Therion - Beloved Antichrist - (2.5/10)
Published on June 7, 2018
Ohhhhh boy. Where to start with this one… Firstly: no, that tracklist is not a joke, and neither is that runtime. Secondly, a disclaimer: I am a massive fan of big, overblown concept albums with storylines and characters a la Rhapsody Of Fire. Thirdly, another disclaimer: I listened to this album both in its intended three acts and in one sitting (for which I deserve a fucking medal). Just so you’re aware that this will not just be a rant for moaning’s sake, and that it’s coming from a place of disappointment rather than pure hatred. Anyway, Therion have been one of the most eclectic acts in metal over their thirty years of existence. Sadly, it has been eight years since their last true full-length album and, whilst other bands would use the gap to build up a decent arsenal of material, Christofer Johnsson seems to have had the songwriting equivalent of orgasm denial. So here he is in 2018, blowing his load and drenching us in the frustrated sperm that is Beloved Antichrist.
Full marks for ambition and scope here, dudes. I adore the idea of a metal opera based on A Short Story Of The Antichrist and the elusive concept of ‘Pope Peter II’ – and Therion were definitely the right band to take on the challenge. But let’s get realistic. Three discs? Three hours!? Before I can address any other elephants in any other room, this absolutely has to be contested as the primary issue with this record. It would be a vast undertaking indeed to make an album of this length sound dynamic and hold a listener’s interest, but even halfway through the first disc, I found myself asking: ‘Did they have to make this so fucking boring!?’ No matter how many different voices you layer, how many orchestral instruments you slather on top, or how exciting the story is getting (spoiler: it doesn’t) – a 46-track album is never going to be exhilarating if 40 of them are mid-tempo plodders in simple 4/4 time. Credit to “Anthem” for being a fun, vibrant power metal hymn and undoubtedly the best song here. Similar praise to “Never Again” and some of the tracks from the first half of Act 2 for actually having…wait for it…riffs! Gasp!
Melodies throughout this album are hardly ever memorable, and the very idea of repeated hooks seems to have been replaced by the need for simple tunes that we hear only once, and are never performed with passion. Hell, I’d go so far as to say some of the cast (especially Marcus Jupither) are pitchy at points – for which there is no excuse. If only some of the vocal patterns were faster or more lively, rather than being full semibreves per note – that would at least drive the momentum. Instead, it’s left to the rhythm section to push the pace along, which hardly ever climbs above the speed of a narcoleptic slug. The best streak is the first five tracks of Act 2, especially “The Arrival Of Apollonius” and “Night Reborn”, which are driven by undoubtedly metal riffs. Alas, the guitar tone on this record is unforgivably thin. At points, this could’ve reached almost Epica levels of heaviness, but that guitar tone is feeble – undermining potentially menacing riffs like “Temple Of New Jerusalem”.
There is no sense of build-up and release on Beloved Antichrist. Opera logic dictates that each act should have its pivotal point where the music reaches a crescendo in coalescence with the story. But as each CD comes whimpering to a close, the listener is left wholly unfulfilled by a lack of any drama whatsoever. This is not all bad. There are some gorgeous choral arrangements a la Handel circa The Messiah; there are occasional memorable riffs and choruses like “Never Again”; and when the energy actually gets moving, it can be theatrically effective, such as the killer “Shoot Them Down”. However, these positives are too little too late – especially when placed in amongst the overblown remnants of a band who used to be so exciting. Therion struck gold with the idea, both in scope and concept, but completely failed on execution. It pains me to say this, because I like to think I have some familiarity with the effort required to produce something like this, but I hope this is quickly forgotten. Hell, if this kind of dull meandering is what they’re going to focus on from now, then I say ‘bring back Of Darkness’.