'Les Fleurs Du Mal' - Therion (7/10)
There aren't too many bands out there that can say they have been around for a decade, let alone a quarter of a century. For those few that manage to hit the twenty five year mark, some sort of celebration is usually in order. Some might go on a world tour and appeal to their aging fanbase, while others may record an album or release a collection of shelved demo tracks for the diehard followers to eat up. Of course, Therion have never been known to follow in the footsteps of others. Although the operatic symphonic metal style is all-too common in current metal culture, Therion carved out their own niche, unshackling from their death metal roots and taking a more sophisticated and experimental approach to the symphonic style. With that in mind, it's no surprise that Therion didn't decide to celebrate things the regular way; instead, they went ahead and did an album of 1960's French pop song covers. It's sure to be a head scratcher at first, and while not every fan will get it, Therion's attention to finesse and detail makes this far more than the average covers album.
The beauty of "Les Fleurs Du Mal" lies in Therion's inate ability to take the core material and work it into their own style. By this point in their career, the band has a firm and matured grip on their sound, and a strong idea of where they want to go with it. The operatic soprano, symphonic arrangements and virtuosic neoclassical guitar work is all nothing new to Therion. The fact that Therion are able to so successfully translate these tunes to their own sound is impressive in its own right. Although most of the original songs already enjoyed the backing of a 'big band' style orchestra, many of them essentially remained pop songs, or love ballads. Especially with the peppier selections, the originals have the same head-nodding quality as alot of the Beatles' earliest stuff, with the major distinguishing factor being the female French-language vocals. When you prop the original and Therion's reimagining in comparison, it's effortless to see that they're the same song. Therion puts their own signature on the cover without losing the essence of the original. Instrumental motifs and vocal melodies are retained, transformed by the symphonic metal medium. Even on the originally orchestral-led songs (such as France Gall's "Poupée de cire, poupée de son"), Therion's symphonic element is amped up in complexity. Unless you have the prior knowledge that Therion are paying contribute to France's contemporary equivalent to the Flower Power movement, you may be more easily convinced that these are Therion originals, or at least renditions of classical operatic repertoire.
Although it's about as strange a match-up as I can imagine, Therion have managed to make this experiment work. Although this is a relatively straightforward covers album, Therion have given these tunes the same tender care and consideration they would give their own music. The songs are chosen well, and the rich phonetics of the French language translate well into Therion's music. The appropriately soaring operatic melodies of "Soer Angélique" and film-score quality of "Initials BB" were two of the most memorable moments on the album. The only song here that doesn't seem to fit is their rendition of "Je n'ai besoin que de tendresse", a Claire Dixon track that could have had the staying power of the rest of the album, were it not for the ridiculously over-the-top power metal cheese direction they chose to take it in. The musicianship and production are both excellent, although anyone who has laid ears on Therion's music before shouldn't find that surprising. In particular, operatic soprano Lori Lewis' vocals sound as bright and stellar as anything of the sort you will hear in metal. A covers album this may be, but Therion have given it their greatest effort, and it really shows.
Alot of disappointed fans have gone as far as to say "Les Fleurs Du Mal" is the band's biggest misstep, and a major letdown in the scope of an otherwise illustrious career. I would hope it was a granted that Therion wasn't trying to make a revolutionary masterpiece here. Instead, here is one of the most innovative symphonic metal bands taking a step back from the composition duties in order to stretch their arms and have a bit of fun while they're at it. It's futile to compare this to Therion's real albums. Although an album of new Therion originals may have been preferable, this is a really great way for the band to commemorate the twenty five year milestone. Maybe they'll do some symphonic metal covers for Tibetan throat singing or gamelan music for their fiftieth anniversary? I hope so!