We noted in 2021 that Therion’s previous record ‘will disappoint those looking for a heavy dose of metallic crunch underneath the operatic flamboyance, despite some moments of genuine brilliance.’ That was the prequel to Leviathan II, and now they return eighteen months later with a promise to up the ante and give the fans a heavier follow up. Therion invented the symphonic metal genre in the 1990s and deserve credit for their influence on the European metal scene, but they sound out of touch with the current trajectory of this style in the era of symphonic death metal (Fleshgod Apocalypse, Carach Angren) and blackened deathcore (Lorna Shore, She Must Burn, Shadow of Intent). You’ll enjoy this album more if you put the metal elements to one side and appreciate the splendour of Christofer Johnsson’s arrangements for operatic voice.
You have every right to roll your eyes when you hear the unimaginative palm-muted guitars of opener, ‘Aeon of Maat’. This diluted heavy metal posturing inserted as the last piece in the simple puzzle ruined the gothic metal genre in the late 1990s and makes most of the contemporary symphonic bands unlistenable to those with heavier tastes. But take a step back and focus on the multi-harmony choir vocals – this is a sophisticated arrangement. The metallic guitar rhythms are the least important aspect of what makes this so intriguing. Listen to the divine splendour of the chorus to ‘Litany of the Fallen’ as Lori Lewis projects her soprano voice like an angel mourning the death of an ancient god. One cannot underestimate the impact of the dramatic choir theatrics at the beginning of this song as they hold a conversation with the sinister metallic chugs. Greenpeace could use ‘Alchemy of the Soul’ as their epitaph for a dying planet on their next video awareness campaign. The hard rock edges do little to enhance its prime qualities, yet the absence of guitars on ‘Lunar Coloured Fields’ commend it as a standout track. A bountiful pizzicato plucking technique of the violin sets the scene for a solemn horn section to brood in the background. Again, Lori Lewis is angelic here, like a sultry Dianne van Giersbergen leading a Carl Orff composition.
Of course, we need to judge the quality of the metal on this LP. To ignore this would be a disservice to Christofer Johnsson’s legacy. Loyalists will enjoy the riffs more than they did on Leviathan, especially the aggressive thrash of ‘Lucifuge Rofocale’ and the adrenaline extravaganza of ‘Midnight Star’. You’ll hear Helloween and Blind Guardian in the latter, but the fluttering voice patterns of Lewis steal the show with an imitation of the celestial brilliance of the flute. We should also credit Thomas Vikström’s tenor range for illuminating this album beyond a standard symphonic fare. ‘Marijin Min Nar’ is exactly where Devin Townsend sees himself right now – operatic, metallic, melodic, gigantic. More songs like this with vicious guitar lines and Phrygian patterns would enlighten the experience further.
Therion’s music invites you to mourn for a bygone age and allows you to air your regrets for the current epoch. In this respect, the symphonic side remains as strong as ever, but the metal parts are often hollow and predictable. You can enjoy this record if you put your reservations about the watered-down guitars to one side. Leviathan II is better than you think, but there’s still something missing.
Release Date: 28/10/2022
Record Label: Atomic Fire Records
Standout tracks: Litany of the Fallen, Lucifuge Rofocale, Marijin Min Nar
Suggested Further Listening: Ad Infinitum – Chapter I: Monarchy (2020), Aephanemer – A Dream of Wilderness (2021), Hexed – Pagan’s Rising (2022)