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Therion - Secret of the Runes CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.97 | 132 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
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.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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