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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Therion

Sitra Ahra

Review by Mike Korn

Combining the crunch of heavy metal and the multifaceted bombast of classical music is nothing new. Bands as diverse as Manowar and Dimmu Borgir have been experimenting with the combination for years and you could say that even Led Zeppelin took the first crack at it. But nobody has perfected it quite the way that Therion has.

Starting out as a straight up oldschool death metal band years ago, the band has gradually added more and more symphonic elements to their sound and for the most part have left their death metal roots behind. Now utilizing an actual orchestra as well as various trained opera singers, Therion has arguably pioneered a new genre: opera metal.

The balance is tough to maintain. Tilting one way or the other results in a lessening of the band's unique sound. With Sitra Ahra, Therion has found a pleasing mix of metal and symphonic elements and have even added some new musical touches not heard before. The crunch of the guitars is still there, as well as the standard "rock" vocals of Thomas Vikstrom. The band also continues to deal with mythical and mystic themes and "Sitra Ahra" ranges all over the world for inspiration.  Adventurous prog, metal and classical fans alike should be able to dig these pompous yet catchy tunes.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Sitra Ahra

Mixed male and female opera vocals open this up, but a very cool heavy riff with a Middle Eastern/Oriental feel then kicks in. Some beautiful female vocals similar to Epica or Lacuna Coil dominate the verses, but the chorus is a powerful and unforgettable refrain from a mixed choir. In fact, this song throws a ton of vocal styles at the listener. Despite the plethora of vocals, it's a remarkably catchy song and very easy to get into.

Kings of Edom
Gentle piano and flute serves as an introduction before a very strident and powerful male voice kicks in on top of a mid-paced metal riff. Again, we get a deft mixture of male and female vocals. There's some excellent twin guitar work. This track has a very urgent, bombastic feel to it and it ends with a very striking combination of speed metal and classical elements. This is quite a lengthy song.
Unguentum Sabbati
The metal elements are more pronounced right from the start and the guitar really dominates with a dark, grinding feel. Of course, the classical angle is not neglected and we get some dramatic female opera vocals added to the mix. I really dig the way the horns accent some of the guitar riffs here.
Land of Canaan
You better pack a lunch for this track, which goes over ten minutes and throws almost every kind of sound you can think of at you...and then some. Not all of it works...the insertion of a country-sounding harmonica lick is really jarring...but the ambition is breath-taking. Some of it is like psychedelic rock mixed with opera vocals. Some of it sounds almost like Jewish/Russian folk, and other parts are quite heavy and very pompous. Flute, accordion and harpsichord can also be found in this epic tune. It's all a bit too much for me....and for most metal fans, I feel.
Hellequin
The opening is hushed and mysterious, but gives way to crunching guitar and a very bombastic assault of opera vocals. This song really rocks! I love the way the vocals flow....there's even some black metal croaks. It's another showcase for a smorgasbord of vocal styles, but I think this track is the best on the album at mixing them smoothly together. The deep male bass is outstanding! This is a song for those into hard-driving metal and great classical vocals both.
2012
This is a very dark sounding and metallically oriented track. The strident male vocals remind me of Geoff Tate at his most emotional. In fact, there is more than a trace of Queenryche's Mindcrime here, but mixed with Therion's classical instrumentation and huge sounding choirs.
The Shells Are Open
This is almost comical sounding with a Jewish/klezmer type riff to kick it off. Yet that slinky violin is also quite catchy! This is another very dark sounding tune, but one that depends more on an ominous sounding male choir than metal riffing. One of the least heavy songs on show, this still has "weight" to it and you can almost picture demonic characters capering around while it plays.
Din
In contrast to the previous tune, this comes blasting out of the gate with nothing but pure speedy metal and angry rasping vocals. Some of the high pitched vocals remind me of Halford at his most agonized or even King Diamond. This is by far the most raging and purest metal tune, although classical vocals still make their appearance.
Cu Chulain
The metal pounding continues with this tale of the famed Irish folk hero. Along with "Hellequin,” this is the best mixture of metal and opera on the record. The soaring chorus is unforgettable and the powerful mid-tempo crunch gives the tune a war-like feel. Fans of recent European folk metal like Turisas, Amon Amarth and Tyr should really enjoy this.
Kali Yuga III
As you might expect, this song has the exotic flavor of the Orient to it. Again, the number is compact and very catchy, mixing cracking metal riffs with an outstanding variety of vocals. I love the Hammond organ work here, which gives the tune a kind of retro feel as well.
After The Inquisition: Children of the Stone
I'm not sure I would have ended the album with this subdued, downbeat track. Focusing mostly on acoustic guitar and keyboards, a children's choir enters the fray for the first time. I probably would have flipped this with "Kali Yuga III" or "Cu Chulain,” either of which would have provided a more thunderous conclusion than this, which is the most restrained song on show.
 
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