When you’re growing up, you tend to interpret certain situations as life changing. It was a great many years ago when a friend came to me ecstatically because his dad has just showed him a band we might both like. Little did we both know though, that band would stick around in our music repertoire for years to come. But is the current iteration of Therion still rich in music quality or is this just a severe case of nostalgia? We were going to answer that question on the night of March 6th at Dom Omladine Beograda.
But first, we had some warming up to do. First on stage was a band called The Devil. A significantly early start before 7pm, so they were greeted by only a handful of us. Now then, I’m all for breaking the mold and thinking outside the box and all that, but the gimmick of this band is the following: They play their instruments while wearing masks and the only thing resembling vocals is the snippets from different recorded historic events, played over the PA. Now, that includes the Moon landing, the moment when JFK was shot, Gulf war, 9/11 and yeah you see where this is going. The message, I suppose, is anti-war and anti-establishment with lots of Illuminati symbolism but it’s so random and inconsistent so if you didn’t get what was all that about, neither did I! The musicianship was pretty bland, uninteresting and I got the impression, often off sync. But at least they were sharply dressed, so I give them that!
Things have kicked up a notch afterwards after the stage was taken over by German alt-metal band Null Positiv. Their mindset and musical approach was obvious enough from their “tribal” style makeup and apparel. It didn’t take long though, for the performance to become a show starring one lead. The out-of-this-world kind of energy and vocal potency that was demonstrated by the vocalist Elli Berlin caught me completely by surprise. Effortlessly jumping back and forth between clean and harsh vocals (often within the same verse), combined with just about the perfect vocal weight (I think that’s what it’s called) made it pretty clean this is an up and coming force. Think Shadow, but without the Japanese factor. There was only one itty bitty off factor, which was the lyrics of the songs, and it’s only because I can’t speak a word of German. Everyone though, was completely fired up and their show flew by in a heartbeat. You’d generally expect that level from a veteran band with years of stage experience but no, Null Positiv is only a few years old!
What happened then was what I’d call a “paradigm shift”. After the vicious display from the Germans, time was right for a metal opera of Imperial Age, coming from the far east known as Moscow. If it wasn’t apparent a moment ago, it definitely was now, the sound quality on this event was a level above to what we have gotten used to! The trio of vocals, Corn, Anna and Aor were absolutely shining on stage as they took us on a journey to find our inner strength. Their latest addition to the mix, called “The Legacy of Atlantis” was heavily represented and sounded quite dominant. The production effort on that thing was very serious, as the band pointed out with gratitude at one point. After all, their label ‘is’ called Adulruna, so yeah you can see who also has a saying in this, if you know what I mean. Although powerful, the experience felt very calming and rewarding, it was a nice warmup for what was to come.
Making a promise to myself not to check out setlists from previous events, I was pretty much completely oblivious to what we could hear. The event was advertised to showcase the metal opera “Beloved Antichrist” that Therion have released. So, hearing the title track as the opener was quite fitting. It was instantly followed by the classic “Blood of Kingu”. We all feel pretty pumped when a band unexpectedly drops a bomb in the form of a song that has gathered quite the following. In this case, it was less of a bomb and more of a goddamn depth charge. But I’d like to digress a bit, when Thomas Vikstrom took over for Mats Leven back in the day, he had some big shoes to fill. Blood of Kingu was one of Leven’s songs, and many people, me included, were certain that nobody, however talented, could possibly be able to sing it as well as he could. I’ve seen time and time again, how despite the unimaginable talent, one simply doesn’t fit in the concept. Needless to say, Vikstrom ended up being a sound choice then, and now, as he was absolutely on point. It felt like singing was as easy for him as talking is for the rest of us. It was evident at that point that Therion have had more than just a couple ideas before stepping on stage of this venue. Excerpts from Antichrist had a CD-like sound quality, which, again, is something we don’t really see often. The aforementioned vocalist Elli Berlin did an unexpected brief cameo at one point during the part “Din”, as the crowd erupted in excitement.
The opera bits eventually thinned out as the gig went on, and the band broke out their vintage stuff and fan favourites like “Nifelheim” and immediately after, the super heavy “Ginnungagap” which with this lineup had such a loaded sound to it, the kind of I remember hearing many years ago. “Typhoon”, as you know, has a segment with harsh vocals. Unsurprisingly it was nailed, by Vikstrom. The younger one. His daughter, Linnea. Quite a family, those Vikstroms!
As an interlude, there’s one thing that needs to be said about the fanbase though. Therion is a band with quite some longevity, they’ve been going strong for 30+ years. It makes perfect sense that there’s quite a cult following going on. So, when live, the crowd shows a fanatical fervor that’s far from common in this day and age, in my experience. The atmosphere of almost hypnotized zealotry was cemented by the haunting balad, “Lemuria”. The “Khlysti Evangelist”, their rendering of the story of Rasputin, made everyone in the crowd additionally happy, as Thomas Vikstrom had a bit of a “wardrobe malfunction” accident. After “Son of the Staves of Time”, it was time for a breather.
Hearing the opening of the legendary “Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah” sent chills straight down my spine, and then Chris Johnsson himself took the mic and shared his own sentiments with the crowd. Everything was then set for the grand finale. The one song that had started everything. Every word, every note, forever burned in my memory. To! Mega! Therion!
Finally I can answer my own question from the beginning, was it nostalgia driving me all along? No, it was not, and the presence of many young faces around me solidified it. Therion are mighty still, the rest need to step up their game!