Soothing Opera... to Kill by
CoC talks to Christofer Johnsson of Therion
by: Adrian Bromley
There aren't many people like Therion mastermind Christofer Johnsson in the world these days. Johnsson wears descriptions like passionate, honest, intelligent and vibrant like an old worn in sweatshirt. His love for his work comes at you loud and clear. The music is his way of life, and what a life -- it has been rather exciting over the last few years.

Since the early days of Therion, Johnsson has continued to evolve the sound of his sonic beast, working from earlier roots of death metal into the present day situation of over the top classical arrangements, searing guitar solos and powerful choir chants. His work has morphed into a warm blanket of emotions that will no doubt confuse the listener at first, but slowly and surely drag them into his wicked work of excellence.

The latest work from Therion, _Deggial_, is a welcome sound compared to the somewhat weak and softer tones bestowed from 1998's _Vovin_. [For a different opinion, see the _Deggial_ review in this issue and the _Vovin_ review in CoC #31.] The new record manages to tighten his grasp of classical sounds (choirs and opera work) and toss them into a blazing metallic fold of guitar riffs and sonic assaults. This record is still showing Johnsson's work in progress, but no matter how far from the last work this record seems to wander, it no doubt contains the master calibre that Therion is known for. Change is everything for Johnsson.

Starts Johnsson about the new material: "I think the biggest difference with this record is that we explored a lot more of the classical angle to things, such as wooden instruments and a brass section. That is the most obvious thing about it, but there is also the nostalgic trip we take in terms of playing '80s metal guitar riffs. I guess the whole heavy metal revival has inspired me to want to do this. I'm not saying it is the work of these newer bands, rather the fact that they are paying homage to older bands and I have gone back to listen to those records and really understood how important they were and still are to me. Bands like Accept and Iron Maiden were important to me, as was Saxon, Judas Priest and Manowar, but you can really hear Accept and Maiden within the work of _Deggial_. It is quite obvious they are a big influence to what I do."

While the band has been part of the metal scene for numerous years, it wasn't until 1995's classically influenced record _Theli_ [CoC #14] stormed into the metal scene that people were blown away by Therion's work. Not to say that the band's work was shabby before _Theli_ came along -- it wasn't, but the band's ability to mesh metal music and classical pieces really had jaws dropping. To this day, the evolution of the band has managed to keep a close grip on classical music within Therion's work, easily surpassing the many other acts that have tried to weave it into what they do.

"I am so happy with the way things are going for this band. It is just such a great experience to bring new ideas into what we do", confesses Johnsson. "While stuff we do will never be as spectacular as it was when we introduced choirs to our music on _Theli_, still I can change what Therion does as we go about making music. And people are enjoying what we do and I am happy about that. Each record we make, our sales go up. The fans seem to be with me on the progress of Therion over the years, even though I thought they would not care about the work I was doing. _Vovin_ sold 100000 copies and that surprised me. I didn't think there was that big of a market for this style of music. I guess it just goes to show that many people are not that narrow-minded about music."

"I have never really cared too much about analyzing what I do; I just do it", remarks Johnsson. "The only way you can really hurt a career is if you sit back and analyze what you are doing. You see that quite a lot with bands who have a successful first album and have a hard time repeating that come album number two. I think that is because many bands are influenced by producers and labels on what they should do with a first record and it isn't honest. Then when it comes down to album number two, there is no real heart to it and they are lost. I think bands that do what they want to do manage to live a lot longer than the rest. Look at bands like Rush, for example. They are not as big as they used to be, but they still manage to put out records and still sell records. They never really went with the flow of things and their fans know that. I appreciate that kind of work ethic."

So how much more is left in the creative circle of Therion? Is the well running dry yet? Answers Johnsson, "I think one of the real reasons why Therion is still around and making such diverse and grand records like _Deggial_ is because of money. I mean, the creativity is within me, but money is needed to meet those expectations of the music I want to see and hear Therion play. In order to bring in more musicians to add to a certain direction, it takes money to do so. Classical musicians and opera singers cost quite a bit of money to work with. If I want to have more sections and orchestra drums running throughout this record, as well as half a dozen more neat ideas, it is going to cost me more. Once you get used to working with these ideas you want to expand them, rather than abandon them and go back to an older style. That wouldn't be right."

He adds about the monetary value of making a record: "This record cost about $115000 German marks, which is about $80000 to $90000 U.S. dollars. That is a lot of money to do a record, but, like I said, you pay for what you want. Leading into the transition of the band's style with _Theli_, it was expensive and still continues to be. When we worked on _Vovin_ they sent an advance and the making of it exceeded the original budget cost, so I ended up paying $5000 of my own money to finish it off. I knew I had to help make the record I wanted to make."

While on the subject of _Vovin_, I mention to Johnsson about not being too into the work there, telling him that I thought it was a weak record compared to _Theli_ or even the newer one. He says: "I am glad you mention your tastes for Therion. I am so glad that many people have so many different favorite Therion records. It is not like we ever did a _Reign in Blood_ record, you know? I mean, no matter what people say about any new Slayer material, they'll always say, "Well, it is good, but it isn't _Reign in Blood_." You don't get that with us and I am proud of that."

On the subject of trying new ideas and working towards band evolution, he comments: "_Vovin_ was very melodic for us to work with and easy to follow, I think. Everyone's mom liked it. <laughs> This time out I was just trying to make a record that easily surpassed what people had known us to do before. I'm always in that frame of mind: trying to do better than the last record. If we make a record and I don't think it is as good as the last one, I will go back to work on it and work as long as it takes to make it better than the last release. My mind is always set on outdoing what we did before. Why make the same record twice? That is too boring and Therion has never been a boring listen. Therion has always been, and continues to be, an exciting listen."

In closing, seeing that Therion has mastered the ways of incorporating classical music into their own music, I ask Johnsson about his thoughts on Metallica's work with the San Francisco Symphony on their latest live album _S&M_. "Well", begins Johnsson with slight laughter, "it is absolutely perfect and well produced, but it's boring. There is nothing challenging to it. Michael Kamen [conductor] did a good job working the music with the orchestra, but I am not sure if he really understood the work of Metallica, especially the old stuff. He did some great arrangements and all of the harmonies work, but it just seems he did a big classical piece in the same scale as the rest of the music. He did a great job, but with the amount of money Metallica has, they should be shocked about the way it turned out and come to realize about how much better it could have sounded if it had been handled better. If I had done some work on that record it would have turned out better." How much better?, I ask. "It would have been spectacular rather than this typical Hollywood film score-type sound that they ended up with. I don't know. It is their money and they have to worry about it. I'm too busy with my band to worry about how Metallica is making a supposedly classical record."

(article submitted 5/3/2000)


CHATS
1/7/2007 J Smit Therion: In the Nightside of Eden
12/31/2004 J Smit Therion: The Dragon Breaks Down the Temple Wall
9/1/1998 A Bromley Therion: Eloquent Emotions
8/12/1997 A Wasylyk Therion: Melancholic Musical Masters
ALBUMS
1/7/2007 J Smit 7.5 Therion - Gothic Kabbalah
5/31/2004 J Smit 10 Therion - Lemuria / Sirius B
1/14/2002 B Meloon 7 Therion - Secret of the Runes
3/5/2000 P Azevedo 8 Therion - Deggial
6/15/1999 A Wasylyk 7 Therion - Crowning of Atlantis
6/7/1998 P Azevedo 10 Therion - Vovin
8/12/1997 A Wasylyk 7 Therion - A' Arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming
10/11/1996 A Bromley 10 Therion - Theli
9/2/1995 G Filicetti 10 Therion - Lepaca Kliffoth
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