Released: 2007, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Since Therion kick-started their career with THELI back in 1996, Christofer Johnsson’s continued evolution into more exotic and elaborate musical ventures culminated with the massive LEMURIA/SIRIUS B releases in 2004. Symphonic and operatic elements swelled throughout those albums with literally hundreds of musicians contributing to the epic swells and sweeping passages that took the breath away of many listeners. Many assumed Therion would never top LEMURIA/SIRIUS B and even Johnsson himself played down the grandiosity that many critics found fault in for his next venture. If GOTHIC KABBALAH, an 83-minute, two CD album is Johnsson’s idea of minimalism, then I would hate to see what happens when he really lets loose (wait, there was the four DVD, two CD box set, CELEBRATORS OF BECOMING, that came out last year?!). Combining the extravagant sonic landscape of LEMURIA/SIRIUS B with a hearty dose of mysticism, bombast and East-meets-West musicianship, GOTHIC KABBALAH is a true masterpiece that is as magnificent and exhaustive in its breadth as it is spellbinding and progressive in its simplicity.
Since Christofer Johnsson has recently given up vocal duties on Therion’s albums, two male vocalists and two female vocalists handle a myriad of styles on GOTHIC KABBALAH. Mats Levén (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen) and Snowy Shaw (ex-King Diamond, ex-Dream Evil) are vastly different in their approach with Levén’s soaring, powerful voice juxtaposing Shaw’s unique, deeper tone. Hannah Holgersson and Katarina Lilja are perfect companions to Levén and Shaw, each woman running the gamut of operatic soprano to stunning clean vocals. Musically, Johnsson is just as ambitious as he was on LEMURIA/SIRIUS B, with keyboards, woodwinds, Middle Eastern instruments and acoustic guitars intermingling with brazen guitar riffs and speedy passages that bridge the gap between the band’s metallic past with the vibrant experimentation of its later works. Only here, it is done with keyboards and samples instead of 170-piece orchestras. Thomas Karlsson, the Swedish occult scholar and founder of Dragon Rouge, continues his reign as Therion’s lyricist weaving mystical tales of religion and the supernatural. The central concept, based on the ideas of seventeenth-century Swedish writer, Johannes Bureus, will be foreign to many but the basic principle of Sophia, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and its relationship with magic and spirituality is fully threshed out. A heavy progressive slant has taken over Therion on this album and along with the concept and bevy of vocalists, fans of bands like Ayreon could easily wander into GOTHIC KABBALAH and find much to enjoy.
“Mitternacht Löwe” surges forward with a swell of pumping horns and a bouncing, symphonic groove that runs alongside Johnsson’s guitar riffs. The gorgeous female vocals are backed by a chanting choral section that immediately cements the band’s otherworldly subject matter. The title track explodes with a melodic guitar riff that is eerily reminiscent of Megadeth’s “Angry Again” and its amazing vocal trade-offs between Holgersson and Levén pave the way for an Old World-influenced chorus that is among the album’s most memorable. Niemann’s guitar solo drops in with just the right metallic crunch, too. Tracks like “The Perennial Sophia” and “Three Treasures” are subdued, stunning and the most accessible the band has ever penned. Catchy in a dark, Gothic way, Therion could have a hit on its hands with either track. “Son of The Staves of Time” features the strongest and most dynamic vocals from all involved and the multi-tracking has generated a massive choral arrangement here. Not forgetting about their heavier days, “Tuna 1613” and “T.O.F.-The Trinity” feature blazing guitars that shatter the air with a thick crunch while embracing the noodly expansiveness of progressive song structures. Combining the meaty riffs and double bass of “The Path To Arcady” with bombastic operatic vocals bring an epic air to the song that make the classical moments sound more beautiful and the heavier moments more fiery. The big finale is found in “Adulruna Rediviva,” a fourteen-minute epic that wraps up all the styles and musical interpretations explored by Therion into one colossal track.
With production by none other than Stefan Glaumann (Rammstein, Europe, Def Leppard, Evergrey), GOTHIC KABBALAH does what LEMURIA/SIRIUS B did not and that is make the listener think he or she is hearing an enormous production when in fact it is cleverly manipulated from the input of a small handful of musicians and voices to sound that way. The fact that Johnsson achieved this without employing a small town is testament to his skill as a musician and Glaumann’s talent as a producer. Put simply, GOTHIC KABBALAH is jaw-dropping in its sound, scope and overall presentation. This album can faithfully stand alongside THELI, LEMURIA and SIRIUS B as a defining moment in Therion’s stellar career.
KILLER KUTS: “Mitternacht Löwe,” “Gothic Kabbalah,” “The Perennial Sophia,” “Son of The Staves of Time,” “Tuna 1613,” “Three Treasures,” “The Path To Arcady,” “Adulruna Rediviva”