Melancholic Musical Masters
CoC chats with Therion
by: Adam Wasylyk
What made Therion's last record, _Theli_, as amazing as it was, was its combination of symphonic beauty and metal harshness. It's also a record that contains a lot of emotion and feeling, something that is lacking from many metal releases these days. Celebrating their 10th year in existence, Therion have released _A' Arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming_, which is a mish-mash of different material from Therion's past, along with some rare/new material. This release also marks (celebrity?) appearances by Edge of Sanity's Dan Swano, Hypocrisy's Peter Tagtgren, and Necrophobic's Tobbe Sidegard. I took the opportunity to chat with guitarist/vocalist Christofer Johnsson over Therion's new release, among other things.

CoC: Tell me about your new release, what's on it, and why you've released it?

Christofer Johnsson: It's a 10-year anniversary CD, so it's not a real record, but rather just a release. We didn't really plan to release it at first, we just had some leftovers from _Theli_ which was just about to be released as a single, the first three tracks on this CD. But the Nuclear Blast office in Germany wanted us to include an Iron Maiden track that we did for a Japanese tribute album, and we also have this Running Wild recording which we didn't really plan on purpose [to include, but we recorded it] just for ourselves as we used to play it live. They wanted to include them for a mini-CD, but mini-CDs kind of suck to promote it and to manufacture it as a normal CD, but to sell it for a cheaper price so the record company wouldn't get anything out of it along with the fans having to pay a lot of money to get only five songs. But then I said, "Hey, it's been 10 years now, so we could do something around that," so we went into the studio again and did a re-recording of "Symphony of the Dead", made another cover which was Judas Priest's "Here Come the Tears", and we included a classic soundtrack I did for a movie. Also, just before we went into the studio again, we decided to do an experiment in which we took the original master tape with the classic soundtrack recording and we added some guitars, drums, and bass to it, and it turned out pretty well, so we decided to include it as well. So instead of having a CD single, we suddenly had a full-length album. Of course, it's just an anniversary release for the Therion freaks, it's not a new album in any sense.

CoC: Since you've been around for 10 years, tell me about some of the good or bad experiences Therion has gone through?

CJ: Most of the bad experiences have actually been good in the end because we learned something out of them. During the very hard years, when we did the first European tour, when we were on the road we had a mini-bus, not even a van but a Japanese mini-bus. We practically lost money on every show because of the expense which we had to cover up in merchandise [sales]. And all of the mess with record companies. We switched record companies like fucking underwear in the beginning, changing companies for every album until _Lepaca Kliffoth_, which was our fourth album. So I guess all the bad experiences have been in the end quite necessary for what we are today.

CoC: So you have come to a state of stability with Nuclear Blast?

CJ: Definitely. First of all, they treated us very well, even though _Lepaca Kliffoth_ wasn't the success that was expected. They treat all the bands [on the label] very good, even if they're not well-selling bands. They took a very big risk when we recorded _Theli_, which cost like $45 000. We sold about 22 000 in Europe of _Lepaca Kliffoth_, and they gave us that big amount [of money] which was more than twice as much as we were entitled to in our contract. They said "never mind the contract, just go into the studio and do the album." That's very brave, they could have lost a fortune, so we really owe them a big thanks. Now things are going well, and we're getting all of the attention that we need from the record company to go on to further levels. As well as being brilliant businessmen, they're actually big fans of the music they're selling which, is quite important. The owner of the record company is very down to earth. If you have a problem, you can just call him directly and he can solve [the problem] for you. It's not like you have this unreachable guy just owning the company and squeezing the money out of everything. He's willing to do a lot of hard work himself and make you feel much better. We're more like a team than having a business relationship.

CoC: How well did _Theli_ sell, by the way?

CJ: In Europe, about 50 000 real CDs that were sold. Licensed cassettes were released in Europe as well. In one way, that really counts as people who buy the licensed cassettes are just as big Therion freaks than someone who buys a CD for the full price. So with licensed cassettes, I don't know. Maybe 55 to 60 [thousand]. Actually, we sold I think 2000 real CDs for full price in Russia, which is amazing as well. For the States, not very well at all, unfortunately. So them and Canada together, barely 5000, which is like for every album we did, we sell 5000 over there. It's really strange, it's like we could release anything, and still sell only 5000. So I guess we have some very loyal fans overseas which is a positive thing, but also a negative thing because we're always stuck at that number. And with the opening of the Nuclear Blast office in America, I'm very optimistic for the future.

CoC: Your choice of covers by bands like Running Wild, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden... were these bands instrumental in how Therion sounded at any particular time?

CJ: The Scorpions, if you can believe, were the biggest real influence for us. Scorpions in the 80s is not really my favorite, and please note that Scorpions in the 90s is the worst rubbish I can imagine. But the Scorpions in the 70s was one of the best hard rock bands around, and not many people know this. They were so brilliant back then and I got a lot of inspiration, especially for guitar harmonies, and once I even stole a riff and put it into one of the songs off _Lepaca Kliffoth_. Many people told me "wow, this riff is so cool," and I tell them "it's a Scorpions riff." So we did the Scorpions cover, "Fly to the Rainbow", which is from their second album from 1974. A lot of people said without knowing what it was, "hey, this new song is really cool, a little odd for Therion, but really cool" and when I tell them it's the Scorpions, they didn't want to believe me. It's just something we really wanted to do, a payback to the Scorpions. We like Maiden a lot, we grew up with them. The same goes to Judas Priest, from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, Judas Priest was fucking killer, and one of my favorite bands when it comes to listening [to music], even though it's not really influencing my songwriting. To tell the truth, I'm not really a big fan of Running Wild at all, all I have is one album, the _Under Jolly Roger_ album which is quite okay. That song in particular is a good song, and a very good live song, so we play it live a lot. Especially in Germany, where we don't have to sing the chorus as the audience does it for us.

CoC: You did a soundtrack awhile back. What was the film about?

CJ: It's an art film, so it's like, you figure it out and tell me! I like a cultivated movie, but art movies are sometimes too heavy for me. I don't see the point or the meaning or message of the movie, but it's quite a beautiful picture. It's hard to explain what's it's about.

CoC: Did he seek you out to do the soundtrack?

CJ: He heard _Theli_ and thought it was impressive, and he asked me if I would like to do something without the metal, just pure classic with opera singing. I also added some small keyboards in some places for a more movie feeling, so only 5% is keyboards for an atmospheric feeling. It was a great challenge.

CoC: I've learned that Lars (Rosenberg, bass) and Jonas (Mellberg, guitars, keyboards) have left the band. What were the reasons for their departure?

CJ: They were actually fired because of alcohol problems. Jonas started to drink in the studio. While we made the Maiden cover, he actually flipped out totally and left in the middle of the session, leaving me with an unfinished tape. It was an argument between him and the studio engineer, and it resulted in that he was drunk, therefore behaving like shit, and he just left in the middle of everything, so of course, we fired him. Alcohol increased his personal problems to limits that were unacceptable. As for Lars, who'se been a friend of mine for eight years, it was quite sad, but in the end, he made a conscious decision between the band and alcohol, and he picked the alcohol. He's always been a heavy drinker, and after awhile, we realized he was playing like fucking shit, so we [as a band] started drinking less and less. But he was drinking more than ever, and his playing was very sloppy and we told him, "take it easy, drink after the show. People are paying good money to see us play live, it's very disrespectful to care more about getting drunk than playing a good show." And one day, he fell on his ass on stage because he was too drunk, and that was too much for us. We gave him the choice, and we gave him a lot of changes, but there was never any improvement. His disrespect for us and the crowd at our shows resulted in us not wanting to do anything more with him as a person or as an instrument. He then left for South America and moved in with some fucking groupie that he met down there while we were playing South America. He then got kicked out by the groupie, so I guess that was his wake-up call as I heard he stopped drinking. I guess he had to hit rock bottom, being kicked out by a groupie onto the streets, and maybe his brain started to work again. It's a real pity, as he used to be one of the best bassists around in the Stockholm area, and now he's definitely one of the worst.

CoC: And finally, what other musical possibilities do you see that Therion may perhaps explore in future records?

CJ: You never know. I always want to do something new. It was very good that I got to do the soundtrack because I was getting deeper and deeper into classical music, and I think the next album could have been the first predictable Therion record if I hadn't done this classic soundtrack, because everyone would have thought that we would do more classical stuff on the next album, which would have been the case. I want to do something completely different all the time so people say "hey, what's this new shit? Is this Therion?". I don't know what direction to go into for the next album. We have a couple of tracks so far, and we're scheduled to record by the end of the year, like December. For the songs so far, I would say it's still classic, and we still use opera choirs, but there aren't as many classic cliches. If AC/DC played rock and roll cliches, then we do classic cliches. If you listen to the classic music itself on _Theli_, there's no originality, we're just playing classical music. The soundtrack is a bit more original, but I want to go even further than that. I want to do very original classical music which I want to metal-ize into Therion songs. I want to also include a lot of elements that we never had before. I think we're gonna be more epic. I don't want to say gothic because there's no other band that calls themselves gothic that I would like to refer to, definitely nothing like Sisters of Mercy or anything like that. I would say epic. Not really the best word for it, but at least it's the closest thing I can think of.

(article submitted 12/8/1997)

1/7/2007 J Smit Therion: In the Nightside of Eden
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
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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