I'm behind on what Therion have been up to, though I remember their early death metal period and I adore their heyday of Theli, Vovin and Deggial in the late nineties. I've maybe heard up to their 2007 album, Gothic Kabbalah, but only founder member Christofer Johnsson was in the band at that point from this line-up. To be fair, drummer Sami Karppinen was in the band for Deggial, though he left in 2001 and didn't return until 2017. Everyone else joined around the turn of the previous decade, from 2008 to 2011, so I haven't heard any of them until now.
What struck me immediately is that this is once the Therion I remember and something else entirely. The epic feel is still there and the mix of male and female vocals too, being split between the tenor of Thomas Vikström and soprano of Lori Lewis, along with a host of guest singers, including members or former members of Nightwish, Candlemass and Scardust. Choral layering is commonplace, courtesy in large part to Noa Gruman from Scardust leading the Hellscore Choir. Psalm of Retribution is the sort of combination of emphasis, lead vocal and choir that I expect from Therion.
What's different is that there's a folkier feel than I remember, not just through a middle eastern vibe in Aži Dahāka that I've heard from the band before, but European folk on other tracks too, especially the opener, The Leaf on the Oak of Far. And, above all, the guitars are notably down in the mix, which clearly favours drums first and vocals second. The first killer riff I caught came as late as track eight, a powerful piece called Great Marquis of Hell, which is odd. We couldn't miss them on earlier albums, if some were borrowed (cough, Enter Vril-Ya, cough).
Now, not all these songs would have that driving guitar anyway, even if the mix was adjusted. Fourth in, after a couple of more vehement songs, Tuonela and Leviathan, is Die Wellen der Zeit, which is the sort of overblown choral piece driven by a string section rather than a guitarist that Manowar would put together, albeit done much better by Therion than anything I've heard from Manowar lately. They can this sort of thing in their sleep and they're awake here.
The songs here are decent. I didn't dislike any of these eleven, though conversely few stood out in the way they used to. Now, the mix did sound better when I realised my equalizer was off but switching it back on didn't solve the problem, merely alleviated it somewhat. Some of the songs did pop better on a fresh runthrough, after I facepalmed myself. Leviathan and Eye of Algol had managed it anyway, but I added Tuonela and Great Marquis of Hell to that list and others came close.
My favourite song, though, is probably Aži Dahāka, because it always felt more powerful than many of its peers, it's dipped into middle eastern flavour and Lori Lewis absolutely shines, with some operatic vocals which soar higher than many of her fellow sopranos seem willing to go. In fact, they don't only elevate that song but the next one too, because she's much lower and aiming more for power on Eye of Algol, but nails that as well. The two songs ably combine to underline why she's a highlight in this line-up, even if there are a number of notable guest singers here and I don't know where they all are.
I'm going to go 7/10 here because I liked everything and didn't dislike anything, even though this is generally weaker than the glory days. I do wonder, though, how I'd have felt about it had I come to it from the other three albums this approximate line-up released, given that the last two weren't at all like this, Les Fleurs du Mal being a covers album of French pop songs and Beloved Antichrist a three hour rock musical. I'd like to hear those, just because I'm adventurous musically, but they weren't as well received by fans as this return to a traditional approach seems to be.