A few days ago, on August 9th, Therion album “Theli” celebrated its 20th anniversary.
This album has been considered by many as the seminal album to the genre of Symphonic Metal by adding the voices of choirs and an heavier influence of keyboards than any bands previously done.
The idea of blending classical with metal is not new and surely can be traced back to the progressive rock from the 70s in which complex melodies and the blending of electrical guitars with other instruments (in particular with keyboards) was seeded. This was further translated into the British New Wave of Heavy Metal in which bands such as Bruce Dickinson’s Iron Maiden, Rob Halford’s Judas Priest and Ronnie Dio’s Rainbow were already mixing some elaborated guitar riffs with tale-telling lyrics.
In an another location, Yngwie Malmsteen, as a rebel teenager decided to become an outcast from a family deeply entrenched in classical music and decided to infuse his experience of classical music into an electrical guitar, using his magic touch and incredible guitar play to instillate a classical music sense into metal via the neoclassical metal genre.
But yet, not much bands were blending much metal with orchestral arrangement and opera choirs.
Indeed, it will come from the most unprobable band that will come the spark that will create the symphonic metal genre and inspire off-spins in other genres that have a more aggressive pattern, as the blending of death metal with symphonic elements gave rise to melodic death metal. It will come from a Swedish death metal band, inspired itself by Celtic Frost, a Swiss-German black metal band created in the early 1980s. It will come from a band that never settled in a niche and always experimented new ideas and concepts, often raising the ire of its fanbase. This band is Therion, their name inspired by Celtic Frost “To Mega-Therion” released in 1985 and already experimenting with orchestral elements.
The origin of symphonic metal is not easy to attribute to one single band. I personally consider Nightwish and Within Temptation as being the first generation of symphonic metal bands by the presence of a trained soprano female-fronting singer and a fine arrangement of keyboards as the bands that set the standard for many bands.
Therion set the the first milestone of symphonic metal with their 1996 album “Theli”, deviating from their original death metal influence.
The album starts with “Preludium” an orchestral instrumental sequence using a synthesizer keyboard, giving this particular obscure and occult sound, setting a certain prototypic sound and showing the potential of keyboards to achieve the classical sound.
Then comes “To Mega Therion” in which we are straight welcomed by a female choir, followed by a more conventional metal sound. But this track sets the tone, we will have a blend of the beauty of a classical choir with the harshness of metal. It continues with “Cult of the Shadow”, this times blending the classical with the gothic metal and “In The Desert of Set” that has a tune predicting the masterpiece song “Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah” that will come few years later. This is the song that set Therion into the Symphonic Metal and that make the mark of using professional male and female choirs all along their next discography decade. Then comes an interlude named “Interludium” rightly showing the potential and blasting effect of mixing professional vocals with metal. “Opus Eclipse” comes and heavily rely on the violin, an instrument that will become a staple of any symphonic metal bands with an variable usage of it. “Siren of The Woods” is certainly the lighter and ballad track of the album, simple but efficient. You can feel in it the potential of Therion to mix and arrange the two genres into one. Finally the album concludes with “Grand Finale/Postludium” a fast-paced and captivating track heavily relying on the keyboards.
This album is certainly not the typical symphonic metal album you will hear in 2016, but you can feel in that it brought the prototype of something we never have heard before. It came right at the time when metal got faded by the exuberance of “hair metal” and the fad of “grunge”. It also got inspiration from the darker side of metal, especially from the gothic and doom metal genre that were remaining underground and accessible only by being initiated. To listen to Paradise Lost or Anathema, you had to hang around with goth friends as the Internet just started to get public and yet the MP3 format had to come in.
Therion indeed came at the right time and inspired many other bands to take inspirations from them. If Therion did not step into that direction, the current symphonic metal scene would be completely different and maybe it would be among other crypto-sub genres that have a very limited number of bands and distribution.