Being dissatisfied with creating what might be called a pinnacle of death metal in Beyond Sanctorum (an undertaking that for all its immersive grandeur and epic legends never felt entirely comfortable within the genre), Therion mastermind Christofer Johnsson embarked upon a massive crusade in pursuit of an album that successfully integrated a symphonic revelry into a metal foundation. While others, including Mr. Johnsson himself, might disagree, it is the opinion of this reviewer that, having toiled for over fifteen years in this particular effort, Therion finally achieved the full extent of its aim in ‘Gothic Kabbalah’, and album that we not only deem to be the single best record of the past record, but also the most inventive, most ingenious accomplishment to emerge from a band no longer affiliated with the original death metal framework.
Once the listener can eventually penetrate the deeper meanings of Gothic Kabbalah, which can require a great deal of time and concentration due to the sheer immensity of its vision, he is likely to be struck by how purposeful the music seems. Every track sets out an individual lyrical theme (all lyrics written by the studious Thomas Karlsson), and the composition as a whole (not merely the vocals) actually reflects the corresponding theme as it should always do. This is where truly excellent music will unfailingly show its quality: the imaginative vision of the artist, whether the intent be conscious or not, is sublimely displayed in the overall thematic unity of the album, in both conceptual and strictly musical dimensions, as well as in an intricate understanding of precisely what the artist wishes to create, and of course of the tools that he is working with.
In Gothic Kabbalah, we are entranced by a composition that sings and dances fluidly in a notable contrast to the relatively plodding movements that characterize some of the earlier records. A full sense of the album’s strong self-awareness is manifested by an easy alliance between some convincing, eccentric vocals, plenty of nimble solos and delicate melodies, and a deeply visceral performance by a devoted rhythm section; taken as a whole, the instrumentation is perfectly charismatic. This does not altogether give the impression of being a fun, careless endeavour to entertain guests around a campfire; the album does, however, address some perennial subjects with a certain seriousness that graces them with an unmistakable aura of authenticity, all the while doing so with a natural easiness that only reinforces the sense of sincerity.
What makes this, Therion’s ninth album, especially remarkable is not that it approaches arcane material in the hope of evoking something real and mystical; previous albums have evidently been produced in this very eagerness. No, what makes Gothic Kabbalah special is that it actually accomplishes the invocation of a strong esoteric presence in a musical fabric that goes far beyond the aesthetical, something which the albums prior could never do. The true moments of greatness on this record are found wherever the shocking light of revelation pierces through the veil of the myth and of the occult; whereas Therion were previously content to simply demonstrate the shapes and the outlines of the old legends, ‘Gothic Kabbalah’ cannot cease until it has transcended them altogether!
Now, it is quite clear that Therion have indeed managed an artistic representation of a wondrous realm in Esoterism, and have made it come alive therein; what is especially remarkable, however, is how the many different mythic strands that the albums touches on are eclipsed by a strong recurrence to the specifically Hellenic idea of the ‘Sophia Perennis’, or of the universal idea of the ‘Eternal Wisdom’. Just as a decidedly bombastic classical music has melded with a more crudely defined death metal background, as well as with other styles besides, so too have the various topics respectful to esoterism conformed to the overriding aim for the beautiful Sophia. So, while the cryptic meaning of the pair of terms Gothic Kabbalah still escapes us, the meaning of this album has not: it is the soulful execution of a vision set squarely upon the sun and the heavens above, and as such it is the perfect transition from a typically death metal perception that stares perpetually into a deep, long, and fiery abyss.