By Allan Grusie
So, here we are, the fourth album of a confusing quadrology, essentially comprised of Secret Of The Runes, Sirius B, Lemuria and now Sitra Ahra, all tied together by lyrical content and explained fully on the Therion Myspace page. Yet, as a stand alone album, Sitra Ahra more than succeds. Although only Christofer Johnsson remains as the sole constant in Therion, the musical consistency is ever present from album to album, and there are now 14 studio efforts backing that up.
Produced by Lennard Ostlund, who has worked with the likes of Led Zeppelin and Abba, Sitra Ahra follows the consistency standards. From a haunting orchestral opening, the album builds into a myriad of driving guitars that really remind me of the aforementioned Zepp’s “Kashmir,” then into symphonic metal territory utilizing vocalists Lori Lewis, Thomas Vikstrom (formerly with Candlemass and now a full member of Therion), Snowy Shaw (who has since left the band) and a full-on choir for what amounts to an epic track. Simply put, this formula is repeated with most positive results. The vocalists here for the most part, ignore their rock pedigrees in favour of an operatic approach, which added to the choral sections in a manner that works exceptionally well. Musically Johnsson has expanded on his near trademark Middle Eastern sound here, and as in the past adds instrumentation out of the metal norm including church organ and harmonica, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work perfectly. Odd? Yes, but limited to a short passage on the track “Land Of Canaan,” it fits perfectly in what is a trippy, eerie, psychedelic, Middle Eastern themed track.
The heavyweight track on Sitra Ahra is “Unguetum Sabbati,” which has guitar crunch galore and power metal vocals, in contrast to the operatic choir which opens the song. This one is a real rocker to be sure.
Lyrically the subject matter is open for interpretation, deep and mystical. Not really a surprise though, as author and well known occultist Thomas Karlsson, head of the Dragon Rouge society, again contributes all of the lyrics. It is no surprise then, that the lyrics and story are superb.
Even with turnover amongst the ranks of its members over the years, Therion has the foundation of Johnsson and (unofficial) Karlsson and continue to write and record some of the most creative albums in the symphonic metal genre. The epic album Sitra Ahra ranks among their very best works