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3 stars This album is a concept album based on nordic tradition. It consists of a prologue, a description of the nine worlds of Yggrasil and an epilogue. Two covers complete the album. Here the classical parts are really emphasized and the metal parts put in the background - strong Richard Wagner influences can be heard - but as a whole I consider this album to be quite disappointing.

The prologue "Ginnungagap" is one of the strong songs on the album - maybe the most metallic. "Midgard" is the highlight of the album - a real anthem of symphonic metal mixing ballad-like tempo and heavier parts - a song that would have perfectly fit on Deggial. "Asgard" is a very simple song - again much heavier than the rest of the album but this time the tempo stays mid-paced for the whole song. "Jotunheim" is a really cheesy song - sounds really pompous - probably the weakest track on the album. On "Schwarzalbenheim" - a very dark song - the Wagner influences are really present (nice song ending). "Ljusalfheim" is a ballad using mostly acoustic guitar - reminds me of Lemuria songs (somewhere between "Quetzalcoatl" and "Arrow from the sun"). "Muspelheim" starts with a cappela chanting and then turns into some medieval speed metal with fast playing violin. "Nifelheim" is a simplistic song - not very original and a bit cheesy again. "Vanaheim" starts with a beautiful string intro, acoustic guitar, then the choir starts to sing and the rhythm speeds up again as always - another Deggial-like song. "Helheim" is again a cheesy song - remove the electric guitar and you're left with Offenbach-like operette. The epilogue "Secret Of The Runes" ends the album a bit like it started - on a heavier note. Ending here, the album would have maybe gotten four stars... but there are the two awful covers left. "Crying Days" (Scorpions cover) and "Summernight City" (Abba cover!) are pure fillers - I don't even understand how they could end on a concept album. The orchestrations here really sound flat and can't enhance the poor quality of the song melodies.

Rating: 72/100

Report this review (#67162)
Posted Saturday, January 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I have owned Secret of the Runes for many years and I have known for quite a long time, but somehow I first discovered Therion on this site today (maybe because it really isn't a prog-band in my opinion). Anyway that doesn't make this album less good. If you have a knowledge to the myths of the norse mythology before listening to the album, I think you will appreciate this album as much as I did the first time I listened to it. The magical about Secret of the Runes is that the songs with the melodies, the choir arrangements and the classical instruments fits the desciptions in the books so perfect. Take for example the opening track Ginnungagap, which according to the myths was two streams, a hot and a cool, colliding and creating the world. Christofer Johnsson (the main composer from the band) have in that song arranged the instruments in a way so that they represent the cosmos and the kaos in the event taking place in the myth... and so it continues throughtout all the songs except for the last 3. The album also contains cover songs originally performed by Abba and The Scorpions. The Abba song, Summernight City, is very good though, the Scopion cover is a bit boring.

Well, I give the album 5 stars. I would rather have given it 4½ if that was possible... Anyway I rounded up to 5. I think if you compare the songs to the mythology it would be impossible to find a better soundtrack. So if you like norse mythology you would like this album aswell.

Report this review (#83533)
Posted Wednesday, July 12, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars At the very beginning of XXI century Therion became an important name in European metal society. Their fantastic combination of melodic scandinavian metal with operatic vocal and often orchestrated arrangements is one of a few great new things invented on the border of metal and progressive music. So, generally I like Therion albums ( I am speaking about their later,operatic metal period).

But there are many differences between separate albums for sure. So, Secret of the Runes is good,but not their best. If operatic voices are great as usual, musical background is very simplistic there. From the very first notes of the album you feel that "viking metal" is all around, but same formula of very repetetivous song construction,and most important - very simple ,let say - primitive - drumming just killing all the Nordic beauty of the compositions.

Situation with guitar sound is almost similar: you wouldn't find complex guitar technigue or interesting sound there. In fact, absolutely great idea of mixing great operatic voice with melodic metal sound works perfectly, but in many moments this metal music sounds more as background for the voice.

As often with Therion, I am absolutely attracted by the formula, but almost any moment you wish to hear more complex and interesting musical sound. It doesn't mean, that the album is bad, no way! Album is really very good, but I just feel at any second of it what should be done just to make this album excellent!

Report this review (#240642)
Posted Monday, September 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Nordic legends by Swedish legends

In 2001, in an admirable effort to further their prog credentials, Therion released their first bona-fide concept album. As the title suggests, "Secret of the runes" takes its theme from ancient Nordic legends. The "Runes" are ancient symbols containing secrets (see "Led Zeppelin 4" for Similar Icelandic Runes). One of these secrets relates to a world tree called Yggrasil which is made up of a number of "worlds", each of which is afforded a track.

Before we can explore the worlds however, they have to be created from a black hole, thus we have the opening track or prologue, "Ginnungagap". We are even advised that the land comes from a slain giant's body, and the seas from his blood. The track itself is surprisingly heavy and rock based, with only passing references to the orchestral and chorale side of Therion.

The track dedicated to the first world "(Old) Midgård" opens with a male choir, who provide a sort of narration throughout. The general feel is even more symphonic now than on previous albums, with operatic singing virtually taking over. The song is majestic, played out at a regal pace, but featuring some fine lead guitar towards the end. The following "Asgård (The Bifrost Bridge)" is along very similar lines, with melancholy vocals and instrumentation being the order of the day.

"(Call of) Jotunheim" explores darker themes, including pagan like chanting with fanfare accompaniment. "Schwarzalbenheim" opens with further fanfares before bursting forth into a pounding up tempo number. Here the lyrics appear to be in German, a language which suits the harder nature of the song. The acoustic basis for "Ljusalfheim (The Shining Ones)" sits well with the choir voices. The song tells the tale of pixies and elves (as does much of the album), Ljusalfheim being King of elves. The brief "Muspelheim" continues lyrically in a "Lord of the rings" way while compressing what might have been a 6 minute song into just over 2 minutes. "Nifelheim" takes the choral vocals even further, with chanting and melodic orchestration competing for the middle ground. "Vanaheim" reverts more towards the metal side of the band, while "Helheim" has some quite delightful male vocals. Here the lyrics are Scandinavian, presumably Norwegian.

The album closes with an "Epilogue" which also bears the album's title. This piece is similar to the "Prologue", lead guitar driving a spirited vocal theme forward.

Two "bonus" tracks appear on pretty much all the releases of this album. The first of these, "Crying days" is a cover of a Scorpions song with Piotr Wawrzeniuk returning to provide lead vocal. While the song is a distraction from the overall concept of the album, it does at least feel like a Therion number. The following cover of Abba's "Summer night city", which also has vocals by Piotr Wawrzeniuk, on the hand is a distraction too far. It is certainly an inventive and enjoyable affair, it just does not belong here. (You do have to hear it though!)

In all, a brave attempt by Therion to venture into new fields. The results largely work well, the greater emphasis on the symphonic placing further demands on the quality of the writing. By and large those demands are met, although overall I would place this album just below the best that Therion have made.

This was the first album by Therion to feature an unchanged core line up, and while drummer Sami Karppinen would leave after its release, the rest of the trio remained intact for subsequent albums. Much of the recording of the album took place in Johnsson's newly built studio.

Report this review (#260377)
Posted Monday, January 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars For me this is an excellent album, with a perfect blend of metal, orchestra, and operatic vocals: lots of chorus and soprano singing; as a matter of fact straight rock singing is almost unused. And it's a concept album, about Viking Mythology, talking about the nine worlds, plus the initial void that existed before the creation (Ginnungagap) and the story about how Odin gained the knowledge of the Runes (Secret of the Runes) I really love the result, and every song is a highlight for me on this album, lots of melodic passages blended with the classic heavy metal riffing, however, a track by track description would be rather useless and difficult since as a matter of fact, all songs are rather similar, though I wouldn't see this as a bad point, in this particular album. Some things that should be considered and that some people might find as negative are that the metal band aren't really doing anything particularly complex as far as playing is concerned, the album isn't as heavy as it could be (but metal is definitly it's main description anyway), and some songs can get a bit repetitive; but for me the way this album is done it all works very well in the end. Plus, the bonus tracks Crying Days (Scorpions cover) and Summernight City (ABBA cover!!!) are really good too, they are treated so as to make them a complete Therion song, that being Symphonic Operatic Metal songs (though with more Straight Rock singing than the rest of the album). The least interesting part are the two live bonus songs after this ones (but I think not every edition of this album includes them).
Report this review (#278136)
Posted Thursday, April 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars For those that don't know Therion is actually a band, with no real lead vocalists, but a revolving door of amazing metal vocalists and operatic singers.

This album I wasn't very fond of (I still loved it), because it focused too much on the operatic element rather than find the perfect balance between the 2.

This album is also conceptually based on Norse mythology, and went into detail behind creation and the real mythos, rather than the stereotypical mythos that shudders that great belief.

I would recomend this album mainly for one thing, the Abba cover at the end. I love Abba, especially the song Summernight City, but this is the greatest cover I have ever heard of an Abba song. Although the rest of the album is also worth the price alone.

1. Ginnungagap - The guitar riffs are like punches in the face. The vocals are great as well, very epic indeed. 9/10

2. Midgård - The vocals are amazing, especially the solo soprano. Beautiful arrangement. 9/10

3. Asgård - The vocal harmonies are beautifull. Obvious folk influence. Very battle metal. 9/10

4. Jotunheim - Great arrangment. The vocals are hilarious though. 8/10

5. Schwarzalbenheim - Sounds like if Ramstein where to do Opera. Some amazing vocal arrangements and odd melodies. 9/10

6. Ljusalfheim - Very cheesy. Some pretty interesting instrumental work. 7/10

7. Musphelheim - I like the vocal pedal at the start. Pretty kick ass riffing. 9/10

8. Nifelheim - Love the contrapuntal vocals. Best song on the album. 10/10

9. Vanaheim - Some more folk influences. Love the vocals in this song. Very kick ass. 9/10

10. Helheim - The lead soprano again shows off some amazing throat work. Love the vocal melodies. 9/10

11. Secret Of The Runes - Pretty cool ending. Some powerfull vocals. 8/10

CONCLUSION: Pretty interesting album, with some fantastic vocal work, but Therion do excel better when both Operatic and powerfull Metal vocals are mixed.

Report this review (#290154)
Posted Tuesday, July 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Runes are individual symbols which are held to have significant power by themselves, and greater power when arranged in a particular pattern. This suitably describes the mildly tweaked musical approach that Therion take on Secret of the Runes, in which (to my ears, at least) they give greater prominence to the musical prowess of individual instrumentalists. The work of guitarist Kristian Niemann had tided me over on Vovin and Deggial, and it feels like it's given more a spotlight this time around - indeed, all the core band members seem to solo a bit more - and this proves somewhat refreshing to their symphonic metal sound, though it's all still a little limp and generic for my tastes.
Report this review (#1170390)
Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
5 stars The turn of the millennium was a productive time for THERION with several albums released since its international breakthrough with "Theli" in 1996 with each new studio album changing up the band's recipe of hybridizing heavy metal thunder with Wagnerian operatic pomp with symphonic splendor and charismatic choirs. On the band's tenth album led by the indefatigable frontman Christofer Johnsson, SECRET OF THE RUNES continues the swing of the pendulum back to the metal side of the band's equation with grittier guitar hooks that are more in the forefront than any album since the band's death metal days. This is a concept album based on Norse mythology where the songs describe the nine worlds that flank a central tree called the Yggdrasil.

With each album getting ever more ambitious, SECRET OF THE RUNES continues where "Deggial" left off and not only amplifies the guitars a lot more but includes new subgroups of musicians. In addition to the four core members that provide the metal heft, this one has a choir of eight members along with six guests who provide vocals, cello and violin. If that wasn't enough there is a string ensemble of eight musicians, a woodwind ensemble of three and a brass ensemble four. Despite violins, violas, tubas, trumpets, French horns, flutes, bassoon and many many more instruments adding to the immensity of it all, SECRET OF THE RUNES remains a cool cucumber throughout its entire running time by keeping everything in place and only put in use for moments when it is most effective to do so.

The overall feel of SECRET OF THE RUNES is a more bombastic metal album that implements folky musical scales to create a rather ethnic vibe unlike previous albums with the classical and choir effects adding a more epic contrast to the folk metal underpinnings. Each track is divinely crafted to stand out from the pack and the tracks range from high tempo ("Ginnungagap," "Muspelheim") to dreamy vocal choir led rockers that implement the metal guitars as a caustic backrdrop ("Midgård," "Ljusalfheim") and everywhere in between. Generally speaking metal provides the main rhythm section while the classical elements provide divine atmospheres and mood builders that rise from the heavy amplification but every song is really distinct and despite these commonalities all emerge as separate but equal.

By this point THERION had crafted more polyphonic stylistic shifts with complex vocal counterpoints playing out in tandem with metal guitar heft and folky flutes. The recipe seems so simple when experienced but the mind boggling process of how these disparate sounds could play so well together is quite impressive. Any of these tracks would sound right at home as purely metal, completely classical or just simple folk. THERION succeeds on SECRET OF THE RUNES in the layering effect where each element plays off the other while maintaining a basic melodic flow. The uncanny mix of growly death vocals occasionally make a return while lush flutes slowly flutter around. Much of the album seems to rely on a busy percussive groove that's only noticeable when the drums are allowed to shine without the suffocating effects of the plethora of tones, timbres and melodic scales.

Once again in the metal department it seems that classic metal like Iron Maiden and Scorpions type riffing are the most preferred with tracks like "Vanheim" reminding me of Maiden's classic tune "To Tame A Land" in its bouncy metal stomp. However despite the similar riffing style takes on a completely different persona with a massive choir directing the melodic flow in differing directions. This track also has one of the most energetic guitar solos as Kristian Niemann shows off his best shredding skills. "Helheim" is perhaps the scariest as it starts with a hypnotic bass vocal chant with frenetic female operatic divas answering in terror.

SECRET OF THE RUNES is the most successful example of THERION finally blurring the lines between metal and classical opera. While one side or the other seemed to dominate on previous albums except for "Deggial" where the two worked together in tandem but yet favored one or the other in alternation, this album shows the two styles in perfect harmony along with the extra magic of the ethnic folk that one would associate with the classic sounds that would date back to the days when such Norse mythology was being created. The ending title track describes the moment when you learn the SECRET OF THE RUNES and your consciousness becomes a god. This grand finale cranks out the galloping guitar riffs, mix of male and female vocals and lots of celebratory bringing the exciting musical journey to a dramatic and satisfying close. If you're lucky you have the two extra bonus tracks which includes the Scorpions cover of "Crying Days" and Abba's "Summer Night City," the latter of which is performed amazingly well.

THERION are in no doubt the masters of mixing heavy metal music with classical symphonic elements in the absolute perfect way and the fact that Johnsson finds new ways to breathe life into each and every new album is uncanny. SECRET OF THE RUNES is one of the heavier albums in the THERION canon although not always heavy with fast tempos but rather heavy in the rawness and power of the guitar stomps, doom metal sustain or the riffs themselves but there are many uptempo segments that are amongst THERION's heaviest. The ability of the folk and classical instruments to adapt to the domain of the metal is also impressive. While "Theli" was a classic in its own right and the following albums were of high quality as well, personally i find SECRET OF THE RUNES to be the absolute pinnacle of the THERION sound with one well composed track after another. Everything just seems to work on this one as the recipe has reached its apex moment. It goes without saying that for those who do not fancy opera and classical elements in their metal, this album won't change your perspective but if you've already fallen for this unique musical Frankenstein then i can't think of a better example then this particular album.

Report this review (#2315021)
Posted Monday, February 10, 2020 | Review Permalink
4 stars Just one year after releasing a solid but somewhat lacklustre album like Deggial, Therion are back with what many consider the high point of their whole discography: Secret of the Runes. A concept album centred around the nine worlds of Norse mythology, Runes is a massive step-up relative to the band's previous releases, which improves and expands their blend of symphonic metal in multiple directions. There are a number of reasons for this advancement.

First, Therion are now a proper band rather than a solo project by Christofer Johnsson. Brothers Johan and Kristian Niemann (bass and guitar, respectively) and drummer Sami Karppinen had joined Johnsson already for the recording of Deggial in 2000. Although on Runes Johnsson retains control of most of the songwriting and arrangements, there are contributions from the other band members too (Kristian Niemann is credited as co-writer of the opening track "Ginnungagap") and, more generally, one gets the feeling that the ensemble now sounds more like a band, with more nuanced and personalized arrangements for the rock instruments and more freedom in terms of performances (more guitar solos, more drum fills). In short, there is more depth to the band's performance than on the preceding couple of albums (Vovin, Deggial), which were instead largely a Christofer Johnsson solo affair.

Second, the sound production has also improved on this album. This may sound strange since, for the recording of Runes, Therion actually transitioned from the famous Woodhouse Studios, where they had worked with renowned engineer and producer Siggi Bemm, to their very own, newly built Modern Art Studios, where they instead relied on in-house engineering (Karppinen, K. Niemann, Johnsson) and production. Mixing and mastering duties were instead assigned to Mikko Karmila and Mika Jussila (Amorphis, Childreon of Bodom, Nightwish, among many others). The album sounds much better than Vovin or Deggial, which were both recorded and produced at Woodhouse Studios. One difference between these albums is that on Runes the drum sound is lighter and drier and the drums are placed further back in the mix, so that they are less "in-your-face". This is great because Therion's songs often rely on simple grooves, which can make the music feel sluggish and undynamic when the drums dominate the mix. The arrangements are also airier and more spacious, which contributes to make Runes an easier and more immediately likeable album than the dark and oppressive Deggial or the occasionally rigid Vovin.

Ultimately, though, the superiority of Runes comes down to better, more inspired songwriting. The songs are varied and dynamic, moving between different sections and moods. This is a major improvement over previous albums, where often the same riffs were repeated over and over, making the songs feel monolithic and static. The vocal arrangements are also more varied. In some songs, Johnsson wrote counterpoint and multipart vocals melodies ("Jotunheim"; "Nifelheim"), and in general I get the feeling that more attention has been paid to the alternation between male and female vocals that in many occasions engage in playful duets ("Asgard"). Most importantly, the signers are finally given vocal melodies that are catchy and memorable. This is a huge difference relative to many of the songs that were recorded for Deggial, where the vocal parts were particularly lacklustre. Songs like "Ginnugagap", "Midgard" and "Asgard" feature some of the best melodies that Johnsson has written up to this point in his career. Some may miss the fact that on Runes Johnsson ended the tradition of writing songs with metal vocals mixed with the opera singing (the whole of Theli was built this way, as well as "The Wild Hunt" and "Flesh of the Gods" on Vovin and Deggial). Personally, I do not find this to be a problem, especially when the operatic vocals are given such quality melodies to sing.

There are many other aspects of the music and concept that contribute to make Runes a special album. The Norse mythology that inspired the concept of the album also influenced the songwriting, which features subtle but decisive folk influences on several tracks. The whole album has almost a Viking metal feel to it, with its icy atmospheres and at time raw choirs ("Nifelheim"). The use of different languages, including Johnsson's native Swedish, also contributes to the Nordic folk atmosphere of the album. Somewhat incongruently with the album's theme, Runes also contain two covers as bonus tracks, "Crying Days" by Scorpions and "Summernight City" by Abba. These tracks were recorded in 1999 with former Therion's drummer and singer Piotr Wawrzeniuk on vocals alongside the opera singers. Some people are disturbed by the fact that the inclusion of the two covers disrupts the concept of the album. I can see where they are coming from, but the two songs are objectively so good that I cannot help but be grateful for their inclusion on the album.

Despite all the great things one can hear on Runes, the album is not perfect. Its middle part tends to plod a little, with songs like "Schwarzalbenheim" and "Ljusalfheim" coming across as a tad too repetitive and uninventive. Part of the problem is that most songs on the album remain firmly in mid-tempo territory, which amplifies the sluggish feeling one has as soon as the quality drops a little. Sometimes I wish Johnsson would make more use of different tempos on his albums, to inject some dynamics and a sense of moving forward to the music which is sometimes lacking on Therion's records. However, despite the somewhat weaker mid-section, the album is quick to recover, with tracks like "Muspelheim", "Nifelheim" and "Helheim" providing stunning highlights, together with the opening trio of songs ("Ginnugagap", "Midgard" and "Asgard").

In conclusion, Secret of the Runes is one of the best albums in Therion's catalogue. If you are new to this band, this could be a great place to start (together with the breakthrough album Theli, of course). By the time this album was released, Christofer Johnsson had time to refine and perfect his skills at arranging songs that combine metal, classical music and operatic singing, and this clearly shows on the album. The vocal parts are catchy and memorable. The orchestral arrangements are merged seamlessly with the metal parts. The metal parts themselves are more dynamic than on previous albums, with richer and more accomplished performances by guitar, drums and keyboards. Add a touch of Nordic folk, and you have a nearly perfect album indeed!

Report this review (#2756125)
Posted Monday, May 23, 2022 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of Therion's best albums, "Secret of the Runes" delivers brilliant metal and opera vocals, lots of heavy classical influences, and all the Viking lyrics one could possibly desire. Christofer Johnsson and Thomas Karlsson do all most of the songwriting. A team of three vocalists, a choir, and quite a few classical performers contribute.

Vocals are often the make-it-or-break-it point for how much I like an album, and here they're simply astounding. There's room for guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards--sometimes even prominently--but they're not the main attraction here; the vocals are. Often, where a typical metal band would throw in a guitar solo, Therion throws in a cello solo, or something else unexpected. The classical influences are abundant.

Despite being a long-time progressive metal fan, I'm a bit late to Therion, having just discovered them a few months ago here on this website. I'm still digesting their music. A lot of their albums are good--or even great--but have elements I don't care for. "Secret of the Runes," though, is pretty much perfect. 5 stars.

Report this review (#2919398)
Posted Sunday, April 23, 2023 | Review Permalink

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