Album Title: Leviathan II
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 28 October 2022
With the release of ‘Leviathan’ last year, my interest in Swedish stalwarts Therion was reinvigorated somewhat. I hadn’t thought to listen to it, or review it based on the chequered past I’d experienced with the overblown, symphonic, operatic, metal that Therion have delivered over the years. Some songs I liked, but large swathes of it left me cold and disinterested. But ‘Leviathan’ grew on me, with a number of more-than-decent tracks littering the album. So, when presented with the swift follow-up, ‘Leviathan II’, it felt like a no-brainer to give it a listen.
Unfortunately, whatever flames of interest ‘Leviathan’ ignited in my estimations towards Therion, ‘Leviathan II’ has unceremoniously doused them, leaving a smouldering pile of ashes in their place. I simply do not like very much of this new record at all. It really doesn’t cause any shocks in terms of the delivery or the sound, but whereas the previous album delivered some decent tunes that started to melt my icy façade, this one simply doesn’t, not in my opinion anyway. I have listened to it enough times in order for my review to be fair and reasonable, but I honestly don’t think I’ll ever listen to it again. It’s touch and go whether I ever give Therion a listen again for that matter. Harsh? Unfair? Maybe, but perhaps it’s better to acknowledge when a band is no longer for you than try to keep going. This might be it with Therion and I.
Interestingly, in a seemingly rare occurrence for the band, Therion boast exactly the same line-up since the last record. Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Christofer Johnsson remains the driving force behind the outfit and once again, he’s joined by drummer Sami Karppinen, bassist Nalle Påhlsson, vocalist Thomas Vikström, guitarist Christian Vidal, and soprano vocalist Lori Lewis.
It is difficult in many ways to put my finger firmly on the reasons behind my apathy towards ‘Leviathan II’ because it is ostensibly a continuation of a record that struck a chord with me. And it begins in decent fashion thanks to an upbeat one-two of ‘Aeon Of Maat’ followed by ‘Litany Of The Fallen’. Both feature choral vocals that are suitably rousing alongside the occasional bout of flamboyant lead guitar exuberance. The latter of the two is actually quite dramatic in the right way and begins to grow a little on me with time and effort.
Unfortunately, at that point, the enjoyment I derive from the music dips. ‘Achemy Of The Soul’ harks back to the older days again, with a folk edge, but fails to rouse me sufficiently thanks to a plodding pace that never quickens. The slower pace is then replicated within ‘Lunar Coloured Fields’, ruining the early momentum completely in my opinion. Long term devotees may lap up the layers of orchestrated choirs and the increased symphonic bombast, but the quasi-prog leanings and operatic vocals do nothing for me sadly. And so it goes on.
‘Lucifuge Rofocale’ features some guff vocals within a faster arrangement, but the song itself is just a tad bland. The lead guitar lines are pleasant enough alongside the choral vocals, but I’m not sufficiently enamoured. ‘Marijin Min Nar’ opens with a wonderful intro, full of melodic drama, but does a complete 180 turn, injecting a Middle Eastern flavour that drops it off a cliff from which it never fully recovers despite a reprise or two of the intro melody.
It isn’t until the tenth track that I find that I am remotely dragged from my apathy to any great extent. This is a great composition, featuring bold and engaging central clean male vocals mixed with choral voices, alongside a cool, melodic, and groovy chorus of sorts. I really like this song and find myself wishing that more of the album could have been like this. The energy, the immediacy, and the cheekiness of the track wins me over, but it’s a little late in proceedings by this point. It is a shame because ‘Pazuzu’ follows and it, too, isn’t a bad song by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the ‘AOR version’ that closes the album is even better.
It is at this point that I realise something important: I like Therion more when they ditch some of the overblown elements and allow Thomas Vikström to sing ‘normally’. I don’t mind all the orchestration and operatic bells and whistles to a degree but give the band a ‘proper’ gritty rock voice, and the magic becomes much, much stronger in my opinion. The whole thing makes more sense, and I can more easily get on board and fall for its charms.
I will admit that maybe my opening couple of paragraphs were a bit harsh, but in all honesty, despite a few good tracks, ‘Leviathan II’ is not something that I will likely listen to again. I respect the vision of the band, and their steadfast approach to their art. But I feel like the time might be right to alight this particular train and allow it to go on its merry way without me. For everyone else though, who looks forward to a new Therion album as much as I look forward to a new Evergrey or Katatonia release, ‘Leviathan II’ will no doubt be a home run for you.
The Score of Much Metal: 70%