Sea of Tranquility has always been impressed with the mighty sounds of Therion and we were excited to discover that they were coming to perform for the very first time in the USA as a headliner. One of the stops on the tour would be a show at the one and only B.B. King Blues Club on September 14, 2005. We've lost count of the amount of great shows this venue has had over the course of the year and this one will definitely add to it. New York City always seems to be a highlight of any bands tour and even more so when it is their first time in the Country ever. Therion was scheduled to play as headliner for one of the nights of the popular ProgPower USA Festival.
Ken Pierce and Pete Pardo were on hand for this important show, and not only report back with a full show review but also an interview with Therion's Christofer Johnsson.
The music of Therion is a little difficult to explain to people for they combine a number of genres that originally were not placed together as common as one finds today. It's a little bit of Progressive mixed with elements of Traditional and also Operatic influences. If one were to classify a genre, I would have to lead to Classical or Symphonic Metal. It is clearly a band that needs to be experienced in concert after you first hear them for their impact will be that much greater. The core members of the group are Christofer Johnsson (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Mats Leven (vocals), Kristian Niemann (guitar), Johan Niemann (bass) and Petter Karlsson (drums). In addition to these players the group travels with a four-member choir and a mezzo soprano lead singer. The stage at B.B. King Blues Club would certainly be full that night. It was a shame that the band could not bring more of the classical instruments that are heard on their releases but money and ability to pull it off in the venues on the tour would be the issue. There would be no real stage show or elaborate setting to the group tonight and instead just the music would be delivered.
The opening band for the show would be Metal Blade Recording Artist Beyond the Embrace who was not listed on the venue page until very late. This ended up being a nice surprise as I am a fan of these guys and have been since I saw them perform last year with Amorphis. The band is continuing to kick some serious Metal ass based on their release Insect Song. If you don't have this CD, do yourself a favor because it stands above a lot of the other Metal releases of 2004. It's a worthy part of the collection you are building if you love the classic style of Thrash along the lines of how Metallica used to be. The group was very into it and while I felt their sound was a little on the muddy side they surpassed it with the performance they would give. It seemed to be a PA issue as the band was heavy and tight throughout their set. When they were done they all walked around the venue and mingled with the crowd. I was lucky to be standing near them at one point and found them to be a great bunch of dudes that enjoy playing their style of Metal for anyone who will listen. They were also a good choice as the opener since their music is so much more different in contrast to what we would find in Therion. Around that time I also noticed that Shadows Fall singer Brian Fair was walking about the club enjoying himself.
Ken and Pete caught up with Therion's Christofer Johnsson backstage shortly before band took to the stage. Seeing as it was the bands first ever show in New York, and first tour here in the US, we spent some time talking about their trip so far. "This is the first time we have played the States", stated Christofer. "We've played North America plenty of times before, like Mexico, as well as Central American countries like Costa Rica, and El Salvador, but this is the first time in the US and Canada". When asked how it felt to have been together for so long as a band but only now just coming over here, the guitarist responded "It's very cool, because the crowds here have been very enthusiastic. Yes, we have been waiting for many years. European fans, especially Germany, are very enthusiastic to see us as well, but there they know that we will keep putting out albums and play live for them. Coming here is much harder"
Christofer Johnsson and Pete Pardo
It should come as no surprise then that Europe is the bands bread and butter as far as album sales go. "We sell the most of our albums in Europe, about 100,000 more than we do here in the US actually", says Christofer.
Back to the topic of the tour, Christofer talked about the specifics as well as the bands expectations of the North American shows. "New York should be the best show on the tour, but Canada, especially Quebec and Montreal, were great as well. We have 9 shows in total set for Canada, which is more than most bands do. Overall we have around 35 shows planned, so we are trying to make it to as many markets here as possible". I asked him how the crowd reactions and sizes of the audiences have been so far. "The crowds have been fantastic so far" exclaims Christofer. "While there have been a few shows where only 150 people have come, for the most part we are getting between 400-800 people a night. As long as the crowds are kicking, we really don't care how many people are in the audience. Here in the States, we are like back in 1995 in terms of how big the band is, so it's good once in a while to do this. It's good for the moral of the band, so we don't take things for granted or get too comfortable."
We asked Christofer to you talk a little bit about of what the fans can expect at these shows, and he replied "We brought the standard set from Europe and Latin America, although scaled down a bit. While it costs a lot of money to come play here, we really wanted to do it. We have the choir that we have had since 2000. Instead of a tenor we have a rock and roll singer. We are trying to make the show a bit more rock and roll this time around, so it may come off a bit less theatrical." It seemed to us that the bands intricate and bombastic sound might be difficult to recreate live, but the guitarist shook his head "No, it's easy, we have been doing this for so many years, so we have it down to a science."
Therion Live at BB Kings!
Most people have a hard time classifying the band since they employ so many different styles and genres in their music. When asked how he would describe the music of Therion, Christofer paused, then stated, "You cannot put a label on us really. It's a mixture of what I like, like 70's symphonic progressive rock. I like Pavlov's Dog, Eloy, Rush, etc, as well as 80's metal like Manowar, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Accept, and Voivod. We also integrate some opera as well obviously. We love to use the atmosphere of classical and opera with the core of rock music. European and Middle Eastern (or Arabic) folk music also finds it way into our music. We recycle some ideas from the 70's prog bands, but in a new and fresher way. It doesn't even matter who is the conductor, who is the singer, who is in the choir, it doesn't matter who performs, as long as the people involved are good enough. I wouldn't say that we are really a band, but more like a weird musical constellational concept with a couple of permanent members, and then it doesn't matter who we work with as long as they have character and can do the music technically".
When asked if Therion has perhaps led the way for much of the operatic power metal bands that have come out, especially in Europe, he responds, "The US seems to be 2 or 3 years behind what is going on in Europe as far as metal goes. It took a few years before thrash and death metal became big here, but it was already going strong in Europe well before. Same thing with black metal, symphonic metal, and female fronted gothic metal, which has been very popular in Europe for years and has only been catching on here in the States recently. We've always been a very odd band, but I think many people misjudge us and think of us as a standard death metal band that has really changed over the last few albums. You always have to judge every album in its own time. We started to play death metal because we wanted to do something different. After we were together a year or so, we wanted to do something different other than the same old thrash. The reason we took the name Therion was because of Celtic Frost. I really love Into the Pandemonium and Morbid Tales. To Mega Therion was actually our original name. Years ago you either sang high pitched or low pitched, but I liked to mix different vocal styles in our songs, which they called progressive back then. Even having keyboards in our music led people to consider us odd. Can you imagine a black metal band today without keyboards? We just experimented with each record, and all of a sudden people started buying it. The Theli album was just a natural progression, not much different than our other albums, but it became really popular, but the Vovin album is still our biggest seller overall. So yeah, I'm sure we influenced some bands along the way."
Therion backstage with Ken Pierce
The music of Therion bridges the gap between so many genres of music, and Christofer explained the bands perception of their market. "We sell to so many different types of areas, like the prog scene, the death and black metal scene, as well as straight heavy metal listeners. I was embarrassed once when a fan came up to me and said "my Mom loves your records!", so we even appeal to non-metal fans. We are not really affected by trends; we have been at this level now for ten years. Trends come and go, but we will still have our fans"
The topic of progressive rock came up again in our conversation, and we asked him if the band had ever considered writing some longer, more epic songs, which would seem to be a natural progression from the sophisticated sounds on the two most recent releases. "We have some longer, more progressive songs for the next record" states Christofer. "Originally we had enough material for 3 albums, but we decided to release just two albums, Lemuria and Serius B, simultaneously, and save the rest of the material for a later album. The songs for the next album are complete, and we start pre-production in January, so late 2006 we should have the album ready for release".
To cap off our discussion with Christofer before he and the band got set to take the stage, we asked what the plans are for the band once the tour finishes, and he gave us some exciting news; "We are releasing a DVD in March of 2006. It will be a show from Wacken and a show/documentary from Mexico City, and we are really excited about it!" Something tells me the legions of Therion fans around the world will be as well.
When the time came for Therion to make their way out to the stage, there was a high level of expectation in the fans that rushed around the venue. Most of the attendees pushed as close to the front stage area to get in position for this incredible band. Given there was no photo pit that night, it made shooting a little arduous, but we did what we could. The band and their company hit the stage like gangbusters with full rich melodies and an over the top sound. I could not believe the amount of people assembled on the stage, as this was clearly the largest performance group I had ever seen in such a space. It is especially interesting to see this in a Metal band and to pull it off without any seeming issue was something that I found it impressive to say the least. In the Therion music there are a lot of choruses and having the choir there gave the audience one better. So many of the groups that employ the Operatic style are forced to sample them or use tapes, so it was an added plus to experience this in person. The four members of the choir made the songs sound a lot more alive and brought an incredible mood to the already complex musical ideas. The male lead singer (Mats) was a perfect companion to this and as energetic as Tobias Sammett of EdGuy. His voice kicked some it up a notch all night. Joining him front stage was the bands Opera singer (Karin Fjellander) who I guess could be best compared to Tarja Turunen of Nightwish. She stood on the stage majestically and surely commanded the crowd with her voice. The choir was an extension of her and so different in person rather than sampled. I wish more bands that did this type of music chose to deliver it that way, but of course this has to be an expensive undertaking. The view was mixed on the absence of the classical instruments you hear on the record. Some folks hated that end while others found it was interesting to be able to hear a purer sound from Therion without the extras. Since I was new, I have to say that I did not personally mind. It was like being treated to two different interpretations of the bands music. That evening Therion would deliver a very comprehensive set of a full 18 tunes including the encores. The made sure to touch upon all of their albums and especially the double CD release Lemuria and Sirius B, which is a CD set that I think every Metal fan should own at this point. There is so much on it to absorb. Musically Christofer Johnsson, the Niemann Brothers and Peter and Johan were on point. Very tight musically and that's to be expected with their consistent performing. Christofer was all over the place in the room he actually had and you could see his excitement in his face as he performed.
Therion Live at BB Kings!
After the set seemed to run its completion with the performance of "To Mega Therion" the group would surprise the audience with two Encores'. However they would not perform additional Therion material but instead decided to treat everyone to some cover material. This would be a treat as it was done incredibly. The first was a dead-on cover of "Black Funeral" by Mercyful Fate, with Mats hitting all of the vocal notes and falsettos- he was so good he could have been King Diamond himself. The second was a rousing rendition of Motorhead's "Iron First". Shooting the photos could have been better but with no barrier the venue and die-hard fans work against you. No one moves despite you being there in official capacity. The crowd response was good and when I checked the venue managers on head count, I had heard there was about 550 fans in total which is not all that bad but I did expect more. Metal fans are coming out to support their favorite groups but sometimes are hesitant to take chances on stuff they are not too sure of. I feel when a band comes to us for the first time ever, we as supporters of the genre should attempt to show some support. After all you never know if these groups even have the budget to return. I was a new fan and attended despite the limited background. I feel those that decided to pass for whatever reason did instead cheat themselves for everyone in attendance had a great time at this show. It goes in the memory banks and I hope for their return sooner rather than later. Only time will tell.
1. Blood of Kingu
2. Uthark Runa
3. Invocation of Naamah
4. Riders of Theli
5. Black Sun
6. The Invincible
9. Seven Secrets of the Sphinx
12. Khlysti Evangelist
13. Wine of Aluqah
14. Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah
15. Cults of the Shadows – encore
16. To Mega Therion – encore
17. Black Funeral (Mercyful Fate) – encore
18. Iron First (Motorhead) - encore
Official Web site: www.MegaTherion.com
Official Web site: www.BeyondTheEmbrace.com
Ken Pierce and Pete Pardo