“Adulruna Rediviva” - Therion bassist Kristian Niemann praises the strength of music regarding 2007 album Gothic Kabbalah
By Anthony Morgan
In March 2006 Therion frontman Christofer Johnsson announced his decision to retire from vocal duties after close to two decades as the group’s main singer. This had followed the ambitious dual release of albums Lemuria and Sirius B in 2004 which marked the last recordings to contain vocal contributions from Johnsson, with new blood welcomed into the fold.
Swedish multi-instrumentalist Snowy Shaw, (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, Dream Evil) was announced as the group's new vocalist in October 2006 for their 2007 album Gothic Kabbalah, with Mats Levén returning as vocalist also in the wake of the group's last two studio efforts. Gothic Kabbalah also boasted Katarina Lilja handling pop / rock oriented parts, while Hannah Holgersson and Anna Nyhlin donated operatic segments. Lori Lewis (Aesma Daeva) filled in for these sections during the 2007 live tour, ably backing Mats Levén and drummer / singer Petter Karlsson. The works of runic scholar Johannes Bureus provide the lyrical landscape, the group's longterm relationship with Dragon Rouge founder Thomas Karlsson still paying dividends. Produced by Stefan Glaumann, Stockholm provided various recording location for the album's works with January 2007 being the eventual release date.
Joining Therion in 1999 on the recommendation of Sami Karpinnen (ex-Therion), bassist Kristian Niemann first stretched his bass abilities on the album Deggial which continues to this day. Busy ripping up stages across Europe with Gravedigger and Sabbaton supporting as part of Gothic Kabbalah’s promotion (and with gigs planned for later in the year), Niemann could only answer a select few of Lucem Fero’s email questions.
- What do you feel Gothic Kabbalah represents personally for you?
- To me, it represents a huge step forward for the band. It´s very diverse, with an acute sense of urgency and intensity - that´s how I feel about it. Gothic Kabbalah is basically a bunch of people playing together without the help of fuckin´ triggers, autotuners and other shit that destroys the feel of the music. We wanted something that kicked you in the ass and this album does it - my humble opinion of course! We recorded the album in various locations at wherever we could get a cool sound - the wonders of mobile recording capability, god bless it! I´d say it took effectively two months time to record and one month to mix the album.
- Could you lend your thoughts upon Johannes Bureus? Could you shed some light on the Gothic Kabbalah philosophy?
- I don´t have a clue. I´m not involved in the lyrics / concepts for the albums. I´m in it for the music; the rest I don´t really care that much about.
- What is your favourite song on Gothic Kabbalah, and why? Can you give a detailed account of the recording session for this track, from the rough version to the finalized take both lyrically and musically?
- It's impossible to say, as it changes daily. But ok, for the sake of argument….“T.O.F. – The Trinity”. This song went through just a few changes from the demo to what ended up on the record. Mainly me and Mats worked on the vocal arrangements and also Petter came in with good ideas as well. It´s a fast, intense piece of music that is really fun to play - it´s gonna smoke live! Drums were recorded first, as you normally do - drum tracking by the way was done at Studio 301 in Stockholm where they have a fantastic-sounding room and a great old Neve console. Our engineer Sanken Sandqvist got a great ambient sound and it was very inspiring to sit and listen to our drummer Petter kick the shit out of this song, a great performance. Rhythm guitars and bass came next; no problems there, quick and easy. Then overdubbing of vocals and guitar melodies were done at different times at various locations but everything came together quite easily. The guitar solos were the last things to be put on there I think. Stefan Glaumann did an awesome job of mixing not just this song, but the whole record. Wow! The ears this man has…unreal. It sounds punchy and clear, yet not unnatural in any way. Credit also has to go to George Marino at Sterling Sound Mastering, which is very expensive but totally worth the money! This is definitely our best-sounding record so far….until we make our next one that is!
- Could you share your perspective on Christofer ceasing to sing vocals?
- I guess he didn´t feel motivated enough to continue singing. We never rehearse as a band so the only times he sings are at live shows, and to be able to deliver night after night you have to be in great shape which takes a lot of practice. I think he wants to focus his time on other tasks such as composing and writing which is a shame because I immensely like his growling style. For instance, he kicks major ass on the Demonoid record! But as our live line-up is now, we have Mats Levén and Snowy Shaw, and also our drummer Petter Karlsson and between the three of them, we can cover A LOT of ground.
- Could you tell me about the four singers that sing on Gothic Kabbalah?
- We´ve pretty much always used several different singers and it´s just a matter of finding the right person for the part, simple as that. Mats Levén was on the last two records and the tour that followed and he also contributed a great song on this new one so it was a no-brainer to have him sing on it. He´s got his own style and is one of the best Metal singers out there so we´re happy to have him! Snowy Shaw is a friend of Mats and Petter and was brought in for another type of voice. He sounds great on the new CD, and he had some really cool ideas as well. Katarina is also a friend of Petter and she does the more rock/pop-oriented parts; she has a very unique quality to her voice, and I love that. She´s coming with us on the tour also so that´ll be a lot of fun! Finally, Hannah Holgersson and Anna Nyhlin does the classical/operatic stuff. Basically, everybody is singing their asses off!
- In 2006 the band invited demos for a new live soprano singer to participate in the 2007 Therion tour. Could you tell us more about this? Why was Lori Lewis ultimately successful?
- We received a huge amount of demos, and 99% of them sucked which is per usual. Lori Lewis was heads above the rest, as she´s a gem. She´s a very lovely girl, is able to handle the stress and insanity of touring, she´s pretty and most importantly she can sing her ass off. I was sceptical at first having only heard her demo, which was good but demos/tapes/mp3s/files can be doctored as you know, but after she sang the first song in rehearsal …no problem.
- Could you tell me about when you joined Therion in 1999? What were your initial thoughts upon being approached, and why did you decide to accept Christofer's offer in the end?
- I knew the drummer (Sami Karpinnen) from before and he told me they were in need of a new guitarist, so I auditioned and got the job. I think I had heard of the band before but I wasn´t familiar with the music but it seemed like a fun thing to go on tour and play to loads of people - it still is!
- Could you tell me of any nerves you had recording Deggial, the first Therion album you were a part of? How did you feel you played?
- I wasn´t really nervous, but more excited actually and of course you need to be focused and do a good job. I think my playing on that record is pretty lame but not as lame as the mix! That totally sunk the record for me and I can´t listen to it, even to this day.
- Could you tell me about Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursch supplying lead vocals on track “Flesh of the Gods” from Deggial?
- I don’t know as I wasn´t there and I´ve never met him.
- How would you summarise the ambition's of 2004's Lemuria / Sirius B double album, and to what extent do you feel they were achieved in hindsight?
- I´m very proud of those records. Not everything is great and the mix again is lacking in some areas but there are some brilliant stuff on there. People seem to think it´s a concept album but it IS NOT!!! It´s just two separate cd released at the same time. We had so much material and decided it would be cool to release it all. The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra did good but it´s hard to mix a loud rock band with a big orchestra and not have it sound like mush. One is going to have to compromise…
- What is your favourite Therion album looking back?
- Gothic Kabbalah, no doubt - good songs, good playing, great vocals, superb production. We had some new writers in the band and wanted them to contribute with songs and ideas, and it all fell into place quite naturally. There were some heated discussions over arrangements and mixes but never over the songs themselves. We expected some mixed reviews; some people “got it” and some didn´t. Whatever. I couldn´t care less about what critics think.
Note: The remaining questions will be answered at another time. Sorry! Too little time.