THERION — Gothic Kabbalah (review)

THERION — Gothic Kabbalah album cover Album · 2007 · Symphonic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
With the 2004 double album releases “Lemuria” and “Sirius B” immediately followed by a two year tour that found THERIOIN putting on 106 shows around the world including the ProgPower Festival in the UK on March 21, 2006, it would seem that THERION would not have the time to craft more material for another album but band founder and leader Christofer Johnsson was insanely prolific and a song writing machine along with the Nieman brothers and not only crafted enough material for the next album but enough to make it a double one. After several albums since “Theli” which launched THERION into the big leagues with its new brand of symphonic metal that added massive symphonies and choirs, the time was ripe for a change and that’s exactly what the fans got with the 13th album GOTHIC KABBALAH.

As the name of the album implies, GOTHIC KABBALAH takes THERION’s symphonic metal sound more into the world of Gothic metal as if Type O Negative joined the crew and this was the result. In 2006 Christofer Johnsson announced that he was retiring from singing duties therefore Mats Levén of Yngwie Malmsteen fame who performed on the “Lemuria / Sirius B” albums took the role of ghoul in chief with his dracula inspired vocal style at the forefront. A second singer was recruited with Snowy Shaw of Mercyful Fate and Dream Evil along with three female singers, Katarina Lilja, Anna Nyhlin and Hannah Holgersson. GOTHIC KABBALAH also found the number of musicians involved trimmed down considerably although in addition to the four main members of THERION there are still eleven guests involved.

This is the least symphonic of THERION’s output since the pre-“Theli” years although there are still elements of the choirs and a few classical instrument sounds but overall GOTHIC KABBALAH is much more in the Gothic metal camp with the symphonic elements set to simmer. Thematically this album is dedicated to the Swedish mystic Johannes Bureus who invented a philosophy called GOTHIC KABBALAH which mixed the alchemy, astrology and magic of the 17th century with the ancient runes and Norse gods. The lyrics of the album narrate in great detail the themes of the texts written by Bureus. Another notable musician on this one is Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep who plays keyboards. The trimmed down symphonic, orchestral and vocal domination of previous albums ramped up with a more aggressive guitar sound and an overall darker atmospheric presence makes GOTHIC KABBALAH one of the most unique sounding albums in the THERION canon.

One of the most noticeable differences in this double album is that the tracks are some of the most progressive that THERION had done at this point. While each album was fairly unique in certain ways, each retained the basic characteristics of 80s styled heavy metal mixed with classical symphonies and operatic choirs along with the extra accoutrements of ethnic folk music and other minor elements. On GOTHIC KABBALAH the metal parts are much more progressive and for the first time the companions are more labyrinthine and graced with more time signature deviations. While gothic metal is clearly part of the mix it’s not as much so as true goth bands and although dominant not ubiquitious. Often the vocalists are simply trading off parts more like an Ayreon styled rock opera album. Occasionally creeping through are touches of various folk melodies, both Western and Middle Eastern. The album is quite diverse with many different songs taking on different roles and therefore one of the most unusual of THERION’s career.

True that this one could have been trimmed down a bit. I think that if this would’ve been released as a single disc it would’ve been a much stronger album but this one is a grower nonetheless. Personally i find the second disc to be the stronger of the two with the first one engaging in too many long-winded even whiny tracks such as “The Perennial Sophia.” Unfortunately the weaker tracks are in the forefront which may drive off many from hearing the album out in its entirety but IMHO it all picks up big time with “The Wand Of Abaris” as the tracks become more cleverly crafted with interested dynamic shifts that find bombastic metal in interplay with the toned-down symphonic touches and more adrenalized vocalists. The folk melodies add a sense of timelessness and the eerie atmospheric touches give this one a mysterious vibe that fits perfectly into the world of the occult. The closing “Adulruna Rediva” is probably the most classical sounding and reminds you how much Johnsson was inspired by the sounds of Karl Orff especially works like “Carmina Burana” only with a sense of Wagnerian pomp.

Admittedly GOTHIC KABBALAH was a little put offing for me in the beginning but one that has grown on me and although i find this double disker to be a little lopsided with the cream of the crop appearing on the second half, it’s overall a compelling listen that stands out in the THERION canon for its unique mix of styles and the more progressive touches. This would also pretty much be the end of the line for the classic THERION lineup. In 2008 after the massive touring schedule the band announced that its core group of musicians were going their separate ways. Johnsson continued the THERION brand name but none of the albums that followed would ever have the same magnificence that the run from “Theli” to GOTHIC KABBALAH captured. Some of THERION’s best works on this one and although not all tracks are created equal none are horrible either but an editing process that culled a few would’ve made this an even better album as a single album. After all at 83:37, the track list simply could’ve been trimmed of a couple of the weaker tracks and made a single album. Still though, i love this one for the most part despite its flaws.
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