In the nearly 30 years that he’s been working as Therion, Christofer Johnsson’s contribution to symphonic rock is profound. Yet Therion have never quite leapt to the dizzy heights of, say, Nightwish. Perhaps that’s why the venue isn’t as packed as it could be. There again, it could just be because it’s January and it’s cold.
Tonight offers a chance to see Luciferian Light Orchestra, a 70s-style occult-inspired outfit concocted by Johnsson. It’s an exciting prospect, knowing how bombastic his live shows can be with Therion. Will there be billowing flames or fake blood? Some dry ice, perhaps? Alas, LLO are a rather flaccid offering. It’s titillating to see Johnsson on stage ‘in disguise’ (hat, face scarf and mask), and his bassist looks like he’s walked off the set of The Blues Brothers, but singer Mina Karadzic is about as satanic as a flannel, and even the music falls a little flat, hampered by an irksome crackling guitar lead.
By contrast, Therion are the spectacle we were hoping for. Comprised of seven members, including Johnsson on guitar and three main singers – Thomas Vikström, Linnea Vikström (Thomas’ daughter) and Chiara Malvestiti – it’s quite a sight to see this many musicians on stage at once. But what’s even more fascinating is the strange, almost carnival-like way in which they don’t quite fit together. There’s Johnsson, dressed like a period drama extra; the Mad Max-style muscle-bound bassist Nalle ‘Grizzly’ Påhlsson; Linnea, with a shock of bright pink hair, sporting a studded bra; and Malvestiti, their corseted soprano. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does.
There’s nothing new to promote – it’s really just a tour for shits and giggles – but with 15 studio albums behind them, Therion have plenty of tracks to choose from, and they start with a decent dip into 2001’s Secret Of The Runes. A fiddle signals the start of Vanaheim, a rousing number stuffed with choral layers. In this environment, the epic scale of the music doesn’t quite have room to breathe – the sound should be beefier and the guitars should be louder. The vocals are extremely good, though, especially from Malvestiti.
Theli, their 1996 album, gets a good look‑in, with Invocation Of Naamah shining. This song brings together a choral call to arms with neo-classical persuasions and plenty of riffs. Elsewhere, elements of folk make an appearance, while Son Of The Staves Of Time, although sounding remarkably like Abba’s Take A Chance On Me, weaves in all sorts of weird and wonderful styles, from opera to 80s hard rock.
It’s hard to know how to perceive Therion. On one hand they look like symphonic rock’s version of fringe theatre. On the other, they basically invented the genre. And while they might not have the fan following to put on huge shows like Nightwish, there’s a huge amount of talent here, as is proven by a heroic stab at The Rise Of Sodom And Gomorrah for the encore.