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Therion - Crowning of Atlantis
Review: Two divisions separate this album from the underground past of Therion: aesthetically, it is a fusion of classical vocals/keyboards, progressive lead guitar and moronic 1980s heavy metal; musically, it is composed more like rock music which aims for a harmony of notes and not structure as occurs in underground metal (more like baroque music or free jazz).
A good comparison would be Queensryche if they had focused less on writing complex riff structures and more on lead guitars, or later Iron Maiden, and for this kind of listening experience, it's quite successful: the simple, bass-heavy riffs throb along and while we the listeners are paying attention to the pleasant female and choir vocals interlaced with elegant keyboards, the song reaches a point where lead guitar can guide it. And here is where Therion really shines: it's hard to recall a heavy metal band since Deep Purple with this much poetic sentiment in its lead playing, or as much rhythmic or harmonic variation. It's a mistake to compare the lead guitar exclusively to progressive rock, as its sensibilities are reminiscent of the later European classical-influence jazz guitar, with poignant staccato fills and pensive pauses.
Although the choice of appearance is disgustingly cheesy, and this music resembles radio AOR more than heavy metal in its dependence on long verses and choruses building two-dimensional moods (the best public art captures a very simple mixed emotion so that anyone can groove to it), it is a culmination of everything Therion has attempted since Ho Drakon Ho Megas, and has been magnificently successful for them. Try not to think of it as the same Therion that recorded a true underground metal epic, Beyond Sanctorum, but imagine it as a heavy metaller's Dave Mathews Band. A cover of "Crazy Nights" and three live tracks augment the consistently strong album material, the quasi-epic "To Mega Therion" revealing how far this band have come in adapting to their new style by being relentlessly repetitive in contrast. Several themes from the second and third Therion albums are repeated here in different context, to similar but less theatrically extreme effect. In fact, one way to describe the difference between this style and earlier Therion is that this music aims for a consistent sensation interrupted by the voice of lead guitar; older work was like opera, ranging between experiential extremes with lead guitar and vocals as icing on the cake.
Musically, there's not much to disagree with here, as it's basically a higher-caste incarnation of Motley Crue with a pseudo-medieval/pseudo-prog aesthetic; artistically, it seems to act as a popularizer of Odinist theology while keeping up the stadium-filling power of early radio-friendly metal; this begs the question of whether crowds groove more to lyrics/aesthetic or to the underlying simplistic amalgamation of styles, and which they take home when the concert's over.