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Therion - Of Darkness
Review: At a time when death metal verging on protest music, Therion brought forth an album that took its listeners on a descent into the dark and primordial world of the subconscious, then built from a sense of mystery within it and concept of existence beyond the obvious physical and numeric manifestations of modern society. It is an album intensely divided, being culled in parts and whole from three demos, and still retains the absurdly straightforward lyrics decrying pollution and negative politics as it merges into the more enchanted territory of psychological symbolism.
In this its guide is the flawed but ambitious Celtic Frost album "Into the Pandemonium," which it resembles aesthetically and musically, although "...Of Darkness" is clearly from a later generation that has already incorporate the essence of rudimentary death metal into its vocabulary. To that raw and guileless genre Therion add a sense of enigmatic majesty in the creation of bassy catacombs of musical pathways that lead to oblique directional shifts, staggering possibilities inside of a major theme of hollowness with mortal weight. At the time of its emergence, this refuted both the functionalist 1980s and the pacifistic, materialistic futurism of the decade that followed. What defines this album as an art work are the hints of mystical union beyond its thunderous heavy metal and death metal mechanics, a sense of expectation and undiscovered potential in the atmospheric sonic gestures -- somnolent basslines silhouetting a chord progression in ambiguous harmony, evaporative lead guitar fomenting chaos and then lapsing into oneiric circular harmonies, unexplained fallings-away into the promise of a partial chord or ambulatory tempo -- that indicate not so much a clear function to sound, but its role as introduction to possibility.
Atmosphere forms like fragments of vapor condensing on a suddenly chilled night to form the forest miasmas that from a distance trap light and appear to have their own luminous glow, and is maintained by our inability to ever approach it as listeners: we are anchored in the unstoppably infectious rhythms of these timeworn songs, combining bounding heavy metal riffs with the fluid columnar riffs and staggered or arpeggiated inverse breakdowns of death metal, and yet from the other side of that solidity something beckons. At first glance, this is a standard death metal band from the era, with deep vocals alternating with hissed shrieks, and detuned guitars thundering in a progression of riffs built around a succession of not as much notes as patterns anchored in certain tonal positions; drums are more like a rock or 1970s heavy metal band than the faster and more fill-intensive work of later metal, and bass doubles chord roots in eights. Yet for all the music of this era, there are few examples that match this mysterious and rewarding album as listening experiences.