Words: Thomas Duncan
Photos: Nicole Smith-Walker
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to do this again”. This sentence was uttered in front of a thousand-strong crowd, at one of the most popular metal festivals in the world, by Christofer Johnsson, father of the majestic beast known as Therion. The year was 2017 and at their second show aboard 70000 Tons of Metal. I stood there in the crowd and listened to the news that this could be one of, if not the last, Therion show, that he could ever participate in. The last Therion show… ever. He didn’t know. At the time, I considered myself blessed beyond measure to have seen this band live twice. To have heard the music that has entranced me since I first heard it on a discount album bought from my local record store, even though the man who created it was wearing a neck brace and grimacing as he pushed through the pain to play his guitar. I recall thinking: ‘I wonder if anything like this will ever come around again.’
Well, a year and a half on and Therion are touring a new album, and for the first time, they have visited Australian shores. So, in answer to my question, yes. Yes, because this concert is designed to put those doubts to rest, to bring the music of this 30-plus year band to new and old audiences, with tracks from their earliest album’s to rippers from their magnum opus, the recent ‘Beloved Antichrist’. So, having brought this production to Australia for the first time, how was it?
First things first. The Devil served as our support, an interesting band whose members wear masks to retain anonymity, and whose music creates gothic soundscapes to underlie political and conspiratorial messages. This is delivered in the form of AV displays that play behind the band of famous footage from turbulent eras of decisions, audio tracks, and tapes from those events, and an overall production designed to work in sync with its media components. While I think they were a good choice for this gig, this band is not for everyone. I’d highly recommend checking out their work on YouTube prior to seeking them out, as the set up obscured the screen from quite a few perspectives. While I wouldn’t say that the music cannot hold up on its own merit, they are very clearly intended to play to the video, and the band themselves worked best for me as imposing figures in the shadows or silhouettes that accompany the media, rather than an act to be watched directly.
With only one support, we then waited for Therion, and I must say, they do not get enough credit. They really don’t. This is a band who work very hard, create a variety of interesting music from the simple hard rock vibe to enormous complex orchestral tapestries, and yet I so often find myself at a loss when trying to find an angle to introduce them to friends. Precisely because of their range, it’s hard to find a consistent set of songs to say, ‘Here, check this amazing and strange group from Sweden out! They sound like…” That’s where I stop. Because, frankly, they don’t sound like anyone, not for any real length of time. There are bands that do similar things, but one can pick a Therion track apart from nearly any other genre. Frankly, this is exactly how I feel about their live show too. I have been to other live gigs I’ve probably enjoyed more on a macro level, but there are no gigs like a Therion gig. The energy, the craftsmanship, the sheer experience of this band live is thoroughly underrepresented by their albums.
Not that their album work is poor by any means. However, the album’s focus heavily on the clarity of tone, the space between moments and instruments as much as they take up, and it’s easy to assume this will not translate to a live show. Not only is this not true but the sheer power of their live sound is just undersold by the careful albums. Johnsson and Christian Vidal’s guitars rip through the gentility of the songs like lighting over a foggy moor, while Nalle Pahlsson’s bass carries every song with a beautiful tone that can be smooth, menacing, solemn, and chaotic all within minutes of each other. The drumming of Sami Karppinen was not only exceptionally tight but mixed impeccably. The three vocalists, Thomas and Linnea Vikstrom (a most fearsome father and daughter team) and Chiara Malvstiti manage to pull off classics from well before any of them came near the band with equal aplomb to the tracks they themselves helped record. The entire production is incredible, slick, and enormous in its acoustic sensation.
The setlist was nothing too out of the ordinary for a band’s first time in the country – a sprinkling of their new album combined with classics from across their history. It was a good call, I think, because while they’re a well-known band I think some of their deeper cuts would have risked losing the less invested punters. As it was, there were some solid hits for old fans as well as some very convincing reasons to buy the newer material, and while it took a little while for the crowd to warm up, the whole band did an excellent job of bringing the audience with them on a sonic journey we rarely get to take in this country.
I’m a long-time fan, but when I heard Therion were coming here, I was a little worried. I was concerned about them not finding an audience that validated that decision to tour here, about the results being enough to discourage them from doing so again. Just as much, I was worried about their ability to bring the high scale, high energy production I’d seen twice now on 70k into our relatively small, hot, underground venues. Yet while the audience numbers were lower than I had hoped as an evangelist of their values, I was stunned yet joyous at just how impressive, energetic, and immersive they were. If you’re even slightly interested in Therion, you owe it to yourself to seek this band out live. It’s an event like few others in Metal. If you’re not a fan, watch their Live Gothic DVD. Then refer to the previous message.
Presented by Hardline Media. Grab tickets to the remaining dates HERE!