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Celebrators of Becoming (4 DVD/2 CD Box Set)

Review by Julie Knispel

A celebration of all things Therion, Celebrators of Becoming also marks the fifteenth anniversary of the release of the seminal black/prog/symphonic metal band’s debut album. The set is packed full of material: 2 full concerts on DVD, a collection of every promo short form video, a full length tour diary covering the entire 2004-2005 touring cycle, and a historical disc featuring footage from throughout the band’s lengthy career. Above and beyond the video footage, the full audio track from the band’s 2004 concert in Mexico City (featured on DVD 1 of the set) is included on CD as well. In total, Celebrators of Becoming features over 7 hours of material.

The band has taken many forms over the past fifteen-plus years. Starting out as a more traditional death metal band, over time the band evolved as founder and band leader Christofer Johnsson introduced classical elements, including orchestration and operatic/choir vocals. This metamorphosis can be traced on DVD 4 of this set, which opens with a performance of “Paroxysmal Holocaust,” the title track from one of Therion’s earliest demos, recorded live in Strömstad, Sweden in 1989. The performance is powerful and energetic, and overcomes the limitations of the original video source. Video quality on this disc varies from rough multi-generation videotape through professionally shot footage for European television. Some behind the scenes footage and band commentary help take the viewer on a musical journey through 2001.

Jumping back, content-wise, the most recent touring incarnation of the band can be seen on DVD 1. A full concert recorded live in Mexico City in 2004, the band is in fine form throughout, displaying the grandeur and classical complexity that has raised Therion above most typical metal bands. Multiple male and female choristers join lead singers Mats Levén and Karin Fjellander in presenting 2 hours of material ranging from the lush to the more brutal and metallic. A second full pro-shot concert is included on DVD 3, recorded at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany in 2001. A much shorter set, this concert showcases the band at their choral height, with nearly all vocals handled by a group of tuxedoed and evening gowned singers. Despite the festival’s emphasis on slightly more brutal metal, Therion received a rapturous response from the tens of thousands in attendance. DVD 3 is filled out with a complete set of the band’s promotional videos, the earliest of which (“Pandemonic Outbreak,” 1992) shows Therion in full on death metal mode. Just one year later, the video for “Black Rose” shows a band leaning more toward symphonic metal, as a choir of singers adds lushness to a still incredibly heavy song. Skipping past several videos, the highlight is perhaps “Summernight City,” one of the most surreal and oddly addicting videos ever created by any band. Therion covers the Abba hit in their own inimitable style, remaining true to the original while adding their own characteristic spin. The video is entirely done in 1920’s period dress, sepia tone, and shows wonderful creativity. Finally, the art film “The Golden Embrace” (scored by Christoffer Johnsson) and video of Lemuria/Sirius B recording sessions complete this disc’s contents. The remaining DVD in this massive box set is a full-length tourography, covering the entire 2004-2005 tour, with footage recorded in Illinois, Bolivia, Austria, Russia, and over a dozen other locations. Highlights include an performance of the Russian national anthem in Moscow, a riotous cover of Motörhead’s “Iron Fist” in Bucharest, moments from a full day in La Paz, Bolivia, and many more than can possibly be listed. Despite the band’s serious demeanor on stage, this tourography shows that they are all just normal people, dealing with the rigors of touring in much the same way the average person handles their day to day life. Therion’s touring life is far from glamorous, and this documentary offers plenty of proof of that. Quite simply put, Celebrators of Becoming is the one release any Therion fan must have in their collection. Furthermore, it stands as the perfect introduction to every phase and style the band has to offer, and is a fantastic starting point for any listener new to the musical world Therion has created over the past 15-plus years.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at

Track by Track Review
This introductory track is little more than 27 seconds of crowd screams, chanting, and a slight orchestral tape leading into the first actual Therion performance, “Blood of Kingu.”
Blood of Kingu
An incredibly powerful opening track, this song opened Therion’s Sirius B album, one of two simultaneous releases the band was touring behind at the concert this show was recorded. New singer Mats Levén’s vocals have a bit more of a typical rock star/lead singer vibe to them, but he acquits himself well on this piece.
Uthark Runa
Heavy distorted bass and powerhouse drumming propels this heavy track from Lemuria. Lead guitar closely mimics the ascending chord sequence, and the male choral members get an opportunity to show off their contribution to Therion’s live sound, their chanted vocals adding a dark militaristic color to the proceedings.
Seven Secrets of the Sphinx
A driving beat, hummable guitar lines, and loads of choral vocals feature in this piece from the Deggial album.
Levén and Karin Fjellander trade lead vocals as the Therion choir adds a lush backing. The band is in fine form, with Johnsson and Kristian Neimann handling some tight harmonized guitar parts. The song has a strong Viking sound to it, as befits a piece about the Norse land of the gods.
Son of the Sun
“Son of the Sun” opens with one of the biggest, most blatant guitar hooks in the Therion songbook, but the band pulls it off without falling prey to cliche. Less than 20 minutes into the concert, Levén’s rock vocals no longer sound out of place; they have become just as important a part of the band’s sonic characteristic as the choirs or orchestrated instrumental sections that typify the current Therion sound.
Invocation of Naamah
Originally released on 1996’s Theli album, “Invocation of Naamah” gives listeners their first taste of Christoffer Johnsson’s traditional death metal vocals. Gruff, screamed, yet easily understandable, they fit the breakneck pace and dark feel this song offers. Choral vocals still feature heavily here, and one can hear a turn to classical song structures and arrangements, even with the music played by electric rock instrumentation.
Levén and Johnsson handle the majority of vocals on this song from Lemuria. Levén spits the lyrics venomously, while Johnsson adds deep death grunts beneath. The effect is disturbingly powerful, and just right for this metallic track.
Draconian Trilogy
This track hails from Vovin, the band’s “commercial” breakthrough (the original album sold twice as many copies as any previous Therion release). “Draconian Trilogy” is Therion at their early symphonic peak; offering up a variety of moods, tempos and musical feels. Nearly every vocal style is showcased here, Levén’s vocals as emotionally powerful as anywhere else in this show.
Flesh of the Gods
Very little in the way of between song banter is offered up at this Therion concert: one of the very few instances prefaces this piece. “Flesh of the Gods” opens with a strong 1980’s/1990’s metal vibe, complete with postured lead vocals, pinched guitar harmonics, and exhortations to the audience, but the addition of occasional choral voices marks this as more than just a cliche slab of metal.
The first of two consecutive tracks from 2001’s Secret of the Runes, the song’s title refers to the Norse land of the dwarves. Karin Fjellander’s vocals hit incredibly crystalline high notes, sustaining them with a clear, pure vibrato.
Named for, and telling the tale of, a space between the worlds of fire and ice where life was first created in Norse mythology, “Ginnungagap” is a solid rocker colored with harmony guitars and an insistent rhythm that can easily get an audience up and chanting. Ample evidence of this effect can be heard throughout the track.
In Remembrance
This piece was originally a cast off from the Theli album, finally released on the pseudo-compilation A'arab Zaraq - Lucid Dreaming. Johnsson introduces the song, telling the assembled crowd how this is among several pieces the band had never played before. Levén’s vocals range from deeply gruff to tinged with classical vibrato. Johan Niemann gets a short bass solo, and his tone is punchy without losing any warmth or roundness.
Wild Hunt
Speed metal with choral vocals, this track from Vovin boosts the energy level several notches. Johan Niemann and Petter Karlsson handle the breakneck rhythms without breaking much of a sweat, and Johnsson closes the song with a speedy tapped guitar solo.
The Invincible
This song brings the mood and energy down slightly, yet Therion maintains their emotional and compositional intensity with powerful choral/lead vocal interplay and smooth transitions from slower vocal to heavier instrumental sections without giving in to any temptation for wankery.
Kristian Neimann on bass gets to open this piece from Lepaca Kliffoth while Johnsson has another opportunity to add his distinctive lead vocals to the sonic mix. Here he switches from traditional death metal grunting to vocals more reminiscent of the parallel-developing black metal scene.
Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah
Symphonic and grandiose, this track might have made a far more appropriate opener than “Blood of Kingu,” as it has a processional, prelude-type feel. The song is strongly eastern/Arabic in mode, its martial beat and chanted vocals setting this piece apart from any other from this concert. It offers an opportunity for audience participation, which the crowd accepts with energetic abandon. Fjellander’s soprano vocals take on a lilting tone that is the aural equivalent of butterflies flittering in the air; ethereal and fleeting, her performance here may be her strongest on this album.
The Khlysti Evangelist
Another track from the then current Sirius B release, this is a somewhat more straightforward rock composition. Karlsson’s drum fills keep things interesting on the bottom end, while Johan Neimann’s solos add color and excitement, with plenty of two-hand tapping and tremolo divebombing.
Siren of the Woods
Organ and pastoral guitar are the lead-in on this somber song. Fjellander handles the majority of vocals here, and her tone is rich and velvety. “Siren of the Woods” offers up the most spiritually gothic feel of any piece played at this show, with bass so dark and deep that it will rumble windows loose while Fjellander’s soprano threatens to shatter them. This track is the emotional highlight of the performance and album.
Bringing to mind the end of the Mayan calendar, said to prophesy the end of the world in 2012, this piece includes choruses in Spanish glorifying the feathered serpent god so named. When one considers the close connection Mexican ancestry has to the worship of this deity, the audience’s respectful, rapt response to the powerful performance of this song is easily understood. Johan Neimann’s guitar sweeps and soars, closing out the song and leading the band into the next track.
Wine of Aluqah
A driving, energetic performance of this track is highlighted by nearly orchestral vocal arrangements, with the touring choir replacing the strings and woodwinds one can very nearly hear. The choral blend is excellent, with neither male nor female vocals dominating, and adding significant lushness to an otherwise heavy, metallic piece.
Cults of the Shadow
The title to this box set can be heard in this piece from Theli, with lyrics evoking significant magicks and mysteries ancient and arcane. The song opens with a repeated organ motif and warm bass playing from Kristian Neimann. Portions of the lyrics seem to have been taken from Akkadian or some other Afro-Asiatic/semetic language, and fit the mysterious, ritualistic tone perfectly. “Cults of the Shadow” is nothing if not a musical invocation of sublime skill.
To Mega Therion
This song, and Therion’s name, was taken from the extreme metal classic album by Swiss masterminds Celtic Frost. Some of the best choral singing of the performance and a galloping beat simply add to lyrics that invoke the names of Baal, Fenris, and other incarnations of the Great Beast himself. Translated from Latin, the song title is itself an invocation to “The Great Beast.” Johnsson and Johan Neimann trade off solos and share harmonies that musically imply the flames by which the titular beast will arrive.
Iron Fist
Therion covers the Motörhead classic to close out the show in powerful and energetic fashion, Johnsson handling the vocals in a manner of which Lemmy would certainly approve.
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