Symphonic Metal master Christofer Johnsson assembles and commands the latest Therion line-up for Leviathan III (Napalm Records), another epic, bombastic concept album that will have fans of this kind of thing rocking in the aisles, or whatever it is opera fans tend to do in similar circumstances (frocking in the aisles?!).
Non-aficionados will admire the abundant technical excellence but might find themselves worn down by the too sweet, lightweight method and approach, the continuous faux-classical bombardment and the sometimes awkward melding of scatter-gun references and influences (not least in the lyrics).
The strategic mix of the metal and the classic, throughout history, can often be problematic, even jarring. But the long-running Therion, following up directly here on Leviathan I and II (2021 and 2022, respectively), succeed in a more-or-less comfortable marriage of the bright fairytale lights and the darker doom, the beauty and the beast.
Much of the musical glue that holds it all together comes from Johnsson’s keyboards, but it’s the guitars (Christian Vidal) and the main man’s ambition in composition that really shine through.
Vocals range from Viking-style war chants to soaring female operatics (Lori Lewis), with geetar sounds veering from acoustic filigrees (“Ruler Of Tamag”) to electric chugalongs, melodic lead breaks and energetic riff riots (see “An Unsung Lament” and “Ayahuasca”, for example).
There’s also pop among the pomp, singalong and chantalong bits with strong hooks as Swede Johnsson sprinkles in echoes of the spectacularly successful, smooth and satisfying Abba-metal of countrymen Ghost as well as more straight-ahead power metal and melodic prog.
But despite moments of genuine doom and some death growling, Leviathan III can, at times, be too mild and mellow, saccharine and schmaltzy, tunes fit for backing Disney animation rather than proper Wagnerian guts, glory and apocalyptic passion (the images in my head of Elmer Fudd squalling “Kill the wabbit!” in Chuck Jones’ Warner cartoon classic What’s Opera Doc? are surely not what Johnsson had in mind).
The accompanying lyrics are something of a classical, mythological and religious ragbag, referring to generic chaos, the abyss, Babylon, “children of both wrath and all revenge of the deep”, not to mention brother killing brother, Latin warblings, Bacchus, Freja, Thor and Odin, spiritual revelations and a “nightingale in the shadow of your mind”. Profound or what?
The vocals (Thomas Vikström is the lead male singer) that open “Maleficium” recall System Of A Down – echoes of the superior voice of Serj Tankian are cast up several times throughout the album – before mellowing out like most of the rest of the material. “Maleficium”, though, is still one of the album’s signature highlights, along with the aforementioned “Ayahuasca” (the longest track at almost eight minutes).
“What Was Lost Shall Be Lost No More” achieves a certain intensity that several of the other songs lack, while “Duende” opens acoustically and atmospherically, the flamenco-style intro a welcome diversion. Then the operatic, neo-classical assault takes over once again.
Climactic Norse-fest “Twilight Of The Gods” opens with a Tony Iommi-esque droning riff, promising much, but then delivers more of the same formula and a martial, marching beat leads the way to the drum-driven finale (Sami Karppinen on the skins).
Performed live, with full orchestra and choir, Leviathan III might be a different and more impressive beast, but that remains to be seen, and heard.
The old Symphonic Metal lark obviously takes some courage, such are the potential pitfalls, not to mention logistical demands, and Johnsson is to be congratulated again for significantly adding to Therion’s already 35-year legacy. If his reach exceeds his grasp, on this evidence, it’s certainly not for want of trying.
Buy the album here:
7 / 10