Therion - Sitra Ahra

Nuclear Blast
Produced by Tue Madsen

Following a period of uncertainty when band leader Christofer Johnsson parted company with all other members of the band which had so successfully recorded and toured the Gothic Kabbalah album, Therion have produced one of their most surprisngly good albums to date.

Therion have never officially appointed permanent vocalists besides Johnsson, but following the anniversary tour for Theli, former Candlemass vocalist Thomas Vikström was made a full-time member of the band, and here he reunites with Snowy Shaw and soprano Lori Lewis. The trio were the cornerstone of the last tour, proving to be one of the bands most popular combinations of singers to date.

Shaw left the band due to throat problems in July 2010 after recording of the album was complete, but returned almost immediately in August when things didn't work out for him as a member of Dimmu Borgir, and guitarist Christian Vidal joined in June 2010 to add the final guitar parts to the album. The rest of the band is made up of drummer Johan Koleberg and bassist Nalle Påhlsson, who joined in August 2008. Guests here include Ofermod vocalist Mika Hakola, former drummer/singer Petter Karlsson and opera singer Marcus Jupither.

More so than Gothic Kabbalah the majority of the vocals here are operatic or classical in nature, with less emphasis on heavy metal singing, so although the songs are all still very much metal songs, there's a much stronger classical feel this time, and that helps to make the album far more coherent, rather than a collection of individual songs. Sitra Ahra is a much more involving album, closer to Lemuria and Sirius B, and may take one or two listens before it can be fully appreciated, but a little persistence will be rewarded.

Many of the songs were actually written during the same sessions as Lemuria and Sirius B, including the third part of the Kali Yoga song trilogy which was previewed on the anniversary tour, and were always intended to form a third album in that trilogy, rather than just being the songs which didn't make the cut. They decided at the time to record and release the first two of the trilogy and save the third. Adulruna Rediviva and Der Mitternachtslöwe were borrowed for Gothic Kabbalah, tieing that album to the trilogy as well, so there are also some newly written tracks included here to replace them.

The album flows very well throughout and the only slightly out of place song is the short Din, which features Ofermod vocalist Mika Hakola providing some black metal vocals, and threatens a return to Therion's origins as a black metal band with its fast, aggressive riffs. Some operatic vocals help to tie it in to the rest of the album, but it does feel like filler.

The main triumph for Sitra Ahra is that almost every track, no matter how diverse, has an immediately memorable hook, be that the groove of the title track's chorus, the intro to Hellequin (one of two to features Marcus Jupither), Snowy Shaw's aggressive vocals on Unguentum Sabbati, After The Inquisition: Children of The Stone's medieval melodies, or the myriad styles of ten-minute epic centrepiece Land of Canaan.

Somehow Sitra Ahra manages to be as ambitious and varied on one disc as Gothic Kabbalah was across two and that slightly more concise delivery is of benefit to the material. Therion's popularity has grown steadily worldwide with their many recent successful tours, and this album sounds very much like a continuation of the sound they achieved at those shows with the vikström/Shaw/Lewis partnership. Everyone who enjoyed their live performances should find a lot to like here.

On the 2010 European tour Nalle Påhlsson will be temporarily replaced by Grip Inc./Enemies of The Sun guitarist Waldemar Sorychta.

“ far more coherent ”

Tracklist: Sitra Ahra / Kings of Edom / Unguentum Sabbati / Land of Canaan / Hellequin / 2012 / Cu Chulain / Kali Yuga III / The Shells Are Open / Din / After The Inquisition: Children of The Stone

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2010, Albums, Progressive,

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