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31st October 2010
Originators of the symphonic metal subgenre, Therion transcended their death metal roots to forge said style on 1996 seminal work 'Theli', and have since refined and progressed their aesthetic over the course of nine more albums, the latest of which, 'Sitra Ahra', was released in Autumn 2010. Oft-imitated, the symphonic/metal fusion has been ubiquitously adopted within the scene by countless bands with varying degrees of success but it is the iconic Swedes who remain the original and best purveyors of the subgenre, hegemonists of the style they invented all those years ago. On tour throughout Europe during October/November 2010, Therion mainman and founding member Christofer Johnsson spent some time with Metal Discovery before their sole UK show at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, talking frankly, amongst other subjects, about the origins of the new material and the much publicised recent departure and return of Snowy Shaw. In a busy O'Neil's pub next to the venue, we settle down at a table as Christofer feasts on a veggie meal courtesy of Metal Discovery, and discussions commence...
METAL DISCOVERY: So how were the first two shows of the tour?
CHRISTOFER JOHNSSON: Very good, thank you.
(Christofer Johnsson on the core essence of Therion's music)
"It’s all in the wrapping, you know. We’re fooling people along that we’re some sort of cool metal band but, in reality, we make music of your parents’ generation. We’re all into Uriah Heep and those kind of bands."
Christofer Johnsson onstage at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, UK, 31st October 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: At Tilburg and Groningen in Holland?
CJ: Yes, that’s correct.
MD: Good audiences?
CJ: Yeah, always. I mean, Dutch people are always a little bit more laidback…but it seems like we’re one of the few bands that get the audience going there.
MD: Big mosh pits or anything like that?
CJ: No, not like that. There’s a very mixed audience there in terms of ages. I saw a woman there the age of my mum singing along to all the songs and having a good time! So I guess we appeal to a lot of people.
MD: How are you finding the tour supports, Loch Vostok and Leprous? Are those bands you chose yourself?
CJ: I haven’t checked them out yet. Actually, I never heard them before. Normally, I’ll check those things but I just told Richard Peach, the manager, to get two good bands. I usually don’t check them the first few shows because they’re nervous or something. Normally, I check them out after a couple of shows.
MD: Leprous are very good.
CJ: I’ve heard good things about both bands.
MD: It’s quite a lengthy European leg of the tour you’re doing with something like eighteen shows before you have an off-day.
CJ: Yeah, we’re used to that.
MD: Do you prefer to do so many consecutive dates without off-days.
CJ: A day off means no backstage food, eating at gas stations, and spending the whole day on the tour bus which you do quite a lot anyway, so we prefer to have a show.
MD: Not so good for your driver though, maybe!
CJ: We have double the drivers.
MD: Oh really?
CJ: New EU regulations. Thank you very much EU, we now have fifty per cent extra costs! We used to be able to get a tour bus for a thousand Euro a day, then you would have a fairly okay one, if you wanted one of the fancy ones. Now you have to pay fifteen hundred for just nothing special. We’ll pay fifteen hundred for a tour bus and we’ll have a fucking cassette deck in it!
MD: It’s a fantastic new album, ‘Sitra Ahra’, which is probably the most diverse and experimental album Therion have done to date…
CJ: I believe so.
MD: Was it your aim to progress the music in that way?
CJ: We just write songs; we don’t have any plan behind the thing. For the recording, though, we recorded it in a different way. We really tried to get a vintage sound. It’s all in the wrapping, you know. We’re fooling people along that we’re some sort of cool metal band but, in reality, we make music of your parents’ generation. We’re all into Uriah Heep and those kind of bands. We show a little bit more what we really sound like on this record so we made the production more vintage. We did some seventies recordings too, you know, really old vintage drums kits which we didn’t mix up…but the stuff that’s on the record now sounds, in my ears, more like an analogue recording from the late eighties but remastered now. A lot of dynamics there. What I hate with all the production is that they compress everything like hell and then push it up a lot with the loudness so it’s almost distorting and I just hate that.
MD: Too much manipulation goes on in Pro Tools too whereas you seem to have a more natural sound.
CJ: What you hear is pretty much how we play. Of course, you do more takes and maybe add some stuff but, when you hear us live, it’s the same band.
MD: Exactly. There’s no point in a band recording loads of stuff they can’t emulate live, I guess.
CJ: No, I mean nobody can say that about this album; how we sound on the record is pretty honest. We really tried to work differently, though, in terms of how we mix stuff. The last few records, I always had a big problem to fit everything in the sound texture when there’s a lot going on….too much orchestra. Normally, the scenario would be – “Oh, I don’t hear the strings well enough, let’s bring them up a bit. Okay, now the strings are fine but I don’t hear the woodwind so well; let’s bring the woodwinds up.” And it continues like that with the guitar and the drums, and then you will end up exactly where you started except everything is louder. You just have to live with the fact that there will be some stuff that I don’t hear properly. So, this time, we had a different approach. We started to find the space in the sound for everything and make sure you EQ it, then you would hear everything. It didn’t matter if it sounded good or not; you’d find the space first and then, when everything was in place, then we would try to work on the sound.
MD: Yeah, considering the amount of instrumentation in the songs, it’s an incredible mix. I gather some of the material was written as far back as 2004 during the ‘Lemuria’ and ‘Sirius B’ era?
CJ: All of the songs.
MD: Really?
CJ: From the same pool of songs.
MD: Did you develop those songs when you came to record them for this album or were they more or less the same when you initially composed them?
CJ: Some of them are exactly like how they were written and some of the others I modified them. And then there were a few new songs because we took ‘Adulruna Rediviva’ and ‘Der Mitternachtslöwe’ which we put on ‘Gothic Kabbalah’ so that left three slots. ‘Adulruna…’ was a very long track so we could write a couple of new songs. We recorded more songs than we needed so we actually removed two songs which turned out to be two of the old songs. I think there’s like four new songs all in all.
MD: The new album completes the quadrilogy of albums in a concept that began with the dual disc ‘Lemuria’ and ‘Sirius B’ – is there any more mileage in that concept to extend it to a pentalogy perhaps?
CJ: No, it’s a quadrilogy because they were from the same pool of songs. We had so many songs that we could make three albums and then we thought, if we're gonna do one by one, we’re always gonna have shit lots of songs lying around for several albums, but to do three albums at the same time, nah. So we decided to do two albums, you know, to catch up a bit, and we’ll have ‘Sitra Ahra’ saved for later. So it was a trilogy originally but two songs from the trilogy I put on ‘Gothic Kabbalah’ which kind of got related so was a quadrilogy. So you can say that ‘Sitra Ahra’ and ‘Lemuria/Sirius B’ are the siblings and ‘Gothic Kabbalah’ is the cousin.
MD: So the next album will be starting out afresh and composing with the new members?
CJ: Yes.
MD: So can we expect a very different Therion for the next album maybe?
CJ: No idea!
MD: Good answer!
CJ: We have no idea. There’s a little demon sitting on my shoulder singing songs in my ear. I cannot compose anything on the ball, it just doesn’t work. So whatever I have to live with, everyone else has to live with.