Therion - Beloved Antichrist

Therion Beloved Antichrist cover
Beloved Antichrist
Nuclear Blast
Therion’s fifteenth album of “original” material is kind of divisive in more ways than one. After the 70s version of Therion that “Luciferian Light Orchestra” turned out to be that offered a nice enough diversion along with the French cover songs album that Nuclear Blast refused point blank to release for just being too “weird”, one can easily come to the conclusion that Therion haven’t been their usual selves for quite a while now. Experimentation? Lack of inspiration? Delusions of Grandeur? All or none of the above? Who knows...
Deciding to top everything in their past with a three hour rock opera, based on Russian mystic’s Vladimir Solovyov’s 1900 work “A Short Tale of the Antichrist” is certainly not something that sounds too out and out for the band that is known to embrace extreme and occult themes quite openly, but attempting something like this, a work that aims for commercial and wide appeal, is most certainly daring and new for the band who had to use multiple vocalists to assume some 29 or so different roles.
The extreme length and the way the acts play out with scenes, rather than songs, renders the typical verse chorus structures pretty much obsolete, even if some remnants of Therion’s rock style rear their head and bite down quite often, changing the dynamics of this work. You could if you pressed yourself hard enough recognize many facets and trademark melodies of the band in “Antichrist”, but they are not the focus here, but rather the embellishments and few “sections” really stand out on their own. I am curious of how this would have sounded without the “rock instruments” and dull might be a possible answer, but I doubt that either the opera going crowds will be sufficiently impressed by Antichrist and I fear that most rock/band fans will be bored senseless.
But remember, this is an opera, and as such it’s closer to the classical format than rock (despite the rock instruments utilized throughout), so to be able to “appreciate it” you need to throw the preconceptions out of the window. In doing so you might enjoy it a lot more than you anticipate. It’s also something that you need to experience consciously and in it’s entirely, as segmentation makes it impossible to really enjoy in the same way you’d do with a single self-contained song.
In order to adapt the “short story” into a musical theater format, CJ has taken a lot of liberties, loosely adapting the story and using its basic premise and protagonists, but also inventing parts for “females” in it, changing the somewhat abrupt ending and extending the role of the chief antagonist of the Antichrist significantly. It’s funny that in the original, which was written around the 1900, a united states of Europe, the aftermath of bloody wars forged, with a capital of Berlin is established… (bit of a prophecy right there?) .In Therion’s version the setting is the same, but following a solar storm that destroys all current technology, humanity attempts to re-invent itself. In the meantime, religion becomes an even more important pillar of society, than in the previous century, as people seek a ray of hope to help them go on with their lives.
The first act comprises of some seventeen tracks and it’s operatic character is somewhat disrupted by Therionesque melodies and movements (with the closest conventional Therion albums that come to mind being “The Secret of the Runes” and portions of “The Crowning of Atlantis”).
Whereas I was expecting some grand overture to begin with “Turn from Heaven” is a rather conventional Intro piece, a bit more orchestral than what one might have been used to, but it could have easily been present in a past work from the band, in its people wonder of what will happen.
“Where Will You Go” begins by introducing Seth Thanos (who is the person who will be turned into The Antichrist”), who wishes to redeem humankind and preaches thus to his parish, before embarking on a mission to do so. It still feels as something that could have been in a previous album, but here we’re treated to a proper choir and not a small section of people doing a polyphony in the place of a choir, so it sounds a little different. More majestic, but also lower in volume.
“Through Dust, Through Rain” is a lamenting, piano laden piece, which deviates from the usual Therion MO towards musical theater and opera, here dying Sophia, with her daughter Helena by her side, try to console each other over the impending passing of the former; Sophia’s dying wish is that Helena should succeed in enlightening her sister Johanna, who is dismissive of her sister’s ritual magic practices, as they were passed down by Sophia taking place, thus denies to be by her mother’s deathbed for her passing.
There’s a segue into “Signs Are Here” a rather placid piece that after a while breaks into a more “rock” movement, which sounds a lot like Therion, but at the same time different, because of the opera “dialogues” taking place.
Less than fifteen minutes in, the traditional “metal” fan will feel a little tired, by the lack of “progress” and excitement. Here, more characters are introduced and people, including Johanna, are confused and confounded wondering if the end of the world has begun.
“Never Again” seeks to remedy that more brooding, more foreboding, more metallic if you will, allowing the rock element to surface and overtake the operatic style for a tiny bit. Here the head of the USE, vouch to avoid the mistakes of the past and to lead people towards peace and prosperity through unity.
“Bring Her Home” is one of the better moments on the first act, with dialogue between the two sisters, a priest and Seth, as the sisters wish to either be reunited with their mother or to be assured of her “wellness” and fair judgement. The piece manages to capture the imagination of the listener with some quite strong performances which are obviously blended with some pretty impressive melodies.
“The Solid Black Beyond” is a moment of reflection, a moment of uncertainty – a soliloquy of Seth who wonders why God doesn’t give him a sign. Satan answers his pleas and offers him his power.
This is all mirrored in the music. So, Seth “falls” from grace thus becoming the embodiment of “The Antichrist”.
“The Crowning of Splendor” is a heavier moment, by all means, but despite it going almost full on Therion metal, it sort of feels a little too abrupt to both begin and end, in it Satan and his “son” the fallen Seth, as “Antichrist” preach to the nations.
“Morning has Broken” clocks at nearly seven minutes and has little going on other than dialogue, in it the world leaders fall prey to the Antichrist’s honeyed and wise words and decide to follow his example. While there’s a triumphant tone, at the same time there’s also a hint at the gloom and doom that is to come musically.
“Garden of Peace” offers a fleeting glimpse of paradise to both Seth and Helena, a moment before the final “fall”. As such it sounds rather pleasant and majestic before the sulfur riffs and sardonic vocals of “Our Destiny” foul things up, in which Seth/Antichrist preaches some more to the people of the earth.
“Anthem” has a very bombastic operatic intro, before it breaks into full Europower mode, something between Stratovarius and Helloween of the middle period, with a full choir and lead taking turns in a very “Broadway” sort of piece, in which Seth/Antichrist succeeds in taking the crowds of voters to his side, who will give in turn grant him absolute power.
“The Palace Ball” offers lots of pomp and style, but little circumstance and substance, mostly getting dialogue happening, while carrying off some impressive percussion and such; Seth/Antichrist who now governs flirts with both sisters while attempting to seduce Johanna, who turns him down able to sense his source of power.
“Jewels From Afar” breaks the mold significantly as it’s a simple guitar and voice that almost sounds like operatic Led Zep/Robert Plant, if you will, before the guitar is bolstered up by additional instrumentation… in this track, if I understand correctly, Seth/Antichrist and Helena are joined as lovers? And the latter tries to comfort the former.
“Hail Caesar!”… I would have expected to be more impressive, but somehow in the entire flow of the opera even with its bombast and protruding percussion it fails to make a grand impression. In it the now power couple of Caesar Seth/Antichrist and Helena are joined in marriage, as the people sing in exhalation to their new messiah, leader and savior. Johanna calls him false, but is given little or no heed.
“What is Wrong?” is another of those “reflection” moments, with piano and harpsichord taking turns where Johanna declares that her sister was predestined to meet the Antichrist and that she’s not jealous but sad, of her impending fate.
The first disc comes to a close with “Nothing but My Name” with its 70s ‘verbed guitar maudlin and sorrowful by defiant proclamations… where Seth in solitude tries to figure out, who he really is and what’s his real purpose in the grand scheme of things.
The second act and disc, I suppose, for a good portion are closer to traditional Therion in many ways and embraces pretty much everything post “Theli”, but stylistically makes most references in the recent past.
It all begins with “The Arrival of Apollonius” with a very operatic and grandiose introduction that only gets bolstered when some riffing guitars and drums kick in. This is more like the Therion most people would feel familiar with”, in all honesty, but it probably dwells for a bit too long on similar melodies. Obviously you cannot “haste” things all the time, but at the same time being more economical isn’t always bad, in terms of flow. “Apollonius”, the false pope and a magician, appears and the people take and instant liking to him, hoping that his abilities will aid them in their pursuit.
Apollonius pledges his aid to the Antichrist over the bombastic next track “Pledging Loyalty” and the two set out to conquer the world.
“Night Reborn” lashes out in full 80s metal mode, with hardly anything “operatic” about it, other than the vocals… in fact this felt almost like something that could have come out of say “Theli” and it’s chorus and choirs are probably one of the better moments on the entire album.
“Dagger of God” is a piano laden piece, but with heavy overtones that however doesn’t manage to convey the atmosphere it should, with its medium pace and relaxed middle section. In it Agnes and Johanna, who is the chief antagonist of the Antichrist (pretty much assuming the role of John in the novel) plot against S/A, who according to prophecy can only be harmed by this artifact, a dagger blessed.
“Temple of New Jerusalem” is the piece where Antichrist and Apollonius decide to rebuild a Temple in Jerusalem that joins the human domain with the past and future and with both Heaven and Hell. It is a more metallic moment, akin to Therion’s past, but I do find the way in which the libretto is presented along with the music, a little underwhelming. Let’s say that the “hook”/ “chorus” melody is a little odd to make the measures work in what could have otherwise been the best song of the album and a classic Therion staple.
“The Lions Roar” is very symphonic and feels fitting after such a pivotal moment as its predecessor, it’s one of the moments, where if this was a normal opera, some memorable “aria” would be placed. Here it’s just recited lines over a nice choir of the building master and the workers, who are in the process of building the temple. An “anvil of dawn” this ain’t, but it works “almost” to similar effect.
“Bringing the Gospel” has a very hymnal intro, before switching to a “Vovin” – post-“Vovin” melody, but ultimately faces trouble in keeping the listener interested. In it the three main Christian churches, The Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, join in Jerusalem along with all other Christians, invited by Caesar Seth to listen to him and seem to fall in line with him.
The same holds true for the mostly ethereal “Laudate Dominum”, which does turn a little darker in places for some dialogue to occur. There Seth and Apollonius welcome the religious leaders of the world and Seth/Antichrist gets recognized by all as a great leader, who has been successful in restoring peace and bringing prosperity to humanity.
“Remaining Silent” again is “Therionesque”, but the purely operatic vocal dialogues, do not allow it to shine. Here Seth/Antichrist’s primacy is challenged by the Pope Peter the 2nd, Johanna and Agnes. He is asked to submit and bow to Christ, but he remains silent and in denial to do so.
“Behold Antichrist” is pretty jarring, heavy, dramatic and immediate, chaotic even, in a way that’s actually not so badly presented, as the whole chaos comes to order through a titanic riff. From that point onwards and via some nice 70s influenced leads that run in the background things become a little more controlled, but a heavy atmosphere, is evident throughout. In tracks such as this the whole experiment of rock & classical coexistence and interplay seem to almost work seamlessly. Here Ceasar Sethis revealed to be the Antichrist, but Apollonius uses magic to turn most in his favor. A German professor/theologian Professor Pauli (in stark difference to the novel, recognizes the truth and sides with Agnes – who’s made up here, praying that the fallen are given mercy by God).
“Cursed by the Fallen” is another one of those, purely Therion tracks, with just opera vocals. It’s good, but the format doesn’t allow it to be much more than a short segment. Actually it’s better to try and experience this work as “thematic entities”, as “scenes” to understand it better, because more “tracks” seem to get into a larger “section”, a very long song if you wish. In that context you might get some pleasure out of listening to the album, because any other way is almost single handedly going to lead to disappointment. Here Agnes, Mare and the Professor are joined against CS/A.
“Resurrection” acts as a counterbalance, very orchestral and epic and all, in it the three journey towards salvation.
“To Where I Weep” starts with almost ritualistic percussion in which we can hear a bewitched Helena, conforming to her deep feelings of love and devotion to Seth, swearing to follow him wherever it might lead her.
“Astral Sophia” is a bizarre eastern tinged number, with a dialogue between Satan and Sophia’s Astral form, who seem to be in league.
“Thy Will Be Done” has the forces of the “light” joined together discussing the preparations before the great war between heaven and hell begins.
Reaching act and disc three, things turn a little messy as the loose plot ends require some resolving and in trying to merge the rock and operatic styles as much as possible, the results are largely uneven in pace & tone, even length and fatigue sets in. The compositions still attempt to impress the listener, but the whole build up to the final face off, between heaven and hell manages to be quite a daunting joyless experience.
Things pick up with a war scene and the energetic metal of “Shoot Them Down”, where a war has erupted between the Christians and the followers of the Antichrist, who do not seem to care about his “evil” origins, as long as he has brought them utopia, plenty and peace while on earth.
“Beneath the Starry Skies” is a bizarre moment where Seth and Hellena declare their love for each other. Seth seems weary of his heavy burden and longs for peace. It’s another pretty chaotic, metallic part with lots of dialogue that’s somewhat difficult to follow.
In the powerful and long winded (almost ten minutes long) “Forgive Me”, the triumvirate of the Professor, Agnes and Johanna face off with Seth and Helena, who asks for the dagger, but instead of killing Seth, takes her own life with it, to save her soul and by extension Seth’s life.
A sorrowed Seth/Antichrist mourns his love in “The Wasteland of My Heart”, truly a tragic figure; it’s more of a soliloquy of sorts that averages between all styles.
“Burning the Palace” is very bombastic, as the three face off with the Antichrist again, where both threaten each other with extinction. As another long winded piece, this one changes pace and feel far too often sounding if not hastily assembled, as least, quite convoluted and not refined as other parts.
“Prelude to War” is a half-minute instrumental intro to “Day of Wrath”, where again Satan, Seth, Sophia, Johanna, pretty much anyone involved in this power-play takes turns reciting lines to proclaim of what will come to be.
In the epic “Rise to War”, Apollonius and Seth command their armies to fight for a new dawn to come after the end of times, a new world pretty much as in the Apocalypse, but probably from a different perspective.
In “Time has Come / Final Battle” the demons, angels and humans are all entwined in a war that seems to annihilate almost everyone. It’s pretty rabid and epic, with sudden drum barrages in bursts and mysterious at the same time. A “fallen” (?) Apollonius is challenged by Aetherial Sophia, and is cast back into oblivion, but doesn’t feel too phased, since he feels there’s no end to existence and he knows that he will return in time.
“Striking Darkness” is nearly all instrumental other than a plea of Johanna to God that seems to go unanswered.
“Seeds of Time” has a fallen and dead Seth communicating with a fallen and dead Johanna, somewhat reconciling their differences as all seems to be lost forever...(?)
In “To Shine Forever” it is revealed that the world will be made a new from fallen stars, so everything will be reborn.
“Theme of the Antichrist” is both an overture/postludeum, as well as an epilogue, where it’s concluded that we cannot decide what is good and what is evil and that our limited time will probably will not allow us perspective on the matter ever, leaving everything in a bittersweet post-apocalyptic state, with only love remaining a constant.
At over three hours with three nearly hourly acts, this is a very demanding listen that most will be quick to reject, while others will embrace, just because it’s what they’ll read in the relevant press. It’s indeed a quirky piece and I doubt there are very many musicologists or opera connoisseurs among the metal crowd to pass judgment to this. I will refrain from attempting to do so, but say that the third act feels quite convoluted and not easy to grasp and that maybe shortening the whole thing and going for a more conventional approach – instead of following this operatic “structure” might have made the material more accessible to the avid rock fan – who possibly makes up the bulk of the band’s fandom.
I’ve heard people already calling it utter shit and I cannot seriously agree with them, but at the same time I can see where they are coming from, since I had a hard time appreciating it and it took me a few listens (a pretty time consuming thing at its length) to really even begin to “dig it” slightly.
Kudos to CJ for having the gull to go for such a monumental task, but I am uncertain of even how I feel about it. I think it’s high time to do a “traditional” Therion album, not a Greek folk song covers album, not a Christmas one, not another opera, nothing of the sort. I guess, only “Time Shall Tell” (1990 demo of Therion btw – pun intended), where Therion will go from here, but I will indeed be curious to see how they will proceed.