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During their still ongoing tour the Swedes THERION found time for STALKER in Helsinki, Finland, where Guitarist Kristian Niemann talked about band chemistry, style changes and the new album “Gothic Kabbalah”.
How´s it going?
Good! We´ve done a lot of festivals and we´ve some separate shows too, we´ve been to Israel, so all good!
What´s been the most memorable experience so far?
Well, for me was the first ever show with this band, this was very memorable, back in 1999, but right now I´ve to say Wacken of course, we´ve had many great shows on this European tour. It´s mostly good.
Is there any certain concept behind the newest album?
Yes, there is. It´s about this 17th century mystic, who´s done a lot of weird stuff! I can´t really elaborate much on the concept. Thomas Karlsson wrote most of the lyrics, as he usually does, but the music we all wrote, Peter wrote a lot too, but we´ve all done a couple here and there. But I really can´t say anything about the lyrics, I don´t get into it, I´m more into the music side, you know…
On every one of the Therion albums there are many guests and special appearances, why do you like it like that?
Oh, let´s put it that way: when you write all the songs, it always starts with just the four of us, we never really plan from the beginning who does what. If we work with the same singer, it gets boring, but we like to work with different things, different voices, different approaches. And this record, “Gothic Kabbalah” is more rock, even pop, than the last once, which was more orchestra. That´s why we need different kinds of voices and we just know people, so we invited whomever we knew and thought would sound right on the record.
But doesn´t it break the band´s identity, because it´s usually the voice of the band that you associate it with, kind of a trade-mark…
That is actually one of the band´s concepts, as to be free of that thing, we like to have the freedom and not one same type of voice. Probably you´re right though and probably that costs us a lot of fans, cos no one can really identify with the sound, but for us it´s great, because then we don´t need tow rite for the same person all the time, then we can chose what kind of sounds we want to do at the time.
Because the voice is what makes the first impression of the band and only then you think about who wrote the lyrics and so on, but with you it can´t work that way, so then what do you think gives Therion an identity, what makes you – you?
Christopher´s writing, his vision of the band, and the way he wants music to sound, even though he doesn´t write all the music anymore, he still decides and picks what´s cool and what goes on the record, it´s still all his taste. It´s probably 99% of all the classical arrangements and he has his own sound in that, so probably that´s the Therion´s thing and his taste will always be there, it´s his vision of the band. It will always underline whatever we do.
With so many different guests it must be difficult to meet to practice…
We normally don´t rehearse before we record, because we know when we pick people, we know they can do the parts, that´s why we picked them, we know their voices and we just tell them: “Sing like this” and they do, but there´s never any discussions or arguments, so this works. Usually everything´s well written out, but of course if people have ideas, we sort them during the recording.
Is Christopher very bossy?
Not at all! For the main guy in the band he´s very calm, he invites everybody to write and express their ideas, we can talk about everything. I would say he´s not bossy at all, definitely not. He´s very open and nice guy. Even on this album he wrote 3 or 4 songs, and he even didn´t do the lyrics! The drummer did more songs than him and he´s the new guy in the band!
What was the hardest part of making the new album?
The hardest?... Hmmm… I don´t know, I think it went pretty smoothly. We had a bit of a time pressure, at the end, we had already booked all the mixing and so on and I think Christopher had a lot of things to do. We had to prepare this classical show in Romania, in 2006, at the end, so we had to do the writing and some recordings, prepare vocals arrangements, so he had to work a lot. For me it was easy, just record the guitars and that´s it. Petter had to work a lot, he recorded all the drums and guitars too, produced a lot of the vocals, he did a lot.
Some funny accidents from the recording process, anything happened?
We´re very boring that way, we never drink ourselves totally stupid, and do stuff. We get drunk and we go to sleep, that´s it, nothing funny. Really boring, no stories, sorry.
Which songs are the hardest to perform live?
For me nothing is very difficult, but I´d say there´s one song we try to play and we´ve done a few times, TOF, the Trinity, that´s a bit… it has a lot of parts, a lot of stuff in it, so it´s the hardest song, but we don´t do it anymore, we didn´t sound so good.
How much did the band participate in the album´s cover art?
Oh, what does it look like?
Right! Orange! Orange and brown, same colors, as always, I like the new cover, it´s cooler. It´s the same guy we´ve worked with before, basically he comes up with a lot of ideas, he sends it to us and we send it back, whatever we think is better. But in fact, it´s the last thing we think about, it doesn´t matter to us.
I just couldn´t figure out how that goes with the record´s contents…
I´ve no idea! The thing is, Christopher showed us the title, “Gothic Kabbalah” and just because people would get very hang up on it – “it´s no gothic, this music isn´t gothic, it´s not black, not depressing, Kabbalah has nothing do here” – and so on, and he did it deliberately to get everyone confused and that way they´ll remember us better.
Some reviews and some fans´ blogs posted that they´ve expected something quite different and even something better from Therion than “Gothic Kabbalah”, so what´s your feeling about it?
This was another thing we´ve really expected, we expected that some will be pissed off that all the choirs disappeared, all the classical and real grandiose stuff we did before, has disappeared, so… It´s fine, we expected it, you just like what you like. We also wanted to do something different… and people criticize anyway, so…
Doesn´t it bother you that you´re losing some fans because of this?
No, not really, because we couldn´t have done it better, otherwise it wouldn´t be what we wanted to do. To some people it sounds too normal, not enough weird sounds and all the grandiose elements, it´s more pop.
What else would you like to accomplish musically?
I´ve another band, it´s called Demonoid, more thrash metal, and I write most of the music and it´s really fun to do that, and I can decide most of the things, not all of course, my brother writes stuff, everybody writes, but I´m the main composer there and we´re working on the second record there, first one came out in 2004, and I want to go and tour with that band, we never played. But of course, play better, freer, improve – that´s the thing.
What do you think is more valuable, the process or the end result?
It´s the journey, the process, of course it´s great to have small success on the way, something small to encourage you and keep it going, because if you´ve just accomplished everything – that´s it, quite, go do something else.
What would you add to the seven deadly sins?
Oh, that´s a serious question! I´ve to think about it…(takes a pause) I don´t even know the sins, but I´d say lack of empathy, lack of compassion, you know? Just not being able to feel and relate to anything.
How do you spend time touring and on the bus?
Wake up, have breakfast, tune the guitar, sound check, wait for the gig, play the gig, pack the stuff, have dinner, sleep, wake up… Nothing wild, we are very-very boring! Fucking boring band. You always think about it, if you think about rock bands, that it´s going totally crazy, lots of groupies and alcohol and whatever, but we really boring and we´re over 30, have done a bunch of tours… Sorry for the crappy interview!
Setlist (in Helsinki)
Theblood of Kingu
An arrow from the sun
Wine of Aluqah
Son of the sun
Son of the staves of time
Seven secrets of the Sphinx
Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah
Cults of the Shadow
To Mega Therion
Thor the Powerhead