Sweden's Therion have released nearly two dozen studio albums over the last 30-odd years, and their latest LP – Leviathan III – is the third and final entry in a trilogy that spans as many years. It's fair to say, then, that you'd be hard pressed to find a more prolific, reliable, and important symphonic death metal act around today.
Fortunately, Leviathan III doesn't deserve acclaim simply because it validates the band's longevity and staggering work ethic; it deserves it because it's a really good record. Granted, it doesn't rewrite the rules or do anything substantially risky or fresh; however, its diversity and dependability make it another excellent chapter of Therion's catalog.
Naturally, the LP contains the same lineup as its 2022 predecessor (which marked the return of drummer Sami Karppinen). Although no details have been revealed about its plot, it's fair to assume that Leviathan III caps off the mythological storyline 2021's Leviathan began. Plus, in a 2021 interview with Metal Insider, mastermind Christofer Johnsson clarified that while Leviathan was "very direct, very bombastic" and Leviathan II was "dark and melancholic," Leviathan III is meant to be "adventurous or experimental," with some "odd" tinges, "folk music influences… [and] more proggy influences."
Without a doubt, the record fulfills those goals.
To be fair, the journey begins somewhat conventionally—though still engagingly—with "Ninkigal," a frantic and complex amalgamation of guttural vocals, operatic choruses, and thunderous instrumentation. As usual, the flashiness and fluidity of the ever-changing arrangement is stunning, and the contrasts between Lori Lewis's soaring magnificence and Thomas Vikström's scratchy malevolence work wonders. In their own ways, subsequent pieces such as "Maleficium," "Nummo," and "Baccanale" do equally great jobs adhering to that general template.
That said, it's often when the record spices things up the most that it shines brightest.
Despite having a bit of heaviness, classical/folk ballad "Ruler of Tamag" is majorly beautiful and delicate. As such, it brings a valuable change of pace to the sequence and definitely ranks one of Therion's best songs in years. Similarly, the interlocking choral chants of "An Unsung Lament" enhance its inherently grand splendor, whereas "Ayahuasca" is a dense yet relatively straightforward duet that showcases additional singing styles and keyboard prowess.
Johnsson's aforementioned plan also comes to fruition on "What Was Lost Shall Be Lost No More," in that it's surprisingly "proggy" not only because of its colorful and dynamic instrumentation but also because of its overlapping vocals. Afterward, the varied timbres and quasi-monologues of "Duende" and finale "Twilight of the Gods" make them seem as much like additional songs as like scenes from a play. They're exceptionally done.
There's no reason why Therion fans shouldn't love Leviathan III just as much—if not more—that the first two entries in the saga (which is saying something considering the band's quick turnaround time). Beyond that, the fact that the sextet sounds this impassioned and inspired after over three decades is quite commendable, as they simultaneously stay true to what's always worked while shaking things up enough to be palpably daring and unpredictable. Wherever Therion goes from here, there's no doubt that they'll continue to be masters of their craft.