hypnotizing, numbing, and psychedelic guitar play that builds up a strong atmosphere before the airy and uplifting chorus comes in as a sort of relief from this mysterious feeling with its acoustic guitars and elegant choirs. Even from such an eclectic band as Therion, I have never heard anything similar before or after this record. Another instant classic is the album’s epic closer “Via Nocturna” in two parts, which convinces with sacral organ sounds, melancholic string passages, a few uplifting woodwind instruments, and an excellent combination of male and female choirs. This is nearly a contemporary masterpiece of classical music, and the metal side of this tune is only one element among many others. Many tracks, like the elegiac epic “Eternal Return”, which features some solid riffs reminding me of Iron Maiden’s “Mother Russia”, or the laid-back acoustic guitar and string-driven ballad “Ship Of Luna” are quite calm, slow- to mid-paced, and may take more time to grow on the listener than the songs from the two prior albums. It’s this calmer, more classical, and more elegant tone, however, that makes this record truly unique in Therion’s extensive discography.

    There are many different editions of this record. Most editions include a powerful cover of Carl Orff’s famous “O Fortuna” from his scenic cantata “Carmina Burana” which was maybe the most important work of classical music made in the twentieth century. A 2001 version of the record by Irond Records is probably the most interesting, and includes an additional bonus track – the enjoyable Scorpions cover “Crying Days” (although some sources wrongfully indicate this song as being “Polar Nights”). Personally, I own the 2004 Mexican digipack version by Scarecrow Records, which includes “O Fortuna” as well as three more tracks taken from “Crowning Of Atlantis”: the studio version of “The Crowning Of Atlantis”, the live rendition of “The Wings Of The Hydra”, and the Accept cover “Seawinds”. No matter which version you may get your hands on, I warmly recommend this release to any symphonic metal fan. This album is another highlight in Therion’s streak of impressive regular studio albums.

    4.25 // 5

     

    Therion – Sirius B

    October 17, 2016 in Artist RewindReviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Therion - Sirius BTherion – Sirius B (2004)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Sirius B was released jointly with its short and mysterious counterpart Lemuria. The two records perfectly complement each other, stand together as a highlight in both Therion’s career and the entire symphonic metal genre, and are highly recommendable for both newcomers and die-hard followers of the band.

     

    Sirius B includes the catchiest tracks Therion had written to date in its career. The album starts with the heavy, power metal-inspired ”Blood Of Kingu”, where Mats Levén’s distinctive clean vocals meet majestic choirs in a powerful, mid-tempo track that ventures at times into faster territory. The dramatic closure of the song with bombastic orchestration and hysterical sounding choirs is enough to make any contemporary writer of classical music or opera go green with envy. Alternatively, the symphonic metal anthem ”Son Of The Sun” features female lead vocals, and should immediately appeal to fans of Edendrige, Epica, Nightwish and the likes. I’m convinced that this track would have topped the charts if the band had released it as a single, since this record was released when songs like ”Bring Me To Life”, ”Ice Queen”, and ”Nemo” conquered the world by storm.

    Among these addicting tunes, Therion experiments with new sounds on this album. The sacral epic ”The Wondrous World Of Punt” opens with organ and church choirs before turning into a laid-back ballad with acoustic guitar, piano leads, and a coherent mixture of male and female choirs and lead vocals. The song speeds up in the last two minutes with fast mandolin melodies, power metal inspired lead guitars offering staccato riffs that sound like the score of a Western movie, and vivid drum patterns. The whole thing is crowned by psychedelic vocal effects that give the song an occult touch. This song really explores several new territories, even in the case of such an eclectic band, and the different experiments within the tune work perfectly to my ears. This track is my favorite song on the album, and a stunning highlight of Therion’s impressive career. Another track with an occult touch and psychedelic vocal effects that give it a vintage touch is the outstanding ”The Khlysti Evangelist”. The opening verse is sung in Russian, and has that particular melancholic, longing, passionate tone that defines the Russian sound in my mind. The rest of the track convinces with heavier riffs and a powerful chorus where Mats Levén shines once again, while the more psychedelic verses are performed by varying female and male lead vocalists. Those who are looking for great guitar work should try out the closing ”Voyage Of Gurdjieff (The Fourth Way)”, which starts with an uplifting opera before it turns into an epic, fast, and joyous power metal song. Instead of a high pitched vocalist, Therion underlines its uniqueness, as this part is supported by a professional choir in the chorus and highly talented soloists in the verses.

    With Sirius B, Therion delivers a balanced mixture of easily digestable, catchy, and gripping tracks in the first half, and more professionally experimental tunes in the second. The only reason this amazing release doesn’t get the highest grade possible is due to three slightly less impressive tunes toward the end of the album, including the mysteriously elegiac and experimental, yet somehow dragging, repetitive, and unimpressive title song. Still, this record – in combination with the  equally outstanding Lemuria – is an output any intellectual metal fan should possess.

    4.75 // 5

     

     

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  • Loudness – The Sun Will Rise Again

    July 15, 2014 in Reviews by Sebastian Kluth

    Loudness - The Sun Will Rise Again

    Loudness - The Sun Will Rise Again (2014)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    The immortal Japanese heavy metal institution Loudness comes around with its twenty-eighth studio record in thirty-three years. The cover artwork and album title, The Sun Will Rise Again, reference the band’s breakthrough record Thunder In The East from 1985, but don’t be fooled by this clever marketing strategy. The new album doesn’t feature as many catchy choruses, doesn’t blend genres as much, and doesn’t have the commercial appeal that the band’s fifth release does. The new album features ten mean heavy metal anthems plus a short instrumental introduction, and is much more similar to recent outputs like Eve To Dawn, for example. Most metal bands try to experiment by writing softer songs, going into more progressive directions, or trying to reinvent themselves with the help of new musicians or weird collaboration efforts. This is not Loudness’ case at all. If you are looking for emotional ballads, experimental fireworks, or a change of style on a modern release, you’re at the wrong address. This is exactly why Loudness has become one of the most authentic, consistent, energizing, and honest veteran bands in the whole wide world, and deserves our attention, money, and respect. The quartet is really working hard for success, and continues releasing good to excellent records in very short time spans. The Sun Will Rise Again is not as stunning as the nearly perfect predecessor 2012, but it’s certainly as energizing as Eve To Dawn.

     

    Everything sounds tight and harmonious on this record, as is usual for Loudness. The riffs are powerful, the guitar solos are pure melodic ecstasy, the rhythm section of bass guitar and drums is energizing as always, and the vocals are as unique, rebellious, and sympathetically raspy as they have always been. Niihara’s Japanese accent and charismatic lyrics tell us about authentic heavy metal lifestyles, hopeful and strong emotions, and an untamable desire for freedom. Only the slightly-too modern production is a problem – it could have been a little bit more organic and old school to fit the material, in my opinion.

    One of the highlights here includes the tight heavy metal anthem “Mortality”, with its galloping riffs and multiple vocal efforts during the pre-chorus and the engaging chorus itself. This is the kind of song that needs to be played live to unfold all its energy. “The Metal Man” fits into the same category. This song is a little bit slower and, while the riffs are not spectacular, the rhythm section is definitely delivering the goods. The chorus is even more effective and invites you to yell along, raise your fist up in the air, and bang your head. In less than three minutes, Loudness delivers a classic heavy metal anthem that should please the old school fans but sounds powerful enough to delight younger audiences. Loudness is also able to grab our attention in the longer tracks, even though some of them might take some time to grow on you. “The Best” is probably the coolest long track here. It easily beats the eight-minute mark and opens with a few cool, minimalist bass guitar licks and precise drumming before thundering riffs, furious vocals, and angry sing-along passages kick in. This mixture of calmer breaks and powerful main parts is repeated and garnished with a few smart guitar effects and an almost funky, jazzy middle section where the bass guitar play stands out.

    In the end, Loudness delivers three outstanding tracks, as well as a couple more energizing anthems like the pitiless opener “Got To Be Strong” and the engaging sing-along of “Never Ending Fire”, and a couple of good, average heavy metal songs in the weaker second half of the record. While this album might only be just that – “good average”, amongst Loudness’ impressive discography (and can’t beat the vivid 2012), it’s still miles ahead of everything released by bands of similar age and style over the previous year or two. Despite its age, Loudness is still alive and well and has a lot of interesting things left to say. If you like authentic, powerful, and technically well-executed heavy metal but you despise the high amount of exchangeable retro bands, this release is all you need. If you want to discover one of the most important heavy metal pioneer bands that deserves to be mentioned alongside Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, please start your journey chronologically. I know that listening to twenty-eight records might take some time, but Loudness has a rich and deserving history, which The Sun Will Rise Again only adds to.

    3.25 // 5

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