Is Therion mainman Christofer Johnsson crazy? To even consider undertaking a project of the gargantuan proportions of 'Beloved Antichrist', a triple album with over three hours of brand new material across three acts, involving a myriad of musicians and an ambitious narrative concept... the answer would have to be "yes". But, there's a fine line between genius and insanity, so let's just go with the former. There, I said it. The man is a musical genius.
It would be pure fallacy to consider this as just another Therion (triple) album. It is that, of course, but, to fully appreciate precisely what we have here, this new work from the Swedish symphonic metal pioneers needs some contextualisation. Press sheet blurb would have you believe this is a "rock opera", although I gather Johnsson himself has since expressed his discontent for such a label and, instead, prefers to regard this masterpiece as a "rock/metal musical with opera vocals". Or, in my own perception, a symphonic rock/metal opera. But let's not get bogged down by labels. 'Beloved Antichrist' is, effectively, the soundtrack to an envisioned forthcoming stage show, whereby it will unfold in its entirety in the form of an operatic rock/metal musical. So, while established Therion aficionados will lap this up as another triple dose of music from Johnsson's creatively fertile mind, the album will take on a whole new life beyond the standard "new album/touring cycle" paradigm.
It's kind of apt the band that spawned what became regarded as the symphonic metal scene and inspired countless others, have pushed the parameters of the subgenre beyond all conceivable expectations and elevated its essence to heightened epic levels with 'Beloved Antichrist'. It's not another 'Theli'; it's not another 'Vovin'; it's not another 'Lemuria/Sirius B', or another whatever... but we're all way beyond those kind of expectations, right? A long time ago. Part of the joy of being a Therion fan is surely their perennial power to surprise, astonish and even challenge, through their continued evolution and progression over the years. 'Beloved Antichrist' certainly surprises, astonishes and challenges. No more so than the actual playing time of this beast. Which, I gather was trimmed down from an original three and a half hours of music!
What's been achieved here is breathtaking. Featuring an expansive narrative for which Johnsson used Russian philosopher Vladímir Soloviov's 'A Short Tale Of The Antichrist' as the starting point for his inspiration, with some tracks adhering to their literary source, but most fabricated extensions to his work, this is the very antithesis to Jesus Christ Superstar! Not only in terms of subject matter, but with its refined musical splendour that never veers into cheesy musical trappings that will forever be associated with such productions. This is a musical purely on Therion's terms. Symphonic, orchestral, operatic sublimity.
Aside from a choir that features throughout, voicing the 30 different characters within the narrative are a large number of female/male soloists, including, of course, established Therion singers Thomas Vikström and Lori Lewis, as well as live members Chiara Malvestiti and Linnéa Vikström. Tenor, soprano, mezzo, baritone, bass, alto, and dramatic soprano voices can all be heard, conveying the drama with all the tension, suspense, heightened emotions, melancholy, and histrionics one would expect from the nature of such a venture.
Don't come here expecting quick hits of Therion. There are tracks that adhere to the band's post-death classic stylings, but they're part of a much bigger narrative, which is mixed up with many passages of straight opera, instrumental interludes and narrative bridging pieces. And sections of music where classic Therion is fused with more of an emphatic operatic bias than on any of their previous work. For those who've bothered to contextualise their own listening experience, this should come as no surprise. 'Beloved Antichrist' is an opera-centric work... and one that blends the operatic to perfection with its more commercial rock/metal underpinnings.
One can only begin to imagine the vast amount of work, passion, love and, undoubtedly, tortuous creativity that went into this project. The creative scope of 'Beloved Antichrist' is unimaginable. It's all resulted in an irrefutable masterpiece. While some might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new material on offer here, the rest of us can be overwhelmed in a truly enlightened and positive way. 'Beloved Antichrist' is an overwhelmingly beautiful and utterly breathtaking, enthralling, emotional journey that deserves your full attention for its 3+ hours. Some might claim the strength of the material on offer here is variable, but to judge one track against another would be fallacious and entirely missing the point. It would be like watching only what you'd consider to be the best scenes from a movie and ignoring all the narrative devices deployed that build-up to give those certain key scenes a more emotionally emphatic impact. Cherish the whole.
Review by Mark Holmes
9th February 2018
DISC ONE: Act I [17 tracks]
DISC TWO: Act II [15 tracks]
DISC THREE: Act III [14 tracks]
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"One can only begin to imagine the vast amount of work, passion, love and, undoubtedly, tortuous creativity that went into this project. The creative scope of 'Beloved Antichrist' is unimaginable. It's all resulted in an irrefutable masterpiece."