I blame my parents for this. Before I discovered rock’n'roll in my teens I was exposed to a lot of classical music, including many, many choral concerts at an age when I was probably too young to really appreciate them. Some of this must have rubbed off, because decades later I find myself listening to Scandinavian operatic metal bands while finding most mainstream indie music to shallow and tuneless to hold much interest.
So when Swedish symphonic metal band Therion came to Shepherd’s Bush Empire for a rare UK appearance. the chance to see them live on Halloween night was too good to miss. I’ve only heard a couple of their albums, the recent double album “Gothic Kaballah” and a superb earlier live album “Live in Midgard”. The albums are huge in scope, with multiple singers, choirs, and many guest musicians. I wondered how music of this complexity would translate live.
Before Therion there was not one but two supports. I always make a point of getting there in time to see the support; you never know when you’re going to see a great band you might otherwise never have heard of, and you can always retreat to the bar if they turn out to be rubbish. Tonight both supports were good. Openers Loch Vostok were an entertaining progressive-tinged metal band with a hairy frontman I could imagine crewing a Viking longship ready to loot and pillage some innocent Northumbrian village. Second support was Norway’s “Leprous”. With a name like that I expected grunty death metal – in fact the band, fronted by a dreadlocked keyboard player, were nothing of the sort, fairly melodic, a bit bonkers but great fun. Both bands are well worth checking out.
Having never seen Therion live before, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. The show began with just four instrumentalists on stage, progressively joined by two male and two female vocalists, both opera-trained sopranos, until there were eight people on stage.
The music they played can only be described as epic, and hugely melodic. While they’re not touring with the full choir that sing on the most recent album, the combination of four powerful lead vocalists still made for a immensely rich sound, whether it was alternating leads or four-part harmonies. While the focus was on the elaborate vocal arrangements, with the twin guitars of Christofer Johnsson and Christian Vidal the metal side of things wasn’t neglected either. One guitar solo in particular was simply jaw-dropping. The only thing I didn’t like was their reliance on programmed keys; I’d much rather they’d employed a flesh-and-blood keyboard player alongside the guitars and vocals. Saying that, one of the female singers did play keys for a couple of songs. We also had vocalist Thomas Vikström playing flute on a couple of songs. I really wasn’t expecting to hear any flute at this gig.
I recognised relatively few of the songs they played, I’m guessing songs from the new album Sitra Ahra, which I’m yet to hear, featured very heavily. But it didn’t seem to matter. Their whole two-hour set was hugely enjoyable, and I can see this is going to be band I’ll be seeing again next time they come to these shores.