Therion – Leviathan III


Swedish symphonic metal legends, Therion, need no introduction as the band that invented the genre. But their recent legacy is that of a group incapable of writing an enthralling album since the early 2000s. Scream Blast Repeat found the two predecessor records to Leviathan III rather predictable. For the first instalment in 2021, we noted that ‘the length of this album is a merciful forty-five minutes… But if this is one of the most favourable things we can say, it also reveals how much we’ve lowered our expectations for this beloved band.’ Part II from last year offered a slight improvement, leading us to conclude that ‘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.’ We now arrive at part III, and the stakes are even lower. Could this work in their favour?

Leviathan III is a tale of two sittings. The first half is superb, the second act as mediocre as a jam sandwich. Opener, ‘Ninkigal’, might be the nastiest thing Christofer Johnsson has composed since the band’s 1991 death metal opus, Of Darkness. Here, menacing growls fight with operatic melodies in a blaze of technical thrash riffs. Listen to the sinister threats of the death metal parts wrapped in the angst of fallen angels. This music makes you want to stand up and announce your intellectual supremacy over those that hold power. Welcome back, Therion, as a credible metal force after a longer-than-expected barren spell.

Johnsson’s guitar work is much more imaginative on this record than the last few efforts. Blissful folk guitars pick their strings in the transparent beauty of a water pool reflection in ‘Ruler of Tamag’ before Lori Lewis bursts out of the trees with a dagger to her heart. You’ll feel like you’re stranded on Summerisle for the feast of The Wicker Man, but the lyrics want to transport you to the war tent of Genghis Khan. The low octave clarity of the bass vocals supports the higher phrasings of the soprano voice like camouflage. It’s good to hear guitars chugging at the strings with added velocity.

Many of the features that divide the Therion fanbase remain. ‘An Unsung Lament’ betrays the first sign of the Scorpions hard rock that peppered the last few albums, but these riffs avoid sounding like they were rejected by Metallica in the Load and Reload era. Therion know the risks – if you’re going to rock, make sure you do it with the pomp and belief that you can conquer the world. Here, Johnsson unearths a splendid arrangement of vocal harmonies at 01:50 like an expanding rainbow revealing its full spectrum of colours. This is Therion at their recognisable best.

‘Maleficium’ and ‘Ayahuasca’ follow like sizzling dishes. The former introduces tenor vocalist, Thomas Vikström, to accentuate the power metal element of the band’s music that often goes unappreciated. Johnsson takes us back to the late 1970s era of heavy metal for the main chest-straightening riff of the latter. A strong chorus pulls you into its magnetic embrace when your mind dares to wander. It’s rare for Therion to insert a brooding bassline as the centrepiece for act two of a composition, but it keeps you on edge until the last note.

You enter the second half of the record with nothing but positivity. Surely, they can sustain this for another six songs, the way a learner-driver knows they must finish the last part of their test with no mistakes if they want to gain their licence. Unfortunately, it’s back to old habits on ‘Midsommarblot’, with the bland guitar riffing subservient to the majesty of the vocal harmonies. Lori Lewis’s vibrato is turbulent enough to ground an aeroplane, but we need guitars than can also shake the floor. ‘What Was Lost Shall Be Lost No More’ is an anodyne operatic rock number with a sinister shade of red that does not know where to go after the third rendition of the chorus – a sure sign of writer’s block. The fillers come thick and fast. ‘Nummo’ is symphonic thrash with guitars dialled down in the mix and nothing memorable to embrace. ‘Duende’ speaks in a virtuoso classical guitar language at the beginning before they step on the distortion pedal, but four minutes and eighteen seconds feel like six. These songs of diminishing lengths appear half-finished rather than completed.

Therion can claim a 6,6,6 score for their trilogy of Leviathan records, but not for reasons of pride. Closing track, ‘Twilight of the Gods’, finishes things on a better note as a perfidious piece of doom metal shrouded in dramatic soprano uplifts. Their Swedish Idols in Candlemass would applaud this effort, and so will you. But the decline in standards in the latter part of this recording will leave you wondering what might have been.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 15/12/2023

Record Label: Napalm Records

Standout tracks: Ninkigal, An Unsung Lament, Ayahuasca

Suggested Further Listening: Carach Angren – Franckensteina Strataemontanus (2020), Voland – Voland III: Царепоклонство – Il Culto Degli Zar (2021), Our Dying World – Hymns of Blinding Darkness (2022)