THERION — Sitra Ahra (review)

THERION — Sitra Ahra album cover Album · 2010 · Symphonic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
With “Gothic Kabbalah,” THERION reinvented its sound once again by adding not only elements of Gothic metal but added some extra servings of progressive rock which made the album stand out amongst its rich canon of opera infused metal madness. The party kids set out for one more tour but then everybody in the band parted and no more THERION as we know it. Instead of calling it quits founder and creative leader Christofer Johnsson opted to start from scratch and create a whole new version of THERION. Gone were the massive choirs, mega symphonies and tributes to fat ladies with horned helmets and instead was a more refined sound of what i would deem a THERION smorgasbord of past ideas however a few tricks up Johnsson’s sleeves remained and this album shows a few new developments.

Amongst the new peeps on board, Snowy Shaw of Mercyful Fate and Dream Evil fame was back as one of the many vocalists along with ex-Candlemass vocalist Thomas Vikström and a few newbies like Christian Vidal on guitar and Lori Lewis as the only female vocalist. In fact there are only eleven musicians and vocalists on the band’s 14th album SITRA AHRA which makes it the most trimmed down of any. Perhaps the logistics of all those massive live shows were the primary impetus for this newer version of THERION to emerge. Whatever the case the title refers to a perceived realm that is the opposite to holiness and is a concept from the Jewish Kabbalah which Johnsson mined for many of his lyrical escapades. In that regard SITRA AHRA is business as usual but this album does sound a lot different than any THERION album that preceded despite lots of ideas being mined from the past.

The main way i see SITRA AHRA is that it’s like a THERION rhapsody of its own past. While the number of musicians and vocalists are fewer, the operatic choir structure still functions as so and many of the heavy metal guitar riffs sound like they were borrowed from albums like “Theli.” Just check out the fast tempos and guitar gallops and solos on “Kings Of Edom” and it’s right off of that album. Once again Middle Eastern melodic touches decorate the song structures and although the keyboard aspects are tamed down the album still generates some atmospheric presence and the occasional psychedelic rock outburst. Piano runs are also presented at various moments to create a contrast effect but not super common. There is also more of an effort to change things up more often so the 11 tracks on SITRA AHRA are more varied than earlier albums.

This is a more progressive album than most with the longest track “Land Of Canaan” lasting over ten minutes and delivers some of the most varying sound on the album. Starting out with some sort of Tibetan bowl sounding instrument, the track breaks into mid-tempo metal but also has elements of groovy 60s surf rock before jumping into progressive metal with eerie wordless vocals from Lori Lewis who makes this album sound a lot like some of earlier Aryeon albums. The track jumps from metal to flute led folk that then jumps into Parisian cafe music which is totally new to THERION and would inspire them to follow up with the album “Fleurs Du Mal” which covers old French pop songs. This song is the perfect example of how weird this album is. It goes from metal to French cabaret and starts to remind me of a more metal version of Cirque du Soleil especially after you see the band photos all dressed up in their attire. Somewhat cool and somewhat cheesy, this track symbolizes both the pros and cons of SITRA AHRA.

The album starts off really strong with a bunch of extraordinarily catchy and well crafted tracks but starts to taper off on the second side. “2012” displays the darker tone with a party metal kinda vibe with all the singers joining in. The violin gives it a melancholic feel. There are many heavier tracks on this one like “Cu Chulain” which starts out menacing but then shifts to a feel good singalong session. Kinda goofy actually. “Din” is the most effective metal track with an incessantly sped up riff and one of the few moments where growly vocals are used on a newer THERION release. “The Shells Are Open” sounds like some sort of psycho-gypsy music but reveals more of the same French cabaret music with operatic singers in unison over a metal groove. The whole thing reminds me of a metal version of the can-can. The closing “After The Inquisition: Children Of The Stone” is somewhat of an underwhelming closer. Clocking in over 7 minutes it’s mostly a sleepy space rock song with Pink Floyd styled guitar and bass in concert with the vocalists having a good sing-song affair. It makes me feel like everyone is going to break into singing “It’s A Small World.” Psychedelic organ is cool but it’s kinda corny.

This album isn’t bad by any means but it does feel like THERION is one step away from running out of ideas. There’s just enough vim and vigor left to create an album’s worth of material but much of it sounds recycled and although the French music themes and more liberal use of progressive rock are the saving points, it still comes across that THERION’s best days have passed. Perhaps the band would need more time together to gel but despite the great performances some of the material that starts off really strong often devolves into campy goofiness. When all is said and done, this is certainly no throwaway album and worthy of any addition to your collection. The strongest tracks, mostly on the first part of the album are worth the price of admission alone but this is an example of an album that could’ve been trimmed down a bit to make it a more satisfying listen. Perhaps a 45 minute album instead of a 61 minute playing time would’ve been much more interesting. Nevertheless THERION still found a way to stay relevant for a little bit longer.
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