Therion - Gothic Kabbalah
Nuclear Blast
Symphonic Heavy Metal
Disc 1: 8 songs (38'53") Disc 2: 7 songs (46'24")
Release year: 2007
Therion, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Adam
Album of the month
A double disc metal album has become a bit of a scarcity these days, while successfully pulling this feat off has been even more elusive. This is the rare occurrence achieved by Sweden’s Therion with their previous opus, Lemuria/Sirius B. The unfair disadvantage put on a band trying to follow up on double-disc affair of that quality is that it will be difficult for anything short of an equal in terms of quantity and scope not to come off as disappointing or underdone. Therion appear to have tried to intercept this problem by releasing, gasp!, another double disc set with the curiously titled Gothic Kabbalah.

Before I get to the album, there are a couple of changes that bear mentioning. First and foremost, Christofer Johnsson, guitarist and songwriter, has officially retired from his vocal duties. This, of course, means that Gothic Kabbalah is completely devoid of death metal growls. To offset this, a few new vocalists have been added to the Therion roster. Besides Mats Leven, who also sang on Lemuria/Sirius B and handles the majority of lead vocals here, vocals are performed by a variety of others. In total, there are seven vocal contributors, with Leven, Snowy Shaw (formerly of Dream Evil and others), Katarina Lilja, and Anna Nyhlin handling most of them. What this all adds up to is a an album that sounds unquestionably different than Lemuria/Sirius B, while still following its formula of grand compositions utilizing the symphonic and operatic elements listeners have become accustomed to hearing. The symphonic portion is mostly simulated this time around, with the exception of a few flute solos, two organists (one of whom is Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep), and producer Stefan Glaumann’s assist on tambourine.

Once the opener, Der Mitternachtslöwe, kicks into high gear, it becomes clear that this album’s title is not a descriptive one in terms of musical style. In fact, the title refers to the mythological subject matter chosen by lyricist and scholar Thomas Karlsson, who has handled this facet of the band for over ten years, while never being an actual member of the band. To hammer this point home, Johnsson and fellow guitarist Kristian Niemann expertly wrap their metal atmosphere around male and female vocals that range from low and cryptic to soaring and beautiful. In particular, Lilja and Nyhlin’s dynamic vocals are truly breathtaking. The piano crash during the chorus reminds me a bit of Rush’s Passage to Bangkok. During the title track, Rolf Pilotti’s wonderful flute solo introduces a folk sound that is revisited numerous times throughout the album. The most amazing aspect of this album is the number of songs that are absolutely uplifting, the first of which is Perennial Sophia. The beautiful female vocal harmonic arrangements are due most of the credit, a tactic which appears to be a favorite of drummer Petter Karlsson, as he uses them extensively for all the Gothic Kabbalah tracks on which he is given songwriting credit. The two male vocal leads turn in their finest performances on the next two tracks. On Wisdom and the Cage, Shaw literally covers the spectrum, ranging from low, angry rasps to higher clean vocals seamlessly, while Leven belts out some awesome power metal vocals on Son of the Staves of Time, a track on which he also composed the music. A second Petter Karlsson gem, Trul, is the finest track on the first disc to my ears. The vocal arrangement is excellent, and furthered by the pulsating guitars of Johnsson and Niemann and another flute solo. The portion towards the end of the song where chanted vocals accompany the duel guitar pace is beyond words. It is really enjoyable to see glance over the songwriting credits of Gothic Kabbalah while listening to its tracks. Each different writer brings a distinctly different approach. In contrast to the aforementioned female vocal harmonies favored by Karlsson, Johnsson’s compositions are more symphonic and grandiose, while Kristian Niemann’s songs are more guitar oriented. A good example of Johnsson’s style can be heard on Three Treasures, where his massive orchestral arrangement gives the listener a feeling that they are listening to the soundtrack of an epic journey. Niemann’s penchant for a more traditional metal sound is evidenced by TOF – The Trinity, which is primarily a speed metal affair containing what is easily the most pulverizing guitar performance on this album. Although the different minds bring varied and unique aspects to the overall sound, Gothic Kabbalah never sounds hodgepodge. In addition, it appears that each writer is subtly influenced by the style preferred by the other members. The Falling Stone, though written by Karlsson, incorporates blistering guitar riffs with an excellent solo that Niemann has to be proud of. This is the ideal foundation for an outstanding female vocal duet, making for striking results and my favorite song on the album. Everything is expertly wrapped up in the epic closing opus, Adulruna Rediviva. Weighing in at over thirteen minutes, and containing more than a fair amount of stylistic and tempo changes, this mammoth song displays a truly progressive approach.

Only Therion could follow a sprawling double disc release such as Lemuria/Sirius B with another of equal grandeur, and Gothic Kabbalah is assuredly that. A truly magical experience that, despite its many different facets and epic scheme, never feels over the top. All the songs are excellent, with the exception of Chain of Minerva, which I just couldn’t connect with for whatever reason. Otherwise, this album follows the standard of quality we have all come to expect from this amazing band. It’s far too early to know for sure, but Gothic Kabbalah looks to be a strong candidate for album of the year honors.
Killing Songs :
Der Mitternachtslöwe, Perennial Sophia, Trul, TOF - The Trinity, The Falling Stone, Aduluna Rediviva
Adam quoted 93 / 100
Other albums by Therion that we have reviewed:
Therion - Beloved Antichrist reviewed by Goat and quoted 30 / 100
Therion - Vovin reviewed by Jared and quoted CLASSIC
Therion - Les Fleurs du Mal reviewed by Olivier and quoted no quote
Therion - Of Darkness.... reviewed by Goat and quoted 79 / 100
Therion - Sitra Ahra reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
To see all 10 reviews click here
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