Album Title: Leviathan
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 22 January 2021
The reason this review sees the light of day after the release date is because, frankly, I wasn’t even considering a review of it. Over the long career of the Swedish band, I have dipped in and out of their material, liking bits and pieces, but finding too much of it far too overblown, cheesy, and ultimately just not my thing. Band mastermind Christofer Johnsson has taken the band from early death metal roots, to an all-out symphonic metal band, with all the bells and whistles to accompany it. Choirs, orchestration, multiple vocalists; you name it, it’s there. But despite this, I have always found the metallic elements incredibly simple, overly so at times. And, often, there has simply been far too much of it – a double album ‘Lemuria’ and ‘Sirius B’ released in 2004, then in 2018, a three-hour metal opera affair by the name of ‘Beloved Antichrist’.
Then, there’s the saga of the band’s line-up, a seemingly ever-changing affair that means I have always struggled to keep up with the band’s identity. A roll-call of departed members that’s over three times greater in number than the current size of the line-up just serves to prove my point. The 2021 incarnation of Therion is comprised of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Johnsson alongside drummer Sami Karppinen, bassist Nalle Påhlsson, vocalist Thomas Vikström, guitarist Christian Vidal, and soprano vocalist Lori Lewis.
So why am I reviewing ‘Leviathan’, the seventeenth album of Therion’s career? Well, firstly, it’s because the album has a much more respectable run-time of 45 minutes. That means that this is a much more honed affair, more succinct. Ever the optimist, the hope was that the music might reflect this and focus on their strengths without unnecessary fat getting in the way. Secondly, I was rather taken in by the artwork, and wondered whether the music might be heavier and more aggressive to reflect the imagery. And thirdly, I wanted to give Therion one final chance before parting ways once and for all.
Somewhat surprisingly, after a first spin that did very little to rouse my interest, I am delighted to report that there is a lot to like on ‘Leviathan’. It may not feature in my end-of-year favourites, but there is enough about it to mean that it’s an enjoyable romp through fields of symphonic power metal, to which I am likely to return throughout the year.
Those more entrenched within the Therion sound, will probably offer a much more eloquent summary of the music on ‘Leviathan’. From my point of view however, there is a definite harking back to some of the late 90s material, blending it with elements that are much more recent, to create a record that is as up-to-date as a band like Therion can sound, whilst offering a taste of their past.
The album kicks off with an upbeat, rocking number in the form of ‘The Leaf On The Oak Of Far’, but despite the chunky riffing, it isn’t long until those recognisable choral vocals emerge in the chorus. There are plenty of modern sound effects however, that bring the music out of the 90s cleverly, and overall, it’s a solid start.
‘Tuonela’, a song that shares its name with my favourite Amorphis record, is up next. It is the first real chance to hear Lori Lewis’ operatic delivery alongside a guest appearance from outgoing Nightwish bassist Marko Heitala. Coupled with some rich orchestration, it is a bold composition that is blessed with a really catchy chorus melody, that’s a lot of fun.
As before, the complexity of the music lies not in the dexterity of the guitars, bass, or drums, although the bass playing on the slower, more brooding title track does catch the ear. Instead, the depth comes from the layers of orchestration, choral vocals and symphonics, with the other instruments almost playing an important supporting role.
‘Die Wellen Der Zeit’ is a surprisingly enjoyable, waltz-like ballad, a contrast to the immediately more urgent, bomastic ‘Aži Dahāka’ which offers more of a Middle Eastern flavour within the melodies. Then there’s the incredible intro to ‘Nocturnal Light’, which is beautifully elegant initially, becoming more cinematic and grandiose as it develops. The orchestration sound incredible and it’s almost a shame when the metallic instruments take over. To my delight however, it returns throughout the song, where the choral vocals really shine, as do the overall theatrical embellishments that liberally bathe the composition. There’s also a return to a Middle Eastern flavour, not to mention a glorious ending crescendo and some quality drumming, in what is one of the longer tracks on the album.
I wish ‘Great Marquis Of Hell’ lasted longer. At a little over two-and-a-half minutes, it’s a great little symphonic power metal ditty, with a few welcome guitar embellishments and a memorable chorus as it turns out. ‘Psalm Of Retribution’, on the other hand, is a longer song, full of twists and turns, with a vaguely proggy feel to it.
The album then closes with ‘Ten Courts Of Diyu’. It once again demonstrates the skills of Therion, namely the orchestration, choral arrangements, and overall bombast. The vocal performances are out of the top drawer also. But, most strikingly for me, is the inclusion of that rarest of beasts – a guitar solo. And it’s here that I realise I’d like to see more of this; more expression in the metallic elements that Therion clearly still have. I wish that, more often, they’d throw caution to the wind, and let the central instruments sing. Because when they do, it’s a joyous sound.
In short then, ‘Leviathan’ is a pleasant surprise for me, despite offering little to the more dedicated Therion listener. I like the fact that the content is truncated because in so doing, the compositions don’t become boring or overstay their welcome. Instead, they grow on you, as you’re able to listen more frequently and with greater enthusiasm. My interest in Therion has been renewed too, which is probably the best thing of all.
The Score of Much Metal: 85%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: