Therion – Beyond Sanctorum – 4/5
Another one at the request of Lifer regular J. Chan, I must confess to being better acquainted with their latter, more symphonic material than their earlier death metal, yet despite knowing their origins, nothing could quite prepare me for what I would discover. With an opening track that could only be described as appalling, with tinny sounding drums overpowering the guitar work, and vocals that I couldn’t help but be reminded of the vocals from fictional band ‘dethklok,’ do yourself a favour and just hit that skip button, because its only after this that things really get interesting.
This is in no way a straight forward death metal album. You won’t be overloaded with blast beats, but rather serenaded with a variety of beats and fills, with each given ample time to be fully developed. The guitars as it turns out, well and truly steal the show, providing more aggressive riffs, in between doom-esque melodic interludes, thrash grooves and the occasional solo’s, at times almost reminiscent of power metal, to call the work here as anything short of creative genius would be doing them an injustice.
The vocals are used sparsely, relying largely on the guitar work to sustain interest. Where they are used, they present a variety of growls, both deep and high pitched, as well as softer choral chanting and even female guest vocals, making themselves apparent on ‘Symphony of the Dead,’ which gives a strong indication as to the direction they would head. Keyboards too, are used rather sparingly, to assist with the vocals, combining to often create an atmosphere, rather than perhaps the more conventional use of - the vocals in particular- as more of a focal point.
The production beyond the first track marks a drastic improvement. No longer are the guitars hidden behind layers of tinny drums, the vocals are crisp and clear, the guitars raw, distorted and muddy yet discernable, and the drums capable of producing a deep bass-filled thunderous aggression.
Despite all this variation and innovation, everything feels fairly rooted to the death metal genre. At no point does it stray too far beyond the realm of the genre to feel out of place, but at the same time, if you’re expecting a straight forward death metal release you’ve come to the wrong place. This is early experimental death metal, with both high’s and lows. The rather generic intro track, the static noise like sound on ‘Tyrants of the Damned,’ and the overtly bass-filled intro to ‘Enter the Depths…’ show that not all their idea’s were successful. Despite this, they have succeeded in delivering high quality music that remains unique and innovative more than 15 years since its release.
Highlights: Pandemic Outbreak, Symphony of the Dead, The Way
Note: This copy is the Nuclear Blast re-release. It contains some demo tracks, which are essentially tracks from the album with less production work.