Whilst I do not have the time or inclination to attempt to explain them at present, I thought I would take some time to explain one of the bands I regularly listen to and even base some of my fictions upon images I get whilst listening to. I refer, of course, to the Swedish symphonic doom metal band called Therion.
Therion are like a lot of bands that are still active in the underground music world today. They cannot scratch their arse without having some so-called dedicated, hardcore fan complaining about how this or that new piece of piece is not the Therion they know and so forth. But the thing is, whilst their lineup seems to be chronically unstable, which cannot exactly be helpful to the creative process, they produce some awe-inspiring music that, should it happen to be found by alien archaeologists a million years in the future, will convince that alien species we were not all total write-offs. That our world was not being fairly represented by the ilk of Suzanne Wright and the curebie cult.
The Greek word therion (θηρίον) basically translates into today’s English as “beast”. Formed in 1987, the band began as your standard death metal outfit, albeit with small hints of the symphonic style that would set it apart from the pack. My first experience of Therion was their fourth studio album, Lepaca Kliffoth. It was released when I was around sixteen years old, and whilst I had a lot of problems in terms of “teething” it (specifically, the inconsistency of the material had me embracing some tracks and running away from others), certain parts of it were a regular listen for me for years.
The following year, however, the band adopted a far more consistently symphonic and doom metal approach to the music. The problem from my point of view, however, was that they also began to release “scrape together” albums. What I mean is that between what I considered to be proper releases (Vovin, Deggial, et al), they seemed to insist on making albums of off-cuts from previous album recording sessions mixed with live versions of previously-released songs. The only conceivable purpose of those live versions I could even begin to think of was to drag out the running length to something resembling a complete album. Crowning Of Atlantis fares the worst from this approach, being basically a bunch of songs that, as Torben Ulrich told his son so well in one documentary I will not glorify by naming here, I would bin. The one song on Crowning Of Atlantis that I would not bin is Seawinds, a cover of an Accept song. So, as often happens, I forgot about Therion almost entirely until, during one of my crushing fits of boredom on the
Normie Simpleton Fraser Coast, I ended up taking a trip to see a certain psychological specialist and found a Therion double album called Gothic Kabbalah sitting on the shelves.
Like Lepaca Kliffoth or Theli before it, my response to Gothic Kabbalah is a bit mixed. It has some great peaks, but a good portion of the songs on it are, shall we say, flat spots. Songs like Wisdom And The Cage are reasons why I get on my knees at least once a day and thank Odin that I have auditory processing disorder, as opposed to being stone deaf. As are Tuna 1613, The Wand Of Abaris, and Adulruna Rediviva. But anything with the voices of Katarina Lilja and Hannah Holgersson will get repeated listens from me. For those who have read this post about how the presentation of an entire culture can form a picture in my mind of what it is and watched the video at the end of it, Katarina Lilja is the “little” orange-haired woman performing some of the vocals (she is third from the left in the above image). As I have said elsewhere, probably the same post, Therion is one of the few bands that can remain so interesting to me in spite of being so heavily vocal-oriented.
As I write this paragraph, in fact, I am listening to the song Deggial, which is from the album of the same name. The first three minutes and twenty seconds or so are poetry in motion. The rest of it… well, I just found the transition jarring, I guess. But that is music for you. And it highlights the fundamental problem with the whole “waah this is not def metul” crap crowd. Specifically, no good artist gives you exactly what you expect, but rather exactly what you deserve. The reason I got into Frank Zappa when I was a little boy was not because I thought he was cool or because his work was what I expected. I got into Frank Zappa when I was a little boy because his work slapped me upside the head and told me in both the manner of a bullying teacher and of a wise old mentor that that stuff sitting between my ears was given to me for a reason, and spitting in Odin’s face by not making use of it was simply not on. Therion‘s post-1995 work is a lot like that. Although it is not anywhere near as clever, varied, or expectation-confounding as any of Frank Zappa‘s work, one can infer the same message from it. Namely, there is a reason why you were given the ability to think in abstract terms, so use it.
Do I have a particular favourite Therion album? Well, no, not in the sense that there is one I will listen to fifty times over before I listen to anything else. Their most recent album as of this writing (they apparently have plans to release another next month), Sitra Ahra, is in my opinion the most consistent and has the best material in spite of the fact that the song 2012 causes me to hit the fast-forward function on any player so quickly it gets dizzy. The songs Sitra Ahra, Land Of Canaan, Hellequin, and Kali Yuga III all bring some interesting images to my mind. Land Of Canaan, just as a specific example, causes me to picture Rose (one of the bear cubs mentioned in my fiction thus far) sitting at a piano and belting out notes. I get similar images from The Wand Of Abaris, and it is my favourite Therion song next to Hellequin. I will give you two guesses concerning why.
One advantage, I suppose, of Therion‘s seemingly revolving-door lineup is that it gives the observer less opportunity to fixate upon the band’s membership and their individual quirks, instead focusing upon the content of the music. This is similar to The Residents, a band I will write about at a later date. The Residents have always performed in disguise, so not only does nobody have the foggiest who they are, the press can only refer to their music when it comes to finding a sub-subject to write about where they are concerned. Therion‘s personnel are somewhat more identifiable, but they also hardly go out of their way to draw attention to themselves. This is quite a contrast to say, Guns N’ Roses, where every second word in the press seems to be about either Axl Rose or whatever cry for attention he has come out with lately.
Therion are also a good example of why we need higher-resolution audio formats, and need them yesterday. When one listens to the average Therion album on compact disc, the limitations of that venerated format become painfully clear very, very quickly. When the compact disc was brought to us in the early 1980s, the concept of music in a digital delivery format with 44.1 kilohertz, 16-bit, two-channel resolution seemed pretty far-out. But as hard disc sizes exploded (in 1990, a forty megabyte hard drive was considered “big”), the practical seven hundred megabyte limit of the compact disc specification began to come back to bite the music industry in the arse.
44.1 kilohertz might sound like a lot of sample rate when you remember that the range of Human hearing is estimated at 22.05 kilohertz. But the funny thing about Human hearing is that the frequencies a Human does not hear are at least as important to their sense of sound as the ones they do. Those frequencies that the Human does not hear are basically the “space” between one sound and another. So when you record a bass guitar and a violin at 22.05 kilohertz, they will sound a lot “closer together” than would be the case if you recorded them at 96 or even 192 kilohertz. And that is partly the point here. Therion has at least two vocalists, two guitarists, a bass, a drummer, and a keyboardist performing at any one time. To say that they push the humble compact disc beyond its practical limits is no exaggeration. Even expanding the compact disc to the same number of channels that the Blu-ray Disc is capable of (eight), hell, just giving the compact disc a dedicated LFE channel, would improve it no end.
As I have hinted, Therion are apparently now planning to release a new album in September. The current title is Flowers Of Evil. Given that the release is in September, I doubt that this title is likely to change. I could be mistaken, of course. (Black Sabbath‘s second album had its title changed from War Pigs to Paranoid mere weeks, if not days, before being released. Things are a little more streamlined these days, but not that much.) In contrast to Sitra Ahra, I have not heard any of the songs in advance. In fact, the knowledge that this album was going to be released in September came as a bit of a shock to me. Then again, with the way music distribution is in Australia, chances are that I will not see it on record store shelves until at least February 2013. Which means that it is very likely to end up making its way to my hard drive in FLAC format long before then. Are you listening, recording industry?
So, I expect you are asking by now which album the uninitiated listener should introduce themselves to Therion with. Unfortunately, there is no perfect way to answer this question. I can recommend very strongly that you avoid the compilation/throw-together albums A’arab Zaraq – Lucid Dreaming, Crowning Of Atlantis, and The Miskolc Experience like the plague. Therion‘s music works best when there is a certain sense of theme and arrangement to the recording, and compilations tend to destroy that.
I also do not recommend Vovin that much. Think back to what I said concerning how compressed and cluttered compact discs sound with a band like Therion on them. Then multiply that by about a thousand. That is basically what listening to Vovin is like.
The albums I do recommend, in no particular order, are Sitra Ahra, Deggial, Theli, Lemuria, and Secret Of The Runes. Secret Of The Runes is, in fact, the one album I love the most of Therion‘s work that I have not sung the praises here yet. It is a collection of eleven songs, each with a rune from the Elder Futhark alphabet, that is themed around an aspect of Norse mythology. My favourite songs from the regular tracklisting of the album are Ginnungagap (the title is the place in Norse mythology where all things begin and end), Ljusalfheim (the place where Lord Frej is the King of the Elves, and the source of the name of one of the realms in my stories), and Muspelheim (in Norse mythology, the realm of fire and fire-based creatures).
If you can get a pressing of Secret Of The Runes that has the extra song Crying Days on it, then do. Therion‘s cover of Crying Days is one of the most important reasons I started listening again, and it has also inspired scenes in my writings. There is also a version available with a cover of the Abba song Summer Night City, which basically proves that even a band as Odin-pleasingly awesome as Therion cannot save material from a collective as normalistic as Abba.
In closing, I hope this little article has helped you to get out there and find some non-normie music. If not, go to hell.