I liked Leviathan, the seventeenth studio album by Therion, the Swedish pioneers of choral metal, symphonic metal, operatic metal, whatever else you want to call it, but I also struggled with it. It's easily recognisable as the Therion I knew and I loved from their heyday in the late nineties but the band's sound had shiifted and not always in directions I was happy about. The choral sections were as solid as I remembered and the folk elements were welcome, but the guitars were relegated to a supporting slot and I didn't find a strong riff until the eighth track.
Leviathan II, unsurprisingly, is more of the same, and for those completely on board with the band nowadays can expect a third batch of this sort of material when they wrap up the trilogy in 2023. It has to be said that I enjoyed this album too, but I'm still not convinced by it. I certainly wasn't on a first listen, the standout moments being just that—moments—like the Hammond organ that's so briefly present late in Litany of the Fallen, the violin in Alchemy of the Soul or the plucked intro to Lunar Coloured Fields. Later on, there's accordion in Midnight Star and flute in Cavern Cold as Ice. However, none of the songs leapt out at me.
They fared much better on a second listen, especially the songs that featured more prominent use of guitar. The opener, Aeon of Maat, ends too quickly but there's an excellent guitar solo that our expectations initially interpret as more of Lori Lewis's soprano soaring above Thomas Vikström's tenor. Lucifuge Rofocale and Midnight Star both start with honest to goodness riffs and, even better, the guitars don't just vanish when the vocals show up, as they inevitably do. There's definitely a little more guitar on this album than its predecessor, even if the riffs still feel anomalous in the modern Therion sound that lives or dies on its vocals.
To be fair, both Lewis and Vikström shine on this album, demonstrating their talents both solo and in duet, and there's plenty of choral work behind them to keep things varied and epic. I'd highlight Midnight Star not just for its guitars but for its vocals. Lewis is given the spotlight early so she can showcase her serious range (especially when we hear her in pop voice on the following Cavern Cold as Ice), but that spotlight shifts to Vikström later on. Both are excellent.
Other songs, more dedicated to the new Therion sound improved on a second listen too. Litany of the Fallen still felt clumsily theatrical at points early on, as if what they were doing trumped what it sounded like. However, it built gloriously and, by when it reached a closing demonic conjuration, I was completely on board. Lunar Coloured Fields grew until I was swaying in my chair to its sinuous movements. Even when I couldn't grasp a whole piece, as with much of the second half, I dug parts of the songs, like the middle eastern elements to Marijin Min Nar.
The question, of course, is how much these songs will grow. A third listen didn't add much and the cherrypicking I've been doing since to try to get a grip on individual tracks has only elevated those I'd already fallen for, especially Lucifuge Rofocale and Midnight Star. And so, I think I need to stick with a 7/10 for this second part in the trilogy. I liked it more than the first, but not by much, and it still feels a little distant to me. Maybe my expectations are leading me astray, because I want the operatic and choral work that's so quintessentially Therion—they're a rare metal band who simply can't be mistaken for anyone else—but I want the guitars too that they're moving away from. But I have a feeling that I'm still being generous.