I have been a huge THERION fan ever since they released "Lepaca Kliffoth" way back in 1995, so a year before most people discovered them. It was the video for "The Beauty In Black" that had captured me, with the inclusion of operatic vocals into their other than that still pretty heavy sound. After that I tried out their previous effort "Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon, Ho Megas", but at least back then it did not fire off, which changed completely in 1996 when "Theli" set the scene on fire. Since then the Swedes around mastermind Christofer Johnsson have gone through a tremendous evolution, getting more symphonic by the album and now "Gothic Kabbalah" is their tenth album (if you count 2004's "Lemuria/Sirius B" as one album) and they continue to amaze me...
First off, though, the title does not have anything to do with the kabbalah stuff Madonna is meddling with, but once more is based upon a myth surrounding the "Dragon Rouge" lodge, more precisely the Swedish archivist Johannes Bureus, who, among other things, had been responsible for the translation and re-grouping of the Norse runes, which were published in the "Alruna Rediviva", so not Goth stuff to be found here.
Musically "Gothic Kabbalah" is somewhat of a re-invention of the band, as the symphonic element and especially the choirs have been greatly reduced in favour of a more direct and at times also heavier approach to their sound, which might in the beginning present some problems to the followers of the band, but once you accept that Johnsson once more refuses to stand still, but continues to explore different avenues every single time, you will be able to fully submerge into this album.
Embedded into a crystal clear production, where every single instrument and voice has its perfect place (just listen to how thick the bass comes through every song!), Johnsson is presenting us with the probably most direct album since the band's Death Metal beginnings, concentrating on three vocalists (not exclusively, but the majority of the songs is catered to by them): Mats Levén, Snowy Shaw and Karin Fjellander, and especially Levén as lead singer delivers an impressive performance.
Now it will probably take you a little longer to get into the album, as it mostly lacks this immediate catchiness, but rather chooses to reveal its details and appeal only with a little more time and patience, as the songs, although kind of tuned down compared to the pure symphonic grandeur before, are still as layered and intricate as ever. There still are lots of classical instruments, albeit more subtle, the same goes for these oriental melody lines that have threaded through THERION compositions for many years now and just add this subtle touch to the songs.
That the guitars have taken the scepter again is shown right away by "Mitternacht Löwe", where they take the role that the orchestra had on the prior releases and that there are no choirs, but only solo vocals also adds to the distinctly different atmosphere of the song. The title track is one of the definitive highlights, with its vocal duel, the catchy chorus and the use of some choir passages, brilliant! "Son Of The Staves Of Time" at times almost reminds me of symphonic Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, with a Levén in top form, while "Tuna 1613" is not a hymn to the fish, but shows a different side of the band as well. "Three Treasures" has an almost criminally catchy chorus and "T.O.F.-The Trinity" sometimes almost steps over into Power Metal (a terrain that is further explored a little later on by "The Falling Stone"), before "The Wand Of Abaris" is a lot darker and epic (with the exception of one vocal passages, which is just too high and sappy). And the 14-minute epic "Adulruna Redivivia" is maybe closest to the previous album due to its increased used of both orchestra and also choir, THERION are no strangers to epics and this one fits right into the historic timeline.
On the other hand there also are a few songs that just will not ignite, "Close Up The Streams" and "Chain Of Minerva" to be precise, but despite not fully living up to the standard of the other compositions, they still fit into the overall context and flow of the album.
So be silent, all ye naysayers, THERION have not switched horse, they have not run out of ideas, no, they continue to reinvent themselves and "Gothic Kabbalah" is a brilliant album, no matter how you look at it. For the next one it would be great, if they could kind of combine this new direction with the sounds of "Theli" and we'd have an incredible album, but still, give this effort the time it deserves and try not to hold on to the past too much, but listen with open ears and Christofer Johnsson's brilliance will embrace you, too!
(Online February 5, 2007)