Leviathan III

rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Ninkigal
02. Ruler Of Tamag
03. An Unsung Lament
04. Maleficium
05. Ayahuasca
06. Baccanale
07. Midsommarblot
08. What Was Lost Shall Be Lost No More
09. Duende
10. Nummo
11. Twilight Of The Gods

THERION founder and creative mastermind Christofer Johnsson has been hacking away at the creative coalface for a remarkable 35 years now. Having long established his band's reputation as symphonic metal's esoteric awkward squad, his decision to spawn a trilogy of related records has a certain conciliatory air to it.

A robust return to proper metal business after the bloated orchestral behemoth of 2018's "Beloved Antichrist", "Leviathan" (2021) and "Leviathan II" (2022) offered an upgraded version of the formula that had served THERION so well for so long. Thunderous heavy metal, operatic vocals, progressive detours, theatrical flair: all things that Johnsson does with impeccable taste and skill. "Leviathan III" is, as one might expect, more of the same, but this climactic piece of the puzzle is by far the most straightforwardly entertaining and enjoyable of the three.

There have undoubtedly been times in the past when THERION have wandered so far into neoclassical realms that their metal instincts have escaped them. Not so here, this is an album that strikes a shrewd balance between sumptuous, symphonic conceits and straight-ahead hard rock oomph. Epic adventures like "Ruler Of Tamag" and "An Unsung Lament" are undeniably extravagant, but their labyrinthine structures and waves of vocal acrobatics are underpinned by earthy and anthemic progressive metal.

As ever, vocalists Lori Lewis and Thomas Vikström have a lot to do, but the chemistry between them is a done deal at this point. On something like the stately and sprawling "Ayahuasca", the dynamic and dramatic range that they bring to Johnsson's material is self-evident. Woozily psychedelic and more overtly prog-inclined than anything on this record's two predecessors, it touches upon atmospheric territory that THERION have largely ignored since the glory days of "Secret Of The Runes" (2001),  "Lemuria" (2004) and "Sirius B" (2004),  with Vikström and Lewis's harmonies floating across a blissed-out cascade of gothic rock. The closing "Twilight Of The Gods" is similarly opulent and bloated with bright ideas, while also sounding like CANDLEMASS.

Elsewhere, "Leviathan III" is simply the most unapologetically fun record THERION have made in years, and possibly ever. From the barbarous, black operatics of the opening "Nikigal" to the wild prog thrash of "Baccanale", these are songs that value the power of heavy metal just as much as the power of cross-pollination. Bombastic by nature but eminently capable of conjuring a sense of darkness and disquiet, Johnsson's songwriting has taken many forms over the last 35 years, but "Leviathan III" feels as definitive as anything THERION have released this century. If you want bells and whistles, there are plenty here to assault the senses, and no one is going to accuse Johnsson of being too understated and subtle. As the "Leviathan" trilogy comes to a deafening close, it is obvious that these enduring metal artisans are enjoying themselves like never before.

Author: Dom Lawson
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