Friday, December 7, 2012

Therion - Les Fleurs Du Mal (2012)

It was 25 years ago that Therion was formed by Christofer Johnsson, then under the moniker of "Blitzkreig." After a career that has grown with each release, expanding on classical and opera influences along the way, a long period of silence is on the horizon. With work commencing in Johnsson's long developed opera, it may be years before Therion rises again. So it seemed only fitting to release one last gasp before they recede to the shadows. But when Nuclear Blast, the band's longtime label, dubbed "Les Fleurs Du Mal" as "too spectacular" to finance, it was up to the man himself to foot the bill. With a massive loan and an even more substantial emotional investment in what is to come, this may be Therion at their grandiose best, like it or not.

It takes no time at all to assert the influences on display here. As "Poupée de cire, poupée the son," the soaring, operatic female vocals float in the air above you, all the while accompanied by an aggressive lead riff. Rich symphonics are commonplace, but are no less powerful today. Instead, their strength has only increased over time, providing a foundation that is both stable and functional. But this isn't all raucous instrumentals, as "Une fleur dans le coeur" soon proves. Taking a softer, cleaner approach, the audio textures that emerge are sublime, adding touches of fluttering guitar leads without disturbing the delicate nature of the composition. Even when the male voices joins the higher octaves, it does nothing but enhance the mix. Together, the pair lift you up along with them. In comparison, the breathy female vocals on "Initials B.B" are sultry and intoxicating. I would be hard pressed to think of a time when French was spoken or delivered in a more beautiful fashion. Horns and strings create another dimension, an added depth of sound that is almost stupefying in its glory. The longest track on the album, the four and half minute "Mon amour, mon ami," is one that must be heard to be fully appreciated. Much like the recent work of Grey November, there is an intense focus on storytelling, as well as mood and emotion. Whether it is in the trading vocal passages, both male and female, or the use of church organs to complement the guitars, every layer is as important to the whole as the one above and below it.

A true take on the neoclassical style, "Polichinelle" is an impressive fusion of true operatic vocals and acrobatic guitar work. With a more accessible nature to the chorus, it may be easier to attract a new group of listeners to an otherwise flamboyant style. Often overlooked, the battery of drums that lifts up the mix is both thunderous and delicate. if there was ever a single track that could unite you with your grandparents in a love of music, "La Maritza" could be it. The vocal performance could only be described as stunning, with light touches of strings and horns highlighting each word and phrase. As the choir of voices comes together in the outro, you will surely be transported to another time and place. Adding an extra dose of virtuosic guitar work, "Soeur angelique" is one of the most balanced attacks on the album, creating an emotional surge that can be felt pouring through your speakers. Each buildup is like a tidal wave rising above the water, but then gently breaking over you. Heavily anchored in the percussion, "Dis moi poupée" sees multiple voices occupying equal time on the mic. The lower register steals the spotlight in the latter half, with deep male voices paving the way for a squealing guitar solo that brings the album to a new level.

Beautiful in its simplicity, "Lilith" is a perfect example of how well constructed and put together layers can result in something that is far more than the sum of its parts. Guitars enter, then leave, replaced by bass, which is then joined by strings. It is a seamless transition from one piece to the next, a tricky endeavor. That same balancing act is present in "En Alabama," but to a different degree. Rather than trading blows, all of the pieces come together here in a wall of sound a mile high and mile wide. The traditional bass, guitar, drums, and vocals are the main players here with only a supporting cast of symphonic elements. The closing riff is as catchy as you will find on an album of this scope, and sets the stage perfectly for the avant "Wahala manitou." Building from an accordion melody into a full fledged track, the band take the path less traveled, incorporating French culture into a song that very quickly goes from a medium pace to a ripping guitar exhibition. And just when you think you have it all figured out, "Je n’al besoin que de tendresse" proves just how wrong you were. A blazing anthem packed to the brim with drums and guitar work, the track only spans two minutes of time. Boasting a guitar lead that would make Andrew WK proud, this may be the one that stands out from the rest, both in its sound and delivery.

As if to once again highlight the beautiful contrast at play here, "La licorne d’or" takes an immediate leap back to the almost baroque tones you experiences earlier. The strings that dominate the verse and chorus are enchanting on their own, but even moreso with a soaring female voice attached to them.They work to elevate each other. In what is arguably the most powerful male performance on the album, "J’al le mal de toi" begins with a rich tenor and evolves into something completely captivating. The atmosphere created by the keys, strings, horns and percussion pulls you in, surrounding you with all of the pieces of the puzzle. You begin to experience the track from the inside out, watching it rise and fall around you. And though it ends abruptly, it ends appropriately. A reprise of the opening track, "Poupée de cire, poupée the son" reminds you have perfectly matched classical and metal music can be, with a pair of amazing voices coming together over a galloping backing band. And with the finale, the story and sound come full circle. In pure rock opera form, "Les sucettes" explodes from player, rich and smooth as can be.Without ever breaking a sweat, every element falls into place, a beautiful harmony between vocal and instrumental that few have ever achieved.

How bold must an album be to be labeled "too spectacular"? I suppose that only Therion would be to answer that, and I imagine they would be happy to. Far be it from me to weigh in, I can only conclude that this album may just be ahead of its time. It exudes confidence, quality and a daring take on the style the band helped to forge 25 years ago. The overwhelming beauty that coats each and every stanza is sure to resonate with fans of the band, as well as fans of classical music in all its forms. And it would seem that that is the real success story. When your music transcends the genre you helped create, you have achieved something special. If the compositions on "Les Fleurs Du Mal" are any indication, Therion will be taking us on many more journeys into the sublime and beyond. This spectacular voyage is only the beginning of the next chapter.


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