When 15 year old prodigy Christofer Johnsson founded THERION as a death metal band in 1987, little did he know that exactly 30 years later he would put the final touches to a project that will go down in history as symphonic metal’s most ambitious release. While ‘rock operas’ are no longer an unusual concept, this term will now receive a new meaning when the curtain opens for Johnsson’s lifelong creation: »Beloved Antichrist« is the title of his spectacular brainchild, consisting of 3 full-length CDs. It is more than just a concept album; it’s a complete rock opera unveiling a sweeping story inspired by Vladímir Soloviov "A Short Tale Of The Antichrist".
“At the beginning it was 50% based on Soloviov’s work, but as the songwriting proceeded we changed the story more and more”, mastermind Christofer Johnsson explains. “I would now say it’s rather inspired and partly based on it. Certain scenes are more or less exactly from the book, but most scenes have no connection with it at all. It is simply the main idea of the antichrist character that is very much based on the book. Stories of musicals and operas are either too political, too shallow or too complicated to be good. Those that are exceptions are also the successful ones. We have taken a great story by a classic Russian philosopher and modernised and perfected it into a great new story that could make it worthwhile for a very broad audience.”
With an incredible total of 30 different roles and characters, who all required a unique voice, THERION hired not only a big choir, but also multiple male and female soloists to bring the epic story to life. With long-time collaborators like Thomas Vikström, Lori Lewis and Chiara Malvestiti, fans will hear the band’s classical vibe but also be able to drown in a magical maelstrom of many new voices [see full singer list below].
“In the book there were only male characters. So the first thing was to get a bit of balance in there. Both for musical reasons and to be able to improve the story. The main opponent of the Antichrist in the book is Elder John and he has a limited role and is a boring old man. So instead, I invented Johanna to take his place. She is like a Joan of Arc inspired character and has now the second most important role in the opera. To make things more typically opera, she is the sister of the Antichrist’s wife (called Helena, also a person we invented), who is trapped between two loyalties.”
Divided into 3 acts, the opera reaches a full length of three and a half hours and is not divided into typical ‘songs’, but chapters and scenes, where different storylines take place in various environments. Those following THERION’s history during the past few years will be aware that Christofer’s vision of creating a rock opera has long time been haunting his mind and can now be considered a true lifetime achievement:
“15 years ago I started to write a regular opera and got stuck. I can write the catchy highlights, but not the ‘boring’ stuff to fill out an opera with. After not having written a single note for 10 years, I asked myself why I wanted to make a regular opera anyway? To prove something? So I told myself ‘shoemaker, stick to your last’ and do metal/rock music with opera instead, that’s what you’re good at. So in 2012 I started working a bit on re-arranging the best parts of the opera material I had written, and began mixing in rock music and metal. I felt I wanted to do something different in the meantime, so we recorded the cover album “Les Fleurs Du Mal” to have a good time and to create some buzz around our 25th band anniversary. In 2013 the work started to become more intensive and a lot of new material was written. In August 2016, we started the actual recording. I wanted to use the best of all the singers that I had worked with over the years. Some were not available at the time we recorded vocals, but I managed to get hold of most of those I really wanted.
Linnea Vikström, who is frequently hired by the band and is Thomas’ daughter, was allowed to participate in the writing process on some material; she went to a music school where she had got in contact with some really fantastic young talents like Erik Rosenius. He was breathtakingly good and got to perform the role of Satan/The Devil. Thomas Vikström is an old childhood friend of Marcus Jupither who is one of the biggest Swedish opera stars of our time. He made a small guest appearance on “Sitra Ahra” just for fun back in 2010, but now we asked him to take a main role here. Being an old childhood friend doing a lot of naughty things together with Thomas as kids, it suited perfectly to let him perform the role of Appolonius, who is an Eastern magician and a collaborator of Antichrist. The rest of the people I worked with on this project, were artists we got recommended from people we trust and worked with before.”
But the release of the 3-disc-oeuvre is only the beginning of the era of the Antichrist. While THERION will start their almost 3 month long tour in February, they have way bigger live plans which consist of bringing the entire project to the stage as soon as they have found a way to finance the larger-than-life-performance designed to be presented in selected opera houses. Therefore »Beloved Antichrist« should not be considered a regular album, but seen as a performance that will also be available as an audio recording. Bringing massive technical innovation as well as never seen before ideas that will soon be revealed, THERION aim for a revolutionary stage performance bringing together old and young opera connoisseurs.
“This is a rock opera written for the stage. It’s like Jesus Christ Superstar – you can buy it on CD, but it was written to be performed live and 90% of the people who go out to see it don’t even have the CD of the musical. »Beloved Antichrist« is directed towards a mainstream audience. Our fans may not see it that way, but that is the intention and purpose. But saying that, the 3 CDs contain way more material that sounds like classic THERION than that on a regular album, so our fans could think of it as getting a new CD + two more different sounding CDs as a pure bonus.”
THERION have evolved from a mere death metal act into one of the first projects to take a trip towards the world of classical music, setting the initial standards to a style later known as symphonic metal. Therefore Christofer never knew any boundaries to his creativity and always challenged himself in terms of songwriting, even after being forced to take a break due to severe health issues with two spinal disc herniations in his neck. But after a painful recovery, he is now back with this monumental project, daring to walk unexplored paths:
“In all honestly, a huge part of our fan base is very open-minded, so I guess more than half of them will appreciate the full opera, even if it’s different. THERION was and still is about challenging ourselves and those who listen to us. We need to continue to reinvent ourselves, or we will wither and die. Ever since we made our second album back in 1992, each new release has caused some fans to say we are geniuses and some to say that we betray our old fans. Even our big breakthrough album “Theli” got a spit in the face by many old fans (even half the people in the band hated it at the time). So it would not be THERION, if we didn’t do what we want to do. Those fans who are as crazy as I am will always follow us on the journey. Some will pop in and out along the path. And some will continue to say we’ve lost it and haven’t done a good album in 20 years. That’s how it goes...“