Therion – Leviathan (2021) – Review

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Therion has been bouncing about our metal detection radar for years. This is a band with an august discography spanning back to 1987. But somehow, their wares never really quite hit paydirt with the RMR deck crew.

Until their pretty impressive selection of covers finally stuck with us, that is. But this cover thing is more of a sideline than any serious endeavor in terms of a full-length album. And it works well for a band that has a penchant for refreshing other bands’ material, of course.

The crew here – indeed – gave the band a try with their 2018 cookie monster, Beloved Antichrist. Yet, Therion just beat us into the ground with a friggin’ three hours of complicated orchestral bombast and faux operatic offerings with no end. We don’t have unlimited staff and – unfortunately – only 24 hours in our day. So, what can we do, right? It becomes a resource problem in the end.1)

So, early 2021 brings Leviathan to our review pipe. And – lo and behold – the record presents its wares at a relatively brief and much more digestible 46 minutes or so. The presence of Marko Hietala who famously left his alma mater Nightwish lately and the talented Noa Gruman (Scardust) helped our decision to cover the record, of course.

The Leaf on the Oak of Far leads off at a lusty pace with Thomas Vikström belting out those vocals at pretty metallic levels – for the first few moments.2) Only to kill the momentum with that darned choir barging into the tune. That truly is one of those ‘what were they thinking’ moments. And it’s not that Gruman‘s Hellscore outfit sucks, they are a capable bunch. But the arrangement frankly killed the cat.

It’s also of no surprise to me that the Hietala-effect is on full display. This is one powerful musician with an ability to pull otherwise wanting productions forward. Tuonela is one of the most potent tracks on Leviathan. And we would – indeed – have liked more of that sound on that piece. It is a pity that Christofer Johnsson didn’t give him much more wiggle room. It might have helped the quality some.

Whilst the record is by far less tedious than its predecessor, I am still searching for its essence.3) You know, the soul of the piece, the substance that should connect to our cold metal hearts like instant glue.

Okay, I do feel the gentle power of the theme. The beastly snake on the album cover already tells you where the story will head to. But like many of their brethren that like to bask in arcane storylines, somehow the emotion has gone fishing. No real connection from the beast to the music that we could detect.

So, all we are left with is a mix of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and – yes – Battle Beast. Yet another band that attempts to get rid of the remnants of its gothic undercurrents. And they usually try to do that by smothering their symphonics in an avalanche of orgasmic orchestral shenanigans. To the point that this gets them dangerously near to the shiny, colorful fantasyland that Power Metal likes to roam on.4)

In the process, Leviathan truly pulls all the levers a cheesy symphonic multi-layered approach can bring to the turntable. And yes, title track and Die Wellen der Zeit, I’m looking straight at you. This – in turn – destroys lots of the neat momentum that this record may have possessed earlier. More often than not, their tune ends up in the midst of overwrought operatics, haunted by choral intrusions that really started to weigh on yours truly after a while.

Indeed, the record seems to put the faux classical components first and metal second.5) And that will rub many a metalhead the wrong way. Now, the band may very well aim for a totally different audience, which is cool by me. And truly, as the record lumbers down its path, I detect – yet again – a tendency towards the cinematic. As if aiming for the aural fleshpots of the movie goons will save the music quality – or the genre.

Leviathan does have its metal moments, though. Like the remarkably speedy Great Marquis of Hell or parts of the Psalm of Retribution with their reasonable chugging airs. And some sort of a lick gone solo thing in their midst with some attempt to a short duet.

In the end, my steely metal soul ached as I progressed into the album. These are all talented musicians at work, even if the somewhat lukewarm drumming often nearly drove me to despair. Yet, it is not the outstanding musicianship that is at stake here. It is this urge to throw epic bombast and often sugary sweet symphonics to the forefront with little regard to the rest.

And this frequently drowns out the metallic or rockier parts, and – indeed – the oomph, excellence, and energy this record surely possesses. Somewhere, in there, hidden away on this convoluted soundscape.

That said, Leviathan will surely talk to the masses of fans that thrive on that kind of fare. A copiously epic brand of a cinematic, symphonic, and overly operatic type of ‘metal’ that starts to sound similar to whatever band in that universe you turn to. A once vibrant genre that has – in a way – morphed into some sort of mainstream. And we’re not sure if that’s good – or downright scary.

Record Rating: 5/10 | LabelNuclear Blast | Web: Official Band Site
Release Date: 22 January 2021


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