As one of the original proponents of operatic or symphonic Metal, Therion are arguably the fathers and mothers of an entire genre of Metal. With their beginnings as a Death Metal band in the late 80s, Therion have developed their brand to become one of the foremost names in occult-themed music, and a band who continually push the boundaries of fusing orchestral and operatic compositions with rock and Metal. With this history and ambition in mind, it’s no surprise Therion mastermind and guitarist (and former lead vocalist) Christofer Johnsson has composed an album that is an opera first and foremost for the band’s latest release, and a Metal album second.
Having been composed as an opera, it’s clear from the outset that the music presented across these three CDs – comprising three and a half hours of music – chiefly has live performance in mind. Even though this music has yet to hit the stage, it’s clear that something has been lost in translation. The full drama of operatic performance simply cannot make it onto a CD recording. However, the Beloved Antichrist gives listeners a taste of Johnsson’s intentions, and doubtless will whet many appetites for the upcoming European tour.
The album is inspired by and loosely based on the Russian novel A Short Tale of the Antichrist, by Vladímir Soloviov. For storytelling and musical purposes, Johnsson changed and added many scenes and characters, resulting in a story with many parts for a variety of vocalists to play, including album alumni and new faces. Beloved Antichrist is split into three acts, with the first two focusing much more strongly on the operatic elements, with the third much more Metal.
Throughout Act I, the listener may note some influences from the Metal world. Some of the soundscapes seem influenced by Geoff Tate’s work with Queensryche, while many of the darker and more unsettling elements hark back to King Diamond, particularly the House of God album. Both these influences are apparent as early as the first track, ‘Turn from Heaven.’ On the more classical and cinematic side, the woodwind and strings may remind the listener of Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting soundtrack to The Omen, another tale focusing on the Antichrist.
‘Where will you Go?’ is the first of several tracks to introduce very convincing hymnal vocals, with some of the songs throughout the album sounding as though they truly ought to be performed in a cathedral. With some elements, particularly vocal lines sounding like they belong in a musical rather than an opera, per se, they are almost moments that are reminiscent of Dream Theater’s recent rock opera / musical, The Astonishing.
‘Signs are Here’ is one of the most impressive songs from Act I, edging the drama up a notch with more urgency to the vocals. The presence of both band and orchestra is very full, with the orchestral elements feeling particularly cinematic and the rumbling guitars of Johnsson and Christian Vidal providing plenty of Metal. ‘Bring her Home,’ by contrast, is creepy and unsettling. The Metal elements are dark and crunchy, even tending towards a feeling reminiscent of Cradle of Filth. Nalle “Grizzly” Påhlsson’s bass groove particularly kicks the track along well.
‘The Solid Black Beyond’ is also worth mentioning with its very Noir feel, with monastic male vocals offset against the operatic performances elsewhere throughout the album. However, one particular line lands like a brick due to a most likely unintentional pop cultural reference with the deep, bass voice of Erik Rosenius (playing Satan) intoning, “I am your father (and you are my beloved son). ”
‘The Palace Ball’ is another stand-out track, and could perhaps be described as “Disney for grown-ups.” The track is quite magical, enchantingly romantic in fact, with pumping riffs offsetting the absolutely lovely female vocals. This track is intense and fun, with the interaction between strings and bass creating plenty of movement.
Act II is perhaps most notable for introducing the baritone Markus Jupiter. A childhood friend of Therion vocalist Thomas Vikström, who plays the lead role of the Antichrist, it is more than fitting that Jupiter should play Apollonius, an accomplice of the Antichrist. Jupiter is introduced with creeping, ominous horns and other wind instruments, and haunting guitars that almost channel the maddening music described in the cosmic horror of H. P. Lovecraft. With his presence reverberating through the next track, ‘Pledging Loyalty,’ Apollonius proves one of the most compelling characters / voices throughout the entire album.
‘Dagger of God’ is both mournful and purposeful, indeed it is funereal, even dirge-like in its presentation. At times the track has an almost marching quality, but overall it retains a strong focus on the piano, which is always a welcome and compelling addition to the tracks throughout the album. Indeed, some of the best pieces of music throughout Beloved Antichrist are those that focus on Johnsson’s piano. ‘Dagger of God’ flows into the lead single from the album, ‘Temple of New Jerusalem.’ Unsurprisingly for the single, this track is very recognisably Therion, much more so than the majority of what has come before on Beloved Antichrist. The vocals in this track are soaring and majestic, and the guitar solo is magnificent, though seems to come out of nowhere in the context of the rest of the album to this point.
While the album as a whole is written first and foremost with theatrical production in mind, ‘The Lions Roar’ seems like it would particularly lend itself to live performance in a Metal setting. One can almost feel the fist-pumping and hear the audience yelling, “Hey!” over the stirring horns and vocals. ‘Bringing the Gospel’ follows, a dark and suspenseful track that keeps the listener on edge. With a return to the hymnal style of vocals, this track more than any other feels as though it should be performed in a cathedral. Unfortunately, the following track ‘Laudate Dominum’ doesn’t seem to follow through on the suspense, with its much lighter and slower mood, creating quite a disconnect for the listener. Deeper into the track, some tension is built with low horns and drums, unsettling piano tones and a somewhat uncomfortable return to the previous vocal and guitar melodies. Overall however, the track is unfulfilling when set against the more confronting ‘Bringing the Gospel.’
‘Remaining Silent’ is one of the more Metal tracks of Act II, powerful and melodic, with a very enjoyable call and response between the male and female vocals. Its counterpoint is the following ‘Behold Antichrist’ which is disconcerting, unsettling, and even a little discordant in its guitar melodies. The track builds through fast drums, heavy guitars and frightening strings, resolving into heavy riffs and low horns. The various vocal parts seem at odds with each other rather than in harmony as in
‘Remaining Silent,’ while beautiful guitars speak to the seductiveness of the Antichrist. Deeper into the track, it moves into a weirder space that is reminiscent of Opeth, with some minimalistic sounds that have the tendency to keep the listener off-balance. With its complexity and movement, ‘Behold Antichrist’ is another standout track of Act II.
Act III is the more Metal part of the album, and though carrying the more typical Therion sound and bringing a welcome introduction to a great deal more heaviness, it is surprisingly the weakest part of the overall experience. The movement begins with ‘Shoot them Down! ’ if anything a more rock ‘n’ roll than Metal track. ‘Beneath the Starry Skies’ is more impressive, with a Blackened riff adding speed to an otherwise more downbeat track, and dark keys beautifully rounding out the music.
It must be said, however, that there is little that particularly stands out in Act III. It seems a little pedestrian when compared to more innovative Acts I and II, and even as a Metal / Therion album, the third disc would be distinctly unimpressive if it stood alone. ‘Day of Wrath’ has some interesting moments, in a way coming across as a dark and bleak expression of some of Iron Maiden’s classic music in its gallop towards war. Also notable are the harsh and unsettling keys, somewhat reminiscent of the work of former Winds of Plague keyboardist Kristen Randall.
The final track of Act III is the apty named ‘Theme of Antichrist,’ a rousing and climactic track that may have worked better as an opener to build from, rather than a closer eliciting a feeling of, “About time!” Overall, Beloved Antichrist is an undoubtedly impressive piece of work, and when brought to its natural home of the stage, may well be a game changer. As an album, it is an enjoyable listen of as much intellectual interest as outright sonic enjoyment; though that’s not to say there aren’t parts that are an absolute joy to listen to. Beloved Antichrist is clearly intended to be an experience, and one may justifiably keenly anticipate the full experience becoming available.