THERION – An Interview with Christopher Johannsson

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Photo by Mina Karadzic

Every time Therion announces a new full-length, there’s a certain frenzy in the air, or better air of expectancy, because the fans always attend Therion‘s releases with surprise and interest. The wait is over. The new opus “Leviathan” will released on January 22nd and it promises to deliver a lot of classics. About this matter, the mastermind hints the fact that he purposely tried to satisfy Therion’s fans with this new album and he announced that “Leviathan” is not a closed story (at all). Let’s discover more in this captivating interview.

Hi Christopher, welcome back to Femme Metal Webzine. How are you and how life is treating you in these precarious days?

Well, I have the luxury to have a pretty good life because we were busy recording in the studios and I live in Malta. Even if, it was getting very rainy and wintery here, so far, it has been a really warm weather to the point I’m still wearing a t-shirt.

It was really boring that we couldn’t play any summer festivals this year and it’s quite sad that I cannot travel to visit my family in Sweden as much I would have wanted. Apart from that, we’re having quite normal life.

The 17th album “Leviathan” will be released on January 22nd via Nuclear Blast. What can you tell me about its general production?

Because of the ongoing Corona’s pandemic, we had to record it in a very different way. For example, they closed down the airports here in Malta and it did make it impossible to fly back in Sweden or fly anybody here. So, I had to record some demos and everything was recorded separately and in distance.

Consequently, I had to send all the demoes enclosed with instructions. In the end, the album was recorded throughout Sweden, Malta, Israel, Argentina, USA, England, Germany, Spain and Finland. It was quite different.

Considering that normally you guest your members in your studios in Sweden, how was it for you to work remotely?

Practically, it’s two side of the same coin: on one side, we wasted a lot of money and a lot of time, because, normally I have my own studio which its cost is absolutely none. However, in this way, we had to rent commercial studios which exceeded our budget. Additionally, I wasn’t able to monitor anything in real time and normally, if any ideas that would have come up in that moment, of course, this would be physically impossible. Now, the real challenge is making up my mind on how to do it because any major mistakes are not allowed.

But on the other side, after we have recorded the drums, the bass and the lead guitar, I noticed that can happen multiple recordings at the same time. Actually, the same it can happen with the vocal parts and it’s good because I don’t have to listen to every fucking bad take. This gives me a freshness to my ears that I’ve never experienced before since in the past album’s sessions, I was present every day for every different session. Also, that’s why it takes 9 months to record a Therion’s album, your ears need rest.

So, with this new method, the band members and collaborators would send me those recorded parts with me having quite a fresh mind about the whole project. It’s really good way to work and due to the ongoing situation, we won’t be able to tour, we’ll just keep on going with the recordings. In this moment, we are recording a new full-length because we have written something as 40 songs. Naturally, not all of them are hit songs but out of that amount, 35 are definitely album quality songs. So, we enough material for 3 albums and I said before, we kept on going and up to now, we have already nailed down the drums, the bass and the lead guitars for the second album of this trilogy.

For sure, I’m sure that we’ll conclude the session for this second album before the next summer. We’re not losing any time and because of the feedback, I’m inclined to think that we’ll partially continue in this way. Though, I’ve noticed that not for everybody works this, so, I might flight in who doesn’t feel at ease recording remotely. For the rest, we’ll continue as I have said before.

You mentioned that you have 35 songs and the beginning of a trilogy. In origin, Leviathan is a gigantic marine monster. How does the self-titled single and the album, per se, connect with the whole history that, so far, you have devised?

Well, “Leviathan” is just a song and it’s not connected to a concept. But, the history of the whole idea is quite different: its idea to name it like that is quite old. So, every time I finish a mix for a record, I usually get a vision how the next album will be. Back in 1999, after the recordings of “Deggial” were concluded, I had the vision that the next album would be called “Leviathan” which would be a really bombastic album. But it was the first time that my vision didn’t happen and instead, I wrote material that went in a completely different direction which was “Secrets of the Runes”.

Fast forwarding to 2018, the issue was that after the “Beloved Antichrist”’s session, I felt empty. I felt totally empty because it was the last big project that I wanted to achieve with Therion. It was the last big dream that I wanted to fulfil. After some attentive reflection, I realized that the thing we never did was trying to please intentionally of the audience. You know, we always did the records that we wanted. Sometimes we’re lucky and people wanted more and sometimes not. Our records were always a rollercoaster. In the end, for 15 albums, the band always did what we like and now, the final challenge was to try to please our fans.

So, I completely reminisced about the old times, the so-called “classic Therion. My intent wasn’t to copy the old songs but attempt to squeeze the magic out of the songs. Just to find the right potion. Then, I remembered about this record called “Leviathan”, and it simply was that, “let’s do it now”. That’s how everything came about. As I mentioned before, we produced some much material that I even lost the count of much it is. Throughout its session, we realized that, this material, was focusing on three different musical directions.

In particular, 1/3 of the songs were quite epic, direct, hit songs and all this, represent our upcoming album “Leviathan”. Then, we had very melancholy and dark songs which they will be feature in “Leviathan II”, whose release will be an year from now or a year after. Lastly, what we have left, which will form “Leviathan III”, are a collection of old songs that are comprised by adventure, experimental, folk-inspired, heavy and progressive songs. These three releases will cover some different spectrums and I’m sure, it will please our fans in each of our musical palettes.

For example, for the fans who like “Son of Staves of Time”, “Son of the Sun” and “To Mega Therion”, they will probably like “Leviathan I” while who like songs such as “Lemuria”, “Clavicula Nox” and “Ravens of Dispersion”, will surely prefer the second one. Instead, for the fans who like adventurous songs as “Via Nocturna”, “Land of Canaan”, they will appreciate more the third one. In conclusion, with this trilogy, I’m quite sure that we’ll please the 90% of our audience. It’s the least we can do and there will be something for everybody.

After that, I see ourselves as musical entertainers, we have been musical adventurers for a long time. Through this 23 years, wit feels like e have been hungry and we’ve been eating so much to point that we are full. Now, we just want to enjoy for at least another 20 years. Consider that all this happened to every ground-breaking artists of the planet. However, every innovator has their period and when they stop to be experimental, they just turn into classics.

The biggest example ever would-be Jimi Hendrix. In the 1970s, he has completely revolutionized the music and written some songs such as “Foxy Lady” and “Hey Joe”. But if you ask now to a metalhead how is him and if he knows him, he/she will reply that he’s a dead guy who wrote some rock classics. However, they’ll never understand which impact had on that generation and on the music. Of course, Therion is not the same level of Jimi Hendrix, however in our own musical panorama, we changed a little bit the general paradigm by introducing classical female vocals and orchestrations.

So, you’ll find plenty of people who back in the 90s bought “Theli”, and out of their speakers “To-Mega Therion” was playing. I think they never listened to something like that before. But ask to some random metalheads right now, they would reply that “To-Mega Therion” is just a catchy song. Back then, we were really confident that our little musical revolution was supposed to happened and from there, we have just embraced it. Even the musical panorama has changed because it started to be stagnated.

With this, I’m not saying that the music produced in this period is bad but it lacks of that revolutionary trait. If I try to think over the 10 years, I cannot find any artist that caused a musical revolution. With this, I can totally say that really good music has been released and produced but it’s just about writing a nice song and nobody creates a new style, anymore. Given this, it feels quite convenient to be “middle-aged entertainers”. It is what it is.

Keeping in mind this approach, mostly the fans’ feedback from the second single “Die Willen Der Zeit” mentions the fact that this song has an unusual sound for Therion. Personally, it reminds me of “Lemuria”. Also, you have collaborated with a mysterious singer, who’s she?

Actually, her name is Taida [Nazraić from the Bosnian metal band The Loudest Silence] and the main connection, here, is my girlfriend who she’s a long-time friend with her. She has a lovely voice. When we recorded the second song of the album, “Tuonela”, originally it featured Lori Lewis’s vocals on the bridge. Everything it looked perfect but I felt like it was missing something. I find it too much convenient and I wanted something more innocent and Lori is a well-established singer, so, she’s a lot of good things and of course, one of those, she is not innocent.

Essentially, this friend of my girlfriend’s has something that she never experienced before, something naïve, dreamy, hopeful and innocent. Once you became famous everybody wants to be your friend and after experiencing all that, you lose your innocence and you’ll never come back to that. Connecting to this, Naida’s voice with her crystal-clear nuances represents that.

Not being a professional singer, we gave it a try and well, if it wasn’t working, fine. In the end, I ended up collaborating with her on two additional songs. It turned out to be unexpected because I never heard of her before. Personally, a lot of people will like her voice and she’ll be more known in the future.

You mentioned “Tuonela”, the second track inserted in “Leviathan” which features Nighwish’s Marko Hietala. How did this collaboration born and how does it reflect the main idea that you have previously explained me earlier?

The idea of this song came through in a demo recorded by Thomas Vikström. While I was playing both chorus and verse, I thought we need some diversity and a harsher voice than Thomas. My first choice was former Metal Church’s singer David Wayne but, of course, this is not feasible. Actually, when I say Marko Hietala, everybody thinks of Nightwish, however, I was growing up with Marko’s first band, Tarot.

When I was a metal kid in the 80s, I’ve always thought that they were one of the best Scandinavian heavy metal bands. And so, I contacted him, I sent him the file and he agreed to sing on it. Even if on the album Marko sings the whole song, the original plan as to feature his voice in the verse only. I ended up like more the chorus in this version then the previous one.

In the regular edition, we kept just the version where he sings just the chorus and someone had to record the rest. As a matter of fact, it will be featured in the “Producer’s Edition” together with other alternative vocal versions such Lori Lewis’s version of “Tuonela”. We literally don’t want to waste any good material because they all sounds really amazing. In the end, it’s up to your taste and what you like.

Photo by Mina Karadzic

Just a moment ago we were speaking about Lori Lewis. Since 2011, she has stopped her live activity. To what extent, can we consider her participation in “Leviathan”?

Indeed, she sings in a couple of songs. For example, she sings the chorus in the title track and then in the very end, you listen Chiara coming in. Both singers, they have some quite different type of voice. Every time Lori sings, I feel like hugging her because her voice is really cute even if, it’s so mature.

While Chiara has a more warrior, Valkyrie type of voice. Her alto register is so strong that I never heard something like that before. Therefore, if I need something that requires powerfulness, I take advantage of Chiara’s while for something cuter and softer, I’ll take advantage of Lori’s. However, if I need something in between, we can them both and see which one sounds better.

Both Chiara and Lori can sing in a powerful and gentle manner, because each of the singers have their strong points and peculiarities. All this depends on the song. For instance, on “Beloved Antichrist” were featured some characters that required different type of voice. On this matter, I always follow my gut which it turns out to be always right.

On a last note, in “Leviathan” besides Taida Nadraic and Marko Hietala, some other guest such as Mats Levén and Noa Gruman from Israeli progressive metal band Scardust have participated.

What does the future hold for Therion?

Well, at the moment we’re busy recording three albums and I can already foreseen the release of “Leviathan II” in January of the next year. And the year after, “Leviathan III”. so, we have already a long-term planned out. However, the only uncertainty is touring.

Certainly, if this is possible, we’ll tour in between and we’re already aware of the fact, we cannot tour in this upcoming winter and spring. Probably, the only touring option for this year will at the earliest, during the autumn. We have just to wait and see how the situation develops.

Sadly, Christopher, we are almost at the end of the interview. Please be free to say hi to your fans and our readers as you want.

It was my pleasure speaking with you and hopefully, everything it will work out and we’ll see all on tour this autumn.

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