The band that invented Operatic Metal and was a huge influence on Symphonic Metal, THERION, is back with an epic release. A triple album named ‘Beloved Antichrist’. The leader, guitarist, and main composer of the band, Christofer Johnsson, talked to Metalpaths thoroughly about that new album and their upcoming tour that will take place in Europe on February and March, 2018.
First of all I would like to ask you about your health. How are you? Have you completely recovered from your neck’s problem?
Nah, I will never recover 100% from this thing. Actually, if you break one of these things they will never be like new again. But it’s ok, some days I feel nothing, it’s just like it never happened and other days it’s not so good. As long as I continue doing this year’s therapy it should be no problem touring and so on. It’s just that I have to refrain from head-banging and I can’t carry a lot heavy stuff. I feel like an old man in a way, but it’s something that I’ll get used to. At first, when I was young, I practiced how to head-bang and play the guitar at the same time and now that I‘ve done it for thirty one years, I need to get used to play without head-banging. We don’t do violent head-banging like a Death Metal band, but, you know, we play with our entire body, we keep the rhythm with our heads and I shouldn’t be doing that anymore. We did three festivals in August and it felt a little bit weird. It felt like I was rehearsing on stage. It’s hard to get this kick-ass feeling when you have to think about your position all the time, but it’s a matter of getting used to it. I think on the first ten shows of the tour I will be like; “Oh, boring” but I’ll get used to it and at the end of the tour it’s going to be the “new normal”.
Your new –triple- album, a rock opera named ‘Beloved Antichrist’ will be released on February 9th via Nuclear Blast. How do you feel about the result of the recordings and the performances of the vocalists?
I am really happy with it! My main feeling [though], is relief. Because this recording was insane! We actually wrote four hours of music and then we thought it was too much, so we recorded three and a half hours of music! In the end, after the mix, I listened to it and we decided to streamline it and cut it down to three hours and four minutes which is what’s on the CDs now. I am just happy it is over [laughs]! It’s like recording four albums at one time. It’s the best and the worst idea I ever had in my life, at the same time.
But I have to say though, that calling it a rock opera is my fault. I said that to the record company and they put that in the promo sheets. A rock opera is an album with a storyline; this is not a rock opera in the traditional way. It is a rock-metal musical with operatic vocals. If I say ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ you‘re not gonna think “Oh, it’s an album” or [the same with] ‘Phantom Of The Opera’. You can buy ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ on a CD but it is not an album, it’s a musical. What we are releasing now is an audio CD version of a musical, just like you buy ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ audio track on a CD, it’s the same. But when you listen to its music you have to keep in mind that it’s like a soundtrack to a movie. It’s a bit of backward way that we release the soundtrack first and the “movie” later. That is because of financial reasons because to be able to stage this in its full form, we need to show the music to the musical promoters first. It costs a hundred thousand Euros to record this and we don’t have this money in our pockets. Somebody had to finance it and that means the record company had to pay for it and they need the result of a product they can sell, because they don’t do charity, obviously. They are [Nuclear Blast] the best recording company on the planet but even they would not give us one hundred thousand Euros and say: “Oh, don’t worry; we’ll release it five years from now”. Therefore they have the result and release it now. That’s why we release it first and do the staging later.
What we do now, in the upcoming tour, is just a regular tour, because I know, a lot of fans, especially in Europe; don’t want to go in a rock opera or a rock musical, they want a regular album and a regular tour. We didn’t make a regular album since 2010 so we don’t want to test their patience anymore. With that album release, if they don’t want an over three hours rock musical they can just take the songs they like and burn their own CD or make their own playlist wherever people listen to music these days. If you take the ten or twelve songs that sound more like classic THERION songs – a lot of this material sounds very different from what we do normally, but some of it is typical THERION- you can easily find enough very good material in there to fill one record with, I think.
For the touring part, we decided to do a regular tour first. We will play a couple of themes from the “Rock Opera” but we will play them like regular songs, with regular singers. The rest of the set will be classics and some rare material from the old albums. You know, like a regular, new tour. Then when we have pleased our fan-base we can go on, later, and try to stage the musical. Those fans who like it [“Beloved Antichrist”] they will have it as bonus and those who don’t give a shit, well, they don’t have to go there.
Have you used a complete classical orchestra in the recordings of this album or separate musicians that play the classical instruments?
Well, we actually had to use the “Vienna Instruments Pro” which is the most expensive sample library you can get for money. It’s like, twelve thousand Euros to buy it. Most movies [soundtracks] you hear in those days are made with “Vienna Instruments Pro”. The reason for that is financial. We had to record three and a half hour of music, which is like four albums. Regularly we have seventy five thousand Euros budget for one record and then we have no problem, we have enough money for the orchestra and everything but now we had to record four albums with a hundred thousand Euros. That is difficult even without the orchestral expenses. When we did “Gothic Kaballah” I had an earlier version of the “Vienna Instruments”, the regular one. I was burned out by the time. I was bored by the idea of sitting for two weeks to write its score so I needed to try something new. Instead of paying for an orchestra I bought the program back then. The first version [of “Vienna Instruments”] they had didn’t really sound like a real orchestra but then they made the pro version with an updated library and now it’s so close that not even I could tell the difference anymore. In these three and a half hours there might only be a few parts that I said that: “mmm… that doesn’t sound exactly like an orchestra”. In 99% percent of that case, if somebody else would have made this recording and played it to me, I‘d say: “Yeah, that’s a real orchestra, I can hear it!”. We just bought the last upgrade and that’s how we could afford to have an orchestration for such a long piece. In the end, like you said, no-one can hear the difference anymore. It’s like the drums [for instance], most albums you listen to these days don’t have real drum sounds. They replace the drums with samples. The snare, the toms and the kick of the drums are always, without exceptions, samples. It is ironic though, that we haven’t used drum samples in this recording but regular ones!
The vocalists, the orchestration samples from this program and the band blend extremely well in “Beloved Antichrist”. Who is responsible for the mixing of the album?
It’s Lars Nissen. He mixed “Lemuria/Sirius B” for us too, in 2004. We were originally supposed to mix it at the new “Polar Studios” where we mixed “Sitra Ahra” with some vintage equipment from the 80s that they have there. But that studio has vanished now. Lennart [Östlund, the owner of the studio] (who had worked with ABBA and Led Zeppelin in the past), wants to create a new studio with vintage equipment, to capture that old “Polar sound”, in its place. We waited for that [studio] to be completed but there were some delays with that and we just couldn’t wait any longer.
So I was panicked at first, I thought: “Fuck! who’s gonna mix this?” and then I was thinking about the people we worked with in the past and I thought that Lars Nissen did a very good job with the mess that we gave him for “Lemuria/Sirius B” (because we had a hundred and seventy one musicians contributing to that record, it was completely massive) so I thought he would probably do a good job straightening up this mess too. Even he was shocked though, when I came to him with two hundred and eighty channels! He had to buy a new “Pro Tools” system because the regular one that everybody uses couldn’t open them all. So he had to buy the HD top version [of that program], that almost nobody has (except from some movie studios) and even then we couldn’t open all the tracks at once! So we had to bounce back a few things. But yeah, he was really the right guy to clear this mess and he likes to be challenged. Normally he does a lot of pop productions (in Denmark he is known as a pop producer) so he is really happy when he gets to do a different, challenging thing. Also it was good to have him because we needed him to do us a very polished production. There’s many things going simultaneously in that record and we didn’t want a brutal production for it because that way a lot of stuff would disappear and you wouldn’t be able to hear it.
Another idea I had for that record was to bring down the distortion of the guitars to almost nothing and then do eighteen overdubs of them, a technique the producers used in the 80s. Like in ACCEPT’s “Ball To The Wall” album. There isn’t an amplifier on the planet that can make that sound because it doesn’t exist; it’s a product of massive overdubbing. That way you have the loudness of a distorted guitar but it’s much cleaner, there isn’t any audio noise around the tone of the guitars when you do that and it’s easier to level them in the mixing to have a more equal sound between them and the other sounds. That way the frequencies are aligned. When you mix an album it’s like a puzzle, but with sound frequencies. By doing the guitar easier to fit in you can hear more of something else. We had to record three and a half hour of guitars’ sounds and do about fifty to sixty takes to get it sound right, totally crazy!
Have you written the entire musical’s music yourself or are there more contributors?
I wrote around 80% of the album and the rest was written by Thomas Vikström, his daughter Linnéa and Christian Vidal. The bass player [Nalle “Grizzly” Påhlsson] wrote one scene also but that scene was removed in the final cut.
Let’s talk a bit about the concept of “Beloved Antichrist”. You have said before that it is a story inspired and partly based on a book called ‘A Tale Of The Antichrist’ by Vladimir Solovyov. In the end of your story everyone dies. You said that that this was the best way to end the story but I wanted to ask you; is there another meaning behind this ending? Is it that religious wars will eventually lead to the death of mankind?
No, we were very keen on not having a moral, political or religious meaning on this opera. It is a story that deals with religion but it doesn’t have a religious message in any way, it’s just entertainment. It’s practical that way. There were two reasons why we wanted to change the ending of the story. The first is that the ending of the story on the book was very short. In operas when someone dies, that person must sing sixty minutes about dying. That is not just a process in an opera. It has to be very epic, exaggerative and pretentious, so we needed an end to fit in with that. Also when this will be staged as a musical, I ‘m sure there will be many fans that will come to see it but we need a more mainstream audience to make this work financially. This will be a huge production. We‘ll need a day to put everything up, a day to put everything down and a day to transport it to the next place. Which means it will cost a lot and we need to stage this for at least three or four shows a week in each city. Obviously we cannot sellout these shows [only] with our fans in the same city so we need to have a mainstream musical crowd (the same audience that would go to see “Rock Of Ages” or “Jesus Christ Superstar” or something else with guitars in it). If we would have an ending where Antichrist wins, for instance, then the mainstream crowd would be thinking that’s it’s the typical thing that metalhead bands do; that we do a musical and it has to be some devil worshipping bullshit, you know? [On the other hand] If we would let Antichrist die and lose, like in the book, then our fans would hate it. They would think we are a bunch of sissies. So, as a bonus, it’s actually good that everybody dies and everybody is equally unhappy at the end!
There are very few guitar leads and solos in “Beloved Antichrist”. Where they left out of the music because in an opera there is no need for them, or were there more reasons?
Well, it doesn’t come natural… because what should happen on the stage when there is guitar solo? I mean this is a rock musical, every time you hear music something happens on stage. Those two guitar solos we have [in the album] they kind of felt natural. Like in “The New Temple Of Jerusalem” scene. In that one, Antichrist is proclaiming that to make people happy (he is a successful ruler, but there are some concerns and some religious people are complaining) he will rebuilt the old temple of Jerusalem that was destroyed in the year 71 (by teachers, I think) and he will also use it as a presidential residence because he is both a political and religious leader (it’s kind of suitable for the Antichrist to live there). He proclaims this in triumph and the servants go like: “Let’s build it now!”. So it’s natural to have this triumph and pedal solo there. Then there is a solo in “Burning The Palace” but it’s more like a melody played by the guitar, it’s a part of the composition. I mean otherwise it would be really weird [with the solos], nothing more fits there.
I realize now why it wouldn’t work to have long guitar solos when the play is staged. I mean what would the actors do while the guitarist plays below the stage? Watch above him silently and wait for him to end?
This may come as a shock to you but I am not even sure that THERION will perform the whole rock opera. I’m sure we will do a couple special shows though. In musicals it’s more common to have the music play on playback and the singers perform live because… where the fuck would you put the band? If you go to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” you don’t want to see someone play the bass or the drums, you watch the singers, the actors. So the problem is with the band. Where ever you put them on stage they would be in the way. The only way is to hide them down in the orchestra’s pit, apart from the stage. But the places with orchestral pits are opera houses and they are difficult to rent and if you can rent them they will cost a fortune. They are nice old buildings but they are very big and you need to sell a lot of tickets and very expensive tickets… It’s not a good solution. If you make a play with rock music you make it scalable for both big and small places. The kind of audience we need to make this successful they don’t know who THERION are and they don’t give a shit about who we are either. If you go to see “Jesus Christ Superstar” you‘re not going to say; “Oh, where’s Ian Gillan?”, just because he sung on the original recording of 1974. In a musical it doesn’t matter who sung on the originals. It doesn’t matter who wrote it. It’s just an evening of entertainment, just like going to cinema to watch a movie. Most people who go to the cinema to watch a movie don’t know who the director is and they don’t care. We can’t have much ego on this, you know? If we make this work it will just be a product. I’m still very happy to do that though. I wanted to do something new and challenging and I am very hopeful for it, but we‘ll see how it goes, it’s not guaranteed that it will be a success…
Martin Eric Ain the former bassist of CELTIC FROST passed away last October. I always assumed that he must have been a great influence to you especially with the songs “Necromantical Screams” and “Tristesses de la Lune” that he wrote, am I right?
Well actually “Warrior” [Thomas Gabriel Fischer] was probably the bigger influence but also Celtic Frost as a band generally. He almost had as important part as “Warrior” in the band though. They were absolutely a major influence on THERION, not only because of their own music, they were also an eye-opener because they were influenced by a lot of 70s symphonic rock bands. They even recorded “Into The Pandemonium” in “Horus Sound Studio” which is the studio of the guy from ELOY (this German kraut rock band) and I was always very much into the same 70s bands and Celtic Frost showed the way. They said: “Look! Your band is your sandwich; you can put whatever you like in it. Just because you play extreme metal it doesn’t mean you cannot experiment. Look at us! We do whatever we want!”. They completely opened my eyes to the use of keyboards too. Nobody was using keyboards [in metal music, at the time]. You were a fucking poser if you used keyboards back then but we used keyboards because we liked it. A little bit on the first album, a little bit more on the second album and then, on the third album we experimented with music from the Middle East, some 80s heavy metal influence and with the vocals… They were completely responsible for making me understand that, especially with the album “Into The Pandemonium”. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Martin once, when I was with “Messiah” [Marcolin] in Switcherland. He seemed like a very nice guy. It’s very sad that he died that young. It was a shock because he was a healthy guy and all of sudden he just died, you know?
On this year’s THERION’s European tour you will be playing two gigs in Greece too. [March 8th, Thessaloniki / March 9th, Athens] Megatherion.com site states that your band will perform some of your new material live in a classical concert setting. Does this mean that there will be more musicians on stage other than your band accompanying you?
We never said that we would do that. [Editor’s note: This statement was posted on Megatherion.com (the band’s official site) on August 16, 2017 by Mina (the author that uploads the news of the band in that site) and it is still there] This tour will be a regular THERION tour, where we will perform a few of the scenes from the opera in a regular THERION way. We will do the full musical version later in the year. Like I said, I think it comes natural that we would do a few special shows with THERION performing it but the majority of it (if the things work out they I want them to) will be done by other people, that’s franchising. If somebody has the money to do it (with an orchestra) great, even better! But I don’t know, we don’t have any plans for that, we just want to do this regular tour first to please the fans who just want to see a regular THERION show with a couple new songs and old classics, some rare material also. Once we‘re done with that, we‘ll figure out how to do the rest…
Can you please tell us which vocalists will be performing in live concerts with you this time? Since, normally, there are different singers live compared to the records.
We‘ll be the same [band] like the last two tours. There will be Chiara [Malvestiti], Thomas [Vikström] and Linnéa [Vikström] on vocals. Also Nalle [Påhlsson], the bass player is singing. Actually we never understood [before] how good singer he is. If you listen to his solo album (it is called “Royal Mess”) you‘ll realize he‘s a fantastic singer and we‘re going to use some more of his vocals [in the future]. He’s a really good singer and we‘ll try to take advantage of that more.
You have stated before that “there will be an attractive special offer concerning a future release for the fans coming to the concerts”. Was that about a special edition of “Beloved Antichrist” or something else? Can you tell us a little more about this release?
In the first nine shows the album won’t have been released yet. So, we have a special offer for the people that will come to the first nine shows, they‘ll get to buy the album before everybody else. The album will be released on February 9th and the fist show [of the tour] is on February 1st.
How about your other band, LUCIFERIAN LIGHT ORCHESTRA, will you continue writing songs for them as well in the future?
Yeah, I have, like, six or seven songs ready. I don’t know when I’ll have the time for recording it but, yeah, sometime. We will definitely, 100%, do one more album, then we‘ll see after that.
That was it! Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you every success and I’m looking forward to seeing you perform once again in Greece!
Thank you very much! See you in Greece!