Therion – Theli
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’s Master 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