In the Nightside of Eden
CoC chats with Kristian Niemann of Therion
by: Jackie Smit
With such classics as _Theli_, _Vovin_ and most recently the sprawling _Lemuria_ / _Sirius B_ double whammy under their collective belt, one can certainly never question Therion's ability to take its fans by surprise -- and their latest is bound to be no exception. A distinctly minimalist effort in comparison to the momentous nature of its two predecessors, _Gothic Kabbalah_ is possibly the band's most accessible record to date; and as guitarist Kristian Niemann explained to me on the phone from his native Sweden, a more band-orientated effort than anything Therion have delivered thus far.

CoC: I remember when I originally spoke to Christofer [Johnsson] after the release of _Lemuria_ / _Sirius B_, that the original idea was for Therion's next record to utilise material from those recording sessions and in essence be the conclusion to that concept. Of course, the notes to the new album tell a different story, and what I found especially surprising was that this record turned into a sprawling concept piece on all its own. What brought all of this about?

Kristian Niemann: We got some new band members is the easy answer. Petter Karlsson joined the band, and he's a really good songwriter who had a lot of great ideas and a lot of energy, and he wanted to contribute to the band. We'd just come off touring for the last two albums and I think that while he liked it, it was really a case of not being on any of Therion's records and having to sign album covers that didn't have his face on it, and we wanted to make sure that he felt included. So he wrote a bunch of material -- about thirteen songs in all -- and we chose the stuff that we liked. In addition to that, Mats [Leven, vocals] wrote some songs, I wrote a few things and Christofer had some material lying around, so it just made more sense that we put this album out now. It was just better for us in the sense that it made the new band gel and it created a feeling of us all being together.

CoC: It's interesting that you mention all of that, because the feeling that one has always gotten from Therion in general is that Christofer is more or less the sole creative force behind the band.

KN: Well, I've been in the band since 1999, and this was definitely the most band-orientated record that we have done. The songwriting was far more equally divided, and even when it came to playing on the records, Petter, despite being our drummer, played guitar on all his songs, Mats played on a few of his songs -- everybody just did what they do, you know? Generally in Therion anyone can come with their own ideas though -- anything goes. I think that with this record it was definitely the most relaxed recording session we've had so far, because everyone just went in and did what they needed to. There was no pressure or anything like that.

CoC: Having been a member during the making of _Lemuria_ and _Sirius B_, and having been involved in working with upwards of 170 musicians, did you feel the more stripped down approach this time round [Therion used virtually no choirs or additional instrumentalists for the recording of _Gothic Kabbalah_] was empowering or limiting?

KN: Definitely empowering -- you're much more free to do stuff, and besides that the music we wrote for this album didn't really need a huge orchestra or a choir or anything like that. So we felt that in that case we wouldn't use any of those elements, and we'd find other ways to make the music sound different, like putting more guitars in certain a part or other types of vocals or effects or whatever. It pushed us to think along different lines and for me it was more fun.

CoC: The record is definitely very different to its predecessors as a result.

KN: Oh, for sure. Before _Lemuria_ / _Sirius B_ we did _Secret of the Runes_, which had a lot of those orchestral elements in it, and then we did the next one, which was obviously much, much bigger in scope. Even before that, on _Deggial_ there were those elements, and then on this album we've scaled down and tried to make it more live sounding and more direct. There's still complex elements to it, but in general it's a much more straightforward record. Of course, it's on the Internet already and I've read a couple of opinions on our website's forum and there are some people who hate it and think it's just shitty power metal or something and there are people that really like it. It's certainly a development from the old stuff.

CoC: What made you decide on Stefan Glaumann, who's known for working with bands like Europe and Def Leppard, to produce this album over going back to Lars Nissen?

KN: Several things, actually. We used Lars last time, and he's great and he did a good job with what he had; but this time round we had an opportunity to work with someone else, and if you listen to some of the stuff he's done with bands like Rammstein, he's definitely one of the best mixing guys around. I love most stuff that he's done. Besides that, he works in Stockholm, so we could do the record from home and not be forced to live together for a month. It was really cool just to see the guy work. I've never seen someone work so hard; just on the small details, he hears so much that we didn't pick up ourselves. He really works down to the finest, finest details. He really cared about the music, and that was really cool. Another thing is that his productions are very clear; there's never a lot of clutter going on, and I like that. I guess that's also down to arranging the music properly, but he's very good at making everything stand out on its own.

CoC: Therion's last touring cycle was definitely the most active that the band has been in terms of live performances, probably since it started. What was your experience of that time, and do you think that the time spent together resulted in or at least contributed to _Gothic Kabbalah_ being a more evenly split band-orientated effort?

KN: Definitely. Touring for me is really fun, and when we started touring for this record Petter and Mats were both new. They're cool people, amazing musicians -- very professional and very laid-back. It's impossible to get on all the time, but when we toured Europe, it was fantastic. There were no problems, apart from a crappy bus at the beginning, but we sorted that out soon enough. In general it was a good atmosphere. But then we went to the States where we're really unknown, and we were playing to crowds of 80 to 100 people. So you get to a venue and you're expected to work all day, but your only catering is a cup of coffee and an Oreo cookie, and that's it. That tends to make anyone a bit testy, and prone to being annoyed at stupid stuff.

CoC: Having seen you on stage, with a crowd of that size it will look like half the audience is up there with you!

KN: <laughs> At some gigs, it felt that way! But as I was saying, the touring went really well. Shit happens from time to time, but nothing major or that couldn't be sorted out or whatever.

CoC: Now among the shows you played, you most recently did a show in Romania with the Romanian Symphony Orchestra. What was it like being up there performing the music as, certainly by Christofer's admission, it was meant to be heard?

KN: It could have been better organized, I think. Obviously we'd never done something this complex before, and when you're in that situation, it's very hard to foresee what mistakes you could possibly make. We tried our best. We rehearsed for a week, we thought that the orchestra would be really professional and that we had a great choir. It didn't quite turn out that way. Some people were less than helpful, and just didn't really care about us -- especially the choir leader, who just ruined everything. He was just such a fucking bitch about everything. That sucked, and then we also had some technical problems at the venue with stuff feeding back and the PA not being in the correct position. But we did everything we could with what we had and it was okay in the end. We filmed it and it's going to be broadcast soon, and we'll also probably be releasing it on DVD at some point. If we do it again, we'd definitely do it very differently though.

CoC: So it is something you'd consider doing again?

KN: Yeah, it's funny because when we were doing it I was saying: "There's no fucking way I'm doing this again", but we did it and even though it was stressful it turned out well enough that we could see what mistakes we'd made and how to correct them, but also what we could actually achieve if we did it again. So we'd definitely do it again if certain requirements were met. We put up a lot of our own money to make it happen last time around, it was just crazy.

CoC: The concept for _Gothic Kabbalah_ is similarly entwined into the Dragon Rouge mythos that's been running through all of Therion's albums. Did Thomas Karlsson write the lyrics again?

KN: Yes, he did.

CoC: Christofer has always been quite prolific in that scene. Is that something that the rest of the band is involved in as well?

KN: No, none of us are. It's Christofer and Thomas' thing for sure. None of us are into that kind of stuff.

CoC: Having been the focal point of the band for so long, Christofer has now stepped away from the microphone and in essence handed that position over to Mats. In your mind, what has made Mats an ideal candidate for that position?

KN: He's a really easy going guy and a he's a total pro at everything he does. He really cares about the music and about everything he does. That said, he's not a full member of the band or anything, but he still cares enough about Therion to take on that responsibility. If he were to say that he's quitting the band, then we'd find someone else; but the way it is now, it works very well. He's a solid vocalist who can do a lot with his voice. I'm not sure if he can do the death metal stuff, but that doesn't really matter, because for this tour we're not going to do any of that material anyway. He's just a born front man who knows how to handle an audience.

CoC: From your perspective, do you think it was difficult for Christofer to step into the background after so long?

KN: Well, the thing with Christofer is that he's always been very different. He doesn't like talking to the audience and he's always been singing because he feels that he has to sing. For a long time now, he's also not wanted to do any of the old songs anymore and just basically be up there, playing guitar and not worrying about his voice. So I think that it's been a load off his shoulders in that respect. He will always be Therion, and that's never going to change. He's still the main guy, the main visionary and even if the band does contribute a lot to the music, he will always have the last word on everything. If he doesn't like something, then that won't happen.

CoC: You mentioned earlier that Therion won't be playing any of the old material, which considering the direction the band has taken over the last decade actually seems to make perfect sense. Given that, do you feel that at this stage, Therion's music is still exclusively directed at a metal audience?

KN: I think that metal is coming back at the moment, and you often find that a lot of people who weren't into the music before are getting into it now, so I think that Therion could quite easily start picking up those listeners. With our music now, the slower stuff might not always be appealing to our old fans, but our music is still metal. We're never going to go completely soft and try and appeal to people who listen to Oasis or anything like that. We're a metal band, and I think it will always be that way.

CoC: So, what are the plans for Therion in 2007?

KN: Touring -- we're going to be headed to the UK and Europe in January and then we're off to the Ukraine and Russia, Turkey and maybe even Israel. We're going to do a couple of festivals in the summer, but I don't think that we'll do even half of the shows that we did on the previous record. We're definitely not going to play the States again; we may do some select cities like Los Angeles and New York, but it won't be a full-blown tour. Then again, usually when I say that, that's exactly what will happen! <laughs> I'm pretty sure that unless we get a fantastic offer, we won't play the States. We will do South America though. That's the immediate plans, and after that we'll probably take a break. We also have plans for the next record already. I like touring though, and I hope that we can do more gigs. We met up with Uli Jon Roth a few weeks ago and he told us that he did pretty well in the States, so there was talk of maybe setting up a short package tour with him, which would be fantastic because the guy is one of my biggest heroes.

CoC: In terms of plans for the next album, will we see the third instalment to follow the _Lemuria_ / _Sirius B_ concept, or are you likely to sidestep that again?

KN: <laughs> Well, the plan is that we'll take a few of those songs and add some new material that we've all done to that. But Christofer also has a bunch of new songs written that are really amazing and really different to what's on the new record and that will definitely be on the next album. Myself and Petter would like to have a shot at some more material as well, so I think that's where we'll head to next.

CoC: Well, good luck with _Gothic Kabbalah_. Is there anything you want to say to conclude our chat?

KN: I just want to thank you for your time and say that I hope that all our fans enjoy the new record.

(article submitted 7/1/2007)


CHATS
12/31/2004 J Smit Therion: The Dragon Breaks Down the Temple Wall
3/5/2000 A Bromley Therion: Soothing Opera... to Kill by
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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