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Therion - Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas
Review: And bringing their country from the void of abysmal rock, Therion save the day with their newest, Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas (Pavement). The demise of fantasy/dungeons and dragons/H.P. Lovecraft in metal lyrics may have been proclaimed some time ago, but Therion refute this powerfully with their third release in this country, a conceptualized album which combines the best of death metal with older traditions of metal, ending up with something normals can listen to as well.
Therion emerged on the Swedish scene with Of Darkness... (Grind Core), a Celtic Frost-influenced album which took the best of current Eurometal and mixed into it a new perspective on song construction, adding unpredictability to their music and influencing a spawning of European bands. Attention never really came from across the big pond, and consequently Therion are almost unknown to American listeners.
Having done the standard-metal thing well and being sort of bored, Therion detoured into epic rock with Beyond Sanctorum (Active), a well-structured album which took metal beyond the cliches of songwriting, riff-making and general aesthetics it had become accustomed to: the songs varied in tempo widely, weren't afraid to slow down, and broke from more extreme styles to more comfortable ones repeatedly to give the listener a conception of a more limitless world. Lyrics changed from environmental/societal to Lovecraftian fantasy, a thread of writing that continues to Symphony Masses.
A lot of hard rock drifts into this album, but it comes more in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal style than an overblown video-rock processed cheese spread feel, toward which certain other (Met-- damn.) bands have migrated. It's well done -- better than well done. I don't believe I exaggerate when I say that Therion may be Europe's most underrated metal band, given the attention they've received around here.
But this album is available at least for the time being at Rhino, and I recommend to anyone who appreciates the style of metal Iron Maiden and others used to write in, and wouldn't mind an update to that with some modern metal touches.
Indeed -- lurking in the passages of this album are hard-rockish riffs alongside inventive death metal powerhouses, obscured by the general fabric of the material. There are also brilliant lead guitar parts, proving Therion to be one of metal's most technically-versed acts at this time. Jazz-fusion guitar intros, prowling lead guitar, and machine-perfect human drumming fill this album, as well as a real surprise -- real bass lines, instead of riff-chasing high-speed runs.
The power of these players combined comes forth in an intricate and concentrated album, intensity without reliance on pure speed or smash appeal. Synthesizers are used here, but not as lead instruments: occasional keyboard riffs protrude oddly, but most the electronically-generated sound comes in background support for expansive riff-structures and other creative blasts. At first the listener may be tempted to group this album with the endless procession of cheesy, heavy blues-rock, pseudo-metallic cheese bands which periodically upset parents, but this is far from that nadir of musical integrity.
Fantastic lyrics and occasional weird chanting appear at appropriate times throughout this album, but if you hadn't realized the inclination of this band to take up metal's oldest lyrical tenet from the title, you can't be much surprised after reading the song names. The title track ("Ho Drakon Ho Megas") is too much chant and synthesizer to really work, but it's unobtrusive, and every other track on this album is solidly excellent -- highest recommendations.