Therion – Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas
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