Therion is a Swedish symphonic metal band founded by Christofer Johnsson in 1988. Its name was inspired by the Celtic Frost album To Mega Therion. “To Mega Therion” is Greek for “The Great Beast” and was a title used by occultist Aleister Crowley. Originally a death metal band, Therion adjusted its musical style by adding orchestral elements, including choirs, classical musicians, and even a full orchestra at their concert performances. As a result, they are considered pioneers of the symphonic metal genre.
Imagine that one of your most favorite bands are about to do their first-ever U.S. Tour. Imagine that their first-ever U.S. show is in your hometown. Now imagine that you have a photo pass and an in-person interview with your favorite band at their first-ever U.S. show on their first-ever U.S. tour. You’d be pretty damned excited, wouldn’t you? Yeah, I was! Some, such as myself, would even go so far as to call Therion the greatest band in the world. In any event, only a fool would not be able to at least appreciate the music that they create or the passion that they have for it. So to the world’s greatest band, I say “thank you”, thank you for everything.
Grim Magazine: As Therion is one of my favorite bands, I’d like to start off by telling you that it is an extreme honor to for me to be able to interview you on the first day of your first U.S. tour, so thank you very much. Now, what are your expectations for the tour?
Christofer: Pretty mixed, I mean, I think there will be a lot of shows like tonight, which is not really packed. There will be other shows where it will be pretty good; New York is doing pretty well on pre-sales and some Canadian shows are doing pretty well, the Springfield one is doing pretty well. So it will be pretty mixed. Originally, we wanted to do a very short tour, but then all of a sudden we had the offer, guaranteed fees to do a long one, so why not?
Grim Magazine: Right on.
Christofer: I mean, places like no offense, but Denver, that’s not one of the places I would expect to see big crowds, or Texas and places like that, so we’re just happy that the opportunity to go everywhere and somebody’s paying for it.
Grim Magazine: So, what kind of preparation does Therion go through before each show?
Grim Magazine: None?
Christofer: We just go and play. Well, I guess the opera singers warm up and stuff like that, but sometimes if I’m fucked like today, maybe I’ll play the guitar for a little bit before, like half an hour, but normally we just go on stage. We get dressed, obviously, though.
Grim Magazine: Okay. Is that material you perform going to vary from show to show or are you just going to be playing a setlist every night?
Christofer: It will vary in the States because, first of all, the support act thing, since we play with local acts like tonight is three bands, which means we do a shorter set, if there are only us and one support act, we do a longer one. It’s also a matter of what the venue looks like. I mean, we have one which is more suitable for bigger things and one which is more intimate, for the smaller. Now we’re doing a light version of the smaller one because everybody’s fucked in the head from the flight, plus we have a problem with the monitor system here. There are really cool people here, they did the best they could, but they didn’t read the contract before they signed it.
Grim Magazine: Yeah, the venue you’re playing tomorrow in Seattle is a lot nicer.
Christofer: There’s no monitor system suitable for a band like us here. We had to invent things, take the mixing disc from here down and so on. So there are a few songs which the choir can’t do without a proper hearing, they get a bit from the front, but some additional solo parts… so we’re skipping a few songs that would be difficult to do, especially because it’s the first show and everybody’s jet-lagged and we don’t want to have any out of key singing.
Grim Magazine: Okay, why did you decide to tour without a support act?
Christofer: Because we didn’t know how we would do. I mean, it wouldn’t be fair to sell it to a support act; say “pay a lot of money, go with us on the U.S. tour.” We know what to expect in Europe, say “this is the number of people we pull” and so on. But this is completely out of the dark. Another aspect is also that we’re going to play a lot of small stages and if we bring a band on that pay their expenses and go with us all the time, then we must give them the possibility for sound checks and all that, but if we have a technical problem now, we haven’t promised anything to anybody; it’s a local promoter and if they say they want to put up a band, then they better make sure there’s space on stage and so on.
So if you’re playing a really small venue, obviously we’re not going to move our drum kit and so forth. No punk. So we set up our stuff and if you can set up another band in front of that with their gear exclusively, fine; then we can have a support act. But without giving up one inch of any proper show space; everything has to be set up professionally – no punk, be hippies, smoke pot and drink beer together; we didn’t go here to give people crap shows. So everything’s going to be done professionally, just like in Europe. Then, if we’re playing a very small venue, there might not be space for it. So it’s easier if we didn’t promise anything to anybody; we do our stuff if there’s space enough, fine; bring them on.
Grim Magazine: After the European festivals that Therion has taken part in, does the ProgPower festival in Atlanta seem to be not that big of a deal or is it more important because it’s your first festival appearance here in the United States?
Christofer: It’s important because it’s the only show we do which is really a promotion. I mean, now we’re kind of reaching to the people that are already convinced, people that come to the shows now because they have our records, but when we play the ProgPower, of course, it will be people that probably heard the name, but don’t have the records. So that will be an important show, but it’s quite small compared to Europe I would say. Play Wacken, that’s thirty thousand. Dynamo was sixty thousand, and that’s limited; they had a hundred-sixty thousand before they started to limit it, then they limited it to ninety thousand. All the logistics problems; people have got to eat, take a shit, piss somewhere, imagine that with ninety thousand people, so they cut it down to sixty thousand when we played the last time.
After that, they actually had a few problems finding a spot to put up the festival because Holland is very small and there’s agriculture everywhere. So a festival with less than ten thousand would be considered very small in Europe. We did the Summer Breeze that had eleven thousand and that’s one of the smallest. But the size doesn’t matter, really. I think it’s truly good what ProgPower did; they sold out, they could have sold more tickets, but they want to keep it that way to keep the atmosphere. I really respect that. There are very few people that take the culture first and the money later instead of saying “oh yeah, we can squeeze out a few more bucks”.
So the festival will have a special character; it’s something you cannot compare to the >number of people. I mean, who cares if you have a festival with a hundred thousand people and there’s no place to take a shit or a piss or it takes you an hour to find something to eat; that’s not a fun festival. I think they really did the right thing to limit it and make sure everything is controlled, very enjoyable for both bands and fans and it’s very admirable and, if you don’t mind me saying so, very un-American, because it’s normally like “Oh yeah! Extra bucks! Bring ’em on!”
Grim Magazine: Yeah, just look at Ozzfest and what happened to Maiden.
Christofer: Yeah, well, that fucking bitch Sharon. I realize that Bruce Dickinson was a bit rude, it was very unnecessary saying those things, just stupid and rude. But it’s fucking unprofessional and very bitchy to ruin it for the fans. If you want to kick his ass backstage or whatever, take a crap on his band, fine, but to ruin it for the fans, that’s unworthy, completely unworthy.
Grim Magazine: Also, if she’d put any research into it, she would have known those things Bruce said on stage was nothing new.
Christofer: Also, they’ve been saying these things like, “we don’t need a reality show”, blah blah blah; those things are true. It’s just that he kicks where it hurts and doing those things in public is very, very bad. Why say such a thing? Everybody knows it anyway. Being a huge Ozzy fan myself, I think it’s fucking sad seeing those things; you don’t want to see one of your childhood heroes walking with a fucking stick like your grandpa, (laughter) something’s wrong with that.
Grim Magazine: Yeah, the show I saw, he ended up walking off stage at one point.
Christofer: He did so many good things, it’s better to stop and preserve it that way instead of remembering him as some guy who took so many drugs and drank so much that his head is empty. Well, I admire him still for going on, you know; he can’t fucking walk properly and he can’t fucking think properly, but he still goes on and sings, so that’s cool.
Grim Magazine: All right, now I understand that the next album you’re going to release was written alongside “Sirius B” and “Lemuria”. What can we expect from it and also, when can we expect the next album after that?
Christofer: Well, the third one has been more progressive, I would say. We’ve written tons of songs meanwhile, so I guess we already have songs enough for two records, but we’re not going to record two at the same time; it took eleven months last time. Well, nine months stretched over an eleven-month period and it’s just too much. So we’ll see. I guess after the next record and the world tour after that, we’re definitely going to take a proper break. I mean, I haven’t had a proper vacation in two and a half, three years, so I’m in big need of that. Next summer I’m for sure going to have a proper vacation, take two months of vacation at least. We’re going to do a world tour and then I would like to have one year completely off, do nothing. It would be good.
Grim Magazine: Okay, what can be expected from the DVD?
Christofer: A lot. (laughs) It will be basically everything you would want on a DVD; it would be a multiple DVD with tons of stuff on it. Without revealing too much, it will be everything you would want. We will probably film a little bit because it’s so fucking delayed anyway, film a bit in the U.S. and Canada and some last-minute add-ons to make it more complete. It will be audio CD’s and also DVD’s as well, so it will be really a multi-pack, but probably we’ll make some sort of “light” edition for people that want to spend less and just have the fundamental stuff on it.
Grim Magazine: As your lyrics cover a lot of mythology and lore from across the world, outside of the Nordic mythology, what’s your favorite subject to write about?
Christofer: Egyptian, I guess. It’s hard to mention one favorite; there are always interesting things in a lot of different traditions and mythologies, but the Egyptians have a lot of really interesting things.
Grim Magazine: If this tour ends up being financially disappointing, is there a chance that Therion will come back as a headliner or a support act?
Christofer: We’re completely covered. I’m a pretty good businessman, so I wouldn’t go on a tour and just hope for the best. We’re covered with guarantees, so if five people show up at every show, we’re completely covered. So that’s not a problem; the problem would be that if the promoters do not make money, they’re not going to jump into the sky out of happiness like, “oh yeah, let’s book them again! I remember I had to sell my car last time they played here”. (laughter) You get the point. As it seems now with the first show, I don’t think we’re going to play Portland again as a headline band.
Grim Magazine: Yeah, seventy, eighty people, so I can see why not.
Christofer: Yeah. This was a late show anyway, like a very late add-on, so it’s not very representative, but even if shows are a hundred and fifty, two hundred, it’s really a foundation for headline touring. This time we’re covered, but next time people are going to ask how we did last time. So unless the next album is going to do really well, I don’t think we can do this same kind of headline tour in the same places we do now. A few places I’m sure and hopefully, quite a few of them, but not thirty-five dates. On the other hand, it’s not necessary to do that; we could get in a package with another band. To do such an extensive headline tour like this anyway was never a plan, it just happened.
I asked our booking agent if they could set up four or five shows on the East Coast, up in Canada maybe, make sure they break even. All of a sudden, we had a handful of shows over there and “oh yeah, we can fly you over to the West Coast as well”, somebody’s paying for it, sure, let’s go. Then all of a sudden, “Yeah, let’s do the redneck places as well, take the tour bus over to Texas or whatever”. Sure; somebody’s paying for it, why not? It will be cool, we’ll play there. Then all of a sudden, “yeah, we can route you back again” and before we knew it, we had from west to the east, back to the west, back to the east, so it’s pretty unexpected. I don’t how they managed to put that together, but some pretty good venues, too, like the House of Blues places, so we do some smaller, we do some bigger venues and well just have to see how it worked out afterward.
Grim Magazine: Okay, so, the advertisement for tonight’s show has a quote from Rolling Stone that reads “precision tactics lead them through the rugged territory, from classic thrash to moments verging on black metal”. Now, this makes you guys sound rather blasé compared to what you have been doing for the past decade.
Christofer: It’s hard to describe to people. If you’re not into the seventies prog, for instance, it’s quite hard to describe what we do, ’cause many of the roots are there, obscure bands from the seventies.
Grim Magazine: But it sounds like it’s just describing the first two albums and ignoring everything else.
Christofer: Yeah, well, they probably didn’t listen to the stuff, just heard from somebody or played a song, like “oh yeah, this makes some noise; it’s black metal”. (laughter) But the funny thing is, a lot of people say today that we went from standard death metal to something innovative. “How do you come to this split?” “When did you decide that you wanted to become an original band?” It really shows that they have no clue of what we did back then because we were always regarded as an avant-garde band. Small details maybe don’t matter in the nineties when everybody went nuts musically, but back then, even if you played something like power chords, it’s just like “this is strange”. And we were playing a pure major chord, minor chords, some strange jazzy chords, which is kind of hard to hear with all the distortion and low budget death metal production, but we always did things that were considered damn weird back then.
Even on the first record, there were some small keyboards, we were always open to doing things that nobody else did. In fact, when we did the second album, people called us posers because there were a lot of keyboards. In ’92, that was like “death metal and keyboards?” I mean, who did that? Well, Nocturnus, but in a different way and about that time, The Gathering started to do it. The Gathering was never really a death metal band, so it was basically us and Nocturnus. Those people who said that later probably played keyboards in black metal bands. (laughs) You couldn’t imagine a black metal band today without keyboards. The same thing when we did the third record, we started using some eighties heavy metal influences, typical eighties heavy metal. Then there was a lot of people saying it didn’t really fit together, there’s no future with melodic death metal or heavy metal with death metal (laughter).
Then a few years later came In Flames and a lot of bands like that, so obviously there was a pretty good future in that. (laughter) We were always ahead of our time, but these small things, today you could say “yeah, so what? You did the heavy metal riff in the death metal song.” But back then, it was like “what are you guys doing?” Small things don’t matter when everything’s been done, take AC/DC; if they would decide to use a keyboard in one of the songs, it would be like “what the fuck?” Because they don’t have many changes, so small changes there would be considered quite drastic.
Grim Magazine: From what I’ve read on the website, there was a great deal of chaos in and around the band during the recording and subsequent touring for the “Theli” album. How did the band manage to pull through that?
Christofer: There’s only myself left. (laughter) It was fucking chaos. I don’t know where to begin… we did three tours for that album. The first one, we sounded like fucking crap, total crap. We’re going to have a historical section on the DVD with old concerts to show every tour a little bit and I looked through the “Theli” stuff and fuck, we can’t put that on the DVD. In the end, I found one song that didn’t make me throw up completely.
Grim Magazine: Oh, wow.
Christofer: The bass player was an alcoholic, the hired guitar player, he wasn’t an alcoholic, but he drank pretty heavily. The drummer is actually a friend of mine who is a guitar player but can play the drums, so he did the drums because there was nobody else around, I mean, the drummer left. He did a fairly good job given the circumstances and then we didn’t have a choir; we couldn’t afford one so I just took a few singers who could kind of simulate that type of vocals and they were basically not paid, just pocket money. Everything was just fucking misery.
The so-called tenor was constantly drunk and smoking so much weed that if you would listen in his ear, you would hear sirens. (laughter) And that soprano, fuck… she also drank like a man. At the beginning of the tour, she didn’t sound that bad, when we rehearsed, it’s like “yeah, that’s good work”, but at the end of the tour… fuck, I could have sung the soprano better than her. Then we had Kimberly on keyboards; she did quite a good job on keyboards, I would say. She was singing also, she’s not really that type of singer, but it didn’t make it worse. But I think she was also drinking plenty of beers on that tour.
We were actually impressed with ourselves that we pulled something off at all because when we did that record, we thought we would never tour again and so did everybody else. Everybody, even though we sounded like shit, we’re really impressed because we did it. Then on the tour after that I hired some professional opera singers and then we sounded quite right, but it was really hard to work with those people because it was “too warm on the bus, too cold on the bus, I don’t like the food, I don’t like this, I don’t like that”. Half the budget was for them and all they did was complain between singing.
After that, we actually did a third tour with everything playback, because I got so fucking fed up with those people, so we just brought along one soprano, Sarah from Cradle of Filth, and everything else playback. I just couldn’t deal with those people anymore. We sounded quite fine on that tour, but for metal people, they want to see singers on stage singing, they don’t want to hear the playback. We sounded good at least, we were bringing the standard up, but I think on the tour after that when we released “Vovin”, was the first tour where we actually sounded good.
On the tours we did before “Theli” it was very uneven; sometimes we sounded damn good, sometimes we sounded like shit. It depends on where we were playing, how much booze there was and then I realized on the “Theli” tour, the second tour, that I’m not going to drink before the shows. We did a show where we thought we sounded pretty good, but we had been drinking a lot and I had a tape from that show later and it was like “this is how we sounded?” And then there was how I thought we sounded.
Okay, so since that day, I take not even a sip of beer before the show, so completely sober and then after the show well, getting too old to get completely pissed every night anyway, maybe I’ll drink one or two beers. Those were very interesting times because a lot of things happened, but I think from ’98 onward, I consider us a professional band. We always cared about playing, but maybe we didn’t realize how to care properly.
Grim Magazine: Okay. I have a friend who plays the oboe and he noticed that you incorporate it into your music a lot more than any other wind instrument; what attracts you to the oboe and why do you use it so often?
Christofer: It’s very easy to use; it’s so flexible. I mean, you just give them the notes, whatever, and they play it. If you take a lot of other instruments, you really have to compose something either for that instrument or find an instrumentalist who is way beyond the average. Something can be played easily, but it doesn’t sound good. Take the flute, for instance, you have the Piccolo flute, which is one octave higher, and then you have the regular flute. At the higher register of the regular one, it doesn’t always sound so good and if you take the Piccolo flute with the lower register, you get very weak tones. How can I explain this? Do you play an instrument?
Grim Magazine: No, I don’t.
Christofer: If you want something that stretches from the lower octaves to the high, you might not sound good. The best thing to do would be to divide it; that some part of it would be played with the Piccolo and some part would be played with the regular to get the strength of each instrument, which is something you could cut together in the studio, but you want one guy to play it fluidly. These are some problems you can have with some instruments, but with the oboe, “well, here are the notes, play it”. If it’s within the range of what you can physically play it will mostly sound very good. And it’s a very nice tone, it’s penetrative, it sounds picture-perfect, it has very nice overtones, it sounds very beautiful and it’s very easy to place in the sound picture. It’s simply a wonderful instrument.
To get back to the flute, a lot of the frequencies are getting eaten in the sound picture with rock music, so you don’t really get the true beauty of the character together with rock music, at least not with distorted guitars and all that. The oboe is more like a compact sound, it’s very easy to deal with and very beautiful. As a classical instrument, it’s my favorite anyway just by pure taste, but from our technical perspective, it’s just a lovely instrument to work with. I also have the fortune to know a really good player in Sweden. He’s damned good. He listened to rock music too, so you can describe how you want it in a classical manner, but then you can tell him to “make it swing a little bit as well”. You couldn’t tell that to an ordinary classical player, he would say “what do you mean swing?”. You can tell him some rock terms to get these extra feelings along with what we do, while somebody who thinks from a purely classical perspective, he would just play it by the notes and maybe with the metronome and whatever noise you hear from the guitars is not interesting.
Grim Magazine: Is there a possibility of Therion releasing an album mastered in 5.1 digital surround sound on either the DVD-Audio format or DualDisc?
Christofer: It’s been discussed, but Nuclear Blast, they don’t sell any of them. Metal fans don’t seem to have that equipment, a few, but not enough to motivate sales.
Grim Magazine: Dammit!
Christofer: They tried it with Manowar and they tried it with Nightwish, which are the two best selling bands on the label and sales are very poor with that. We discussed doing that with the last two records, but I didn’t want to do that because it was recorded digitally in 44.1 kilohertz, so if you would have converted that to 96 or something, well the sound file would be 96, but the sound would have been 44.1; it would have been ripping people off, saying “hey, buy this one, it’s 96 kilohertz quality”. Bullshit. It has to be recorded in the higher resolution from the start, otherwise, there’s absolutely no sound difference. Of course, you could get the surround thing, but it’s cheesy. If you’re going to do it, you do it the proper way or not at all.
Grim Magazine: Now we have some questions submitted by members of our message board for what little time I have left on this tape. How do you pick your guest vocalists?
Christofer: You mean the rock vocalists?
Grim Magazine: Yeah, like Hansi Kursch from Blind Guardian and so forth.
Christofer: Different reasons. I mean, we used Ralf Scheepers from Primal Fear. For his stuff in “The Wild Hunt”, I actually had someone like Rob Halford in mind, but realizing that he probably wouldn’t be interested in doing that, by pure coincidence, I think even the same day as it was, I had a package from Nuclear Blast with promo CD’s and there was a Primal Fear one. I was like, “whoa, this guy is damn close to what I want, this guy could do it” and we were on the same label, so it was very easy to arrange. When it comes to Hansi, it was actually a coincidence. I had a few cassettes with Blind Guardian, really old stuff like “Imaginations From The Other Side”. I knew him, but I never really thought of using him for anything like this even though I thought he was a good vocalist.
I actually have Udo Dirkschnieder from Accept in mind and I was in contact with him and he was supposed to do it, but then he was on a promo tour and he had to extend it, so while we were in Germany recording the album, he was actually in Sweden doing interviews and stuff (laughter), so there was no possibility for him to get back in time so we could do the mix and all. So we had to think of something else and then somebody suggested “oh, Hansi’s a good singer”, “Hansi who? Ah, the Blind Guardian singer, well why not? Let’s try it, he’s a great singer”. He came along and it just sounded fantastic and I just gave him very free hands and he did a really good job.
Grim Magazine: What is the vocalist that you’d like to work with the most that you haven’t yet?
Christofer: Gundala Jonavich; that’s the best opera singer of our time. Unfortunately, she’s retired. She’s sixty-five or something, but that’s the best opera voice ever recorded. There might have been better opera singers once upon a time, but since recorded music, she’s the best one I’ve ever heard. But that’s a pretty stupid dream (laughs) because it won’t come true. As for rock singers… to work with some of the people I grew up with, like Bruce Dickinson or Rob Halford would, of course, be a big honor just because of me being a fan of those bands.
Grim Magazine: What’ the future of Demonoid?
Christofer: It’s the Niemann brothers’ band mostly. They always wanted to put something together for years, but some people, they can write music very well, other people are very good at organizing and making things happen. I’m a bit of both, but they’re productive with music. They were trying to make some sort of death metal project for years and they wrote songs, but nothing really happened, so I went on vacation for two weeks and I said “look, get this stuff together and when I get home, I’ll make sure we make a record, I’ll sing on it and make sure it gets released” and all that.
So it wasn’t that serious, but then I got home and it’s like “damn, this is good stuff, this will be fun”. So we recorded it and I think we really should do one more record at least. Though I don’t want to tour with it, I don’t want to do death metal grunts for a long show, maybe a few festivals, but I’m not going to go up on stage and growl for one hour and fifteen minutes for a three-month tour, that’s not going to happen. Obviously, Demonoid is on a completely different level. Now in the U.S., we do a lot of small clubs, that’s fine, totally fine, but in Europe, we’re used to a bigger level.
Maybe for pure convenience, but I’m not going to go on a one month tour playing small clubs in Europe singing death metal. I’m not that old from age, but I started doing this when I was fifteen and that’s ’87, so if we count on the age how long I’ve been doing this and how little vacation time, I’m pretty old, so no more punk tours for me. But I hope we can do another record and then if they want to go on tour, they can maybe take some other singer and if they want to make more records, I would say great.
The tape ran out at this point and we closed the interview. No actual ‘thank you’s’ or ‘goodbyes’ could be said, at least on tape, but nothing else was brought up during this interview.
(1991) Therion – Of Darkness…
(1992) Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
(1993) Therion – Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas
(1995) Therion – Lepaca Kliffoth
(1996) Therion – Theli
(1997) Therion – A’arab Zaraq – Lucid Dreaming
(1998) Therion – Vovin
(1999) Therion – Crowning of Atlantis
(2000) Therion – Deggial
(2001) Therion – Secret of the Runes
(2004) Therion – Lemuria
(2004) Therion – Sirius B
(2007) Therion – Gothic Kabbalah
(2010) Therion – Sitra Ahra
(2012) Therion – Les Fleurs du Mal
(2018) Therion – Beloved Antichrist
With: Christofer Johnsson (guitarist)
Interview Date: August 30th, 2005
Years Active: 1988–present
Genre: Avant-Garde, Symphonic/Operatic
Website: Official Website
Label: Nuclear Blast
Origin: Stockholm, Sweden
Reviewed by: Grim Magazine
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