Therion was formed in Upplands Väsby (a suburb to Stockholm, Sweden) in 1987 by Christofer Johnsson, under the name ”Blitzkrieg”. Chris was at that time playing the bass and did the vocals. The line-up consisted besides him of Peter Hansson on guitar and Oskar Forss on drums.
Peter and Chris had been jamming together in another group (a ”jam-group” rather than a band would be correct to say) earlier that year and Chris had been trying to put something together with various people earlier, before Blitzkrieg finally became a reality. Oskar was an old school mate of his.
Blitzkrieg had influences such as old records by Slayer and Metallica, but sounded maybe more in the direction of Venom and Motorhead. Not many know, as they never recorded any demos and only did 2 concerts before they decided to break up in early 1988. Chris however never gave up the idea and during a few months he switched to guitar, started to be influenced by bands like Celtic Frost and reformed the band with Peter under the name Megatherion. After a while also Oskar returned to the band and there they were, same band again, but with a new name and a new death metal oriented sound. After some time they found the bass-player who one you can hear on their recordings; Erik Gustafsson, who was just leaving another young Stockholm area death metal band; Dismember. Shortly after the name was changed to Therion.
With this line-up the band recorded 2 demos (the first one had the later Dismember singer Matti Kärki on vocals in a short attempt where Chris wanted to focus on the guitar), one mini-LP and one full length LP/CD, that would make the band known as one of the most promising upcoming death metal underground bands.
The early years as recording artists
In 1990 the vinyl only release ”Time Shall Tell” was released by a local record store in 1.000 copies. This was actually the third demo recording that got released as a record instead of cassette. It got the band the attention from labels and they signed to Deaf Records for one album, something that resulted in the debut full length release ”Of Darkness” in 1991.
The music on this record was a compilation of songs written by Chris during the 80’s and even though the band had newer songs, they choose to save it for the new release, thus indicating that this was both a debut album as well as an end of an era. The sound on ”Of Darkness” is (for that time) progressive death metal with certain influences that was back then considered to be unorthodox. And the lyrics were the political type that bands like Nuclear Assault and Napalm Death were known for in the late 80’s. Being especially influenced by Celtic Frosts ”Into the Pandemonium”, Chris wanted to take the band way beyond the limits of death metal, however at this point he never in his wildest dreams would have realized how far it actually would go just 5 years later.
On ”Of Darkness” there were a few small attempts of incorporating keyboards into the songs and this would be one of the main changes along with some female vocals and some clean male voices. The trademark of this new sound was the song ”Symphony of the dead” that was a highly appreciated song in the live performances back then and who have found its way back a few times even in live performances in later years.
The deal with Deaf Records was only for one album and the co-operation between band and label was never really good, so Therion went on and signed to Active Records.
Before the recordings started, the bass player Erik had left the band (to move back to his native country USA) and Therion recorded their second album ”Beyond Sanctorum” (released 1992) as a trio with Peter and Chris playing the bass. The lyrical concepts had now changed to an occult direction.
This record received extremely good reviews and the band got offered their first shows in central Europe, which was focused around Holland and Belgium.
As Oskar was awaiting his second child he now took the choice of becoming a responsible family man rather than a touring low paid musician. Also Peter was here choosing to take a step back and resign from the band - in his case due to health and musical reasons. So those shows were performed by a new line-up consisting of Piotr Wawrzeniuk (band mate to Chris in his other project Carbonized) on drums, Andreas Wahl on bass and Magnus Barthelsson (a school mate of Chris who had been playing in other bands in Upplands Väsby) on guitar.
Years of wild experimentation
After the departure of the old band mates that had been the companions of Chris since the start, he was uncertain if he should continue under the name ”Therion” or not. Especially, as he had felt the taste of blood with experimenting musically and wanted to go much further. There were already some people asking why the band didn’t change their name when releasing the (at the time) very innovative and new thinking ”Beyond Sanctorum”. What would people say if the step was taken again and this time even bigger?
Chris decided to keep the name on the basis that he was still the main songwriter and that the band would anyway continue to play the songs from the first two records, so it would have no practical use in changing the name.
The band gathered together and was making some highly experimental songs and in 1993 ”Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas” was the results of their efforts. To fully understand just how wild was this record for a band labeled as death metal, one needs to listen to dozens of other death metal releases from that time and earlier. What was considerably small experimentations on the previous albums with keyboards and Persian scales, here went totally wild at some points and Therion also experimented a bit with jazz, industrial music, religious chanting (today you would say ”gothic”) and 80’s heavy metal inspired by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
Active Records had decided to cut down their activities and release no new records, so Therion was transferred to the owners new label Megarock Records. The reviews were mostly very good, though some music journalists started to loose the grip on what the band was doing.
Therion promoted the record on a tour supporting (among others) Grave and Massacra as well as a bunch of headline shows in Germany. There was (at this point) a very strong core of die hard fans into the music of Therion, but still the sales were not excellent and Therion was an underground act only known to those into extreme music. There was plenty of work but almost no money. The well known problem of needing a job at home to be able to pay rent and eat and also to keep this job when requesting periods of days off for touring with the band was forcing Magnus and Andreas to give up Therion. Fredrik Isaksson was brought into the band to play the bass and Therion was now a trio.
Chris was taking some months off from Therion and made a record as a vocalist for the Swiss band Messiah and when coming back there was an offer from Nuclear Blast to sign the band. Megarock Records had done all they could and the personal relation between the label and Therion was extremely good. Nevertheless Megarock lacked the resources to push the band enough, so they did something that normally NEVER happens in the music business... they were letting Therion go without any financial claims, even though there was a contract for more albums. They wanted the best for the band (which they realized would need huge resources in the future), so they recommended Therion to sign with Nuclear Blast instead, and so they did.
The results came in 1995, ”Lepaca Kliffoth”, another step in experimentation, featuring a classic soprano and bass-baritone, more keyboards, more Persian influences, more melodies and while ”Symphony Masses” had some vocal experiments by Chris, this record had a completely new style of singing (some say in a more hardcore way), and by that one of the last few remaining bounds to their original style death metal were cut off. There were also some influences that are hard to label, like the title track. Therion started to grow out of their clothes musically speaking and Chris started to find more and more inspiration in 70’s progressive and symphonic bands like Klaatu, Pavlov’s Dog, Eloy, Pink Floyd, Mandala Band and many more.
Some touring was made with Annihilator in Germany and a small headline tour was made in Argentina and Chile (with a friend of Chris called Tommy on second guitar). As Fredrik had some considerable personal problems that prevented him from participating on the Annihilator tour, the band brought in Lars Rosenberg from Entombed as a session bass player. In the end Piotr declared he had considerable personal problems with Fredrik as well, so Chris agreed that Piotr could fire him. Lars was shortly after fired from Entombed and then got to be the permanent bass player in Therion.
The band took a small step forward towards the big forthcoming success, but at this point still remained an underground band. There were discussions between Piotr and Chris about what to do in the future. Chris had several songs written in the passed that he had saved (due to lack of budgets) and that he would like to realize now. But there was still a lack of money for recording budgets. Naturally a band that don’t sell too many records also don’t get huge recording budgets (record labels need to make money just like all other companies), but without money Chris didn’t see how they could go on. This could have been the end of the band, but destiny had other plans in mind for Therion.
Chris called Nuclear Blast chief Markus Steiger and explained honest the situation. ”No more album based on my vocals and I need two choirs, a better recording studio, two producers and more time in the studio - if not I rather give up the band and stay happy with what I achieved so far”. Chris was also frustrated that there were too few tours. The problem was that the band was too small to have a manager, as there was no financial interest in the band at this level. Without a manager it’s very hard to get on the good tours. And without tours - no improved record sales. Without better sales - no better recording budgets. And without a good budget the future record of Therion simply could not become realized.
Luckily Markus Steiger was not only a record company boss; he was (and is) also a very dedicated music lover and is a fan of the band. So luckily he agreed (with no amounts of money mentioned) that Therion would get what they needed to complete the record Chris wanted to do.
Ex. Unanimated guitar player Jonas Mellberg was brought into the band and Therion started to put together what would be their most important album ever.
The break through and the way to the big success
Recording at Impuls Studio in Hamburg, Germany, the band was putting on tape the songs that would forever change the career of Therion and the future budget situations.
Chris thought that this was his big masterpiece and loved what he heard. Nevertheless he strongly doubted that it would sell, the big masses if metal fans seemed to be too narrow minded for the experimental type of music Therion played. He talked about it with Piotr and said that this would be the final record of Therion, as it would flop and there would be no way he would go back to working like earlier with small budgets and guitarbased music. Piotr in some ways disagreed that this should be the final record, but reacted with planning his future without Therion and started to study (history) at the university instead.
Besides 2 different choirs (one classic and one rock choir), tons of keyboards and classic samples (humoristicly called ”Barmbek Symphony Orchestra” after the subway station next to the studio), there were some small vocal parts by Chris in the style of Lepaca Kliffoth, the rest was performed by the multi flexible singer Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity, Nightingale etc) and Piotr with his very characteristic voice.
Before the album was mixed, the band went on a small headline tour in Europe.
(Chris comments:) ”We were broke, needed some distance to the music before mixing it and I personally considered it our last tour as I never imagined how we would perform the new songs live - even if we would be offered something. I felt quite depressed at the time”. During the tour it became clear that both Jonas and Lars had problems with alcohol and with Jonas there were also some personal issues. The problems continued a bit even in the studio while mixing, so Chris suspected that touring with them could become a problem.
The results of this recording was named ”Theli” and even before it was released in 1996, there was a recording in Sweden where the band recorded a song for an Iron Maiden tribute album. Too much alcohol and too many emotions led Jonas to leave the studio without saying a word (and by that also leaving the band) and left most of his parts unfinished for a very stressed Chris to complete.
After the album release there were extremely positive reviews in all major music magazines, the sales doubled compared to ”Lepaca Kliffoth” in a month and suddenly there was an offer to tour with Amorphis, who was one of the most popular original metal acts at this time. Chris got really happy, but most of all surprised and puzzled. And also got a bit of panic... go on tour, HOW? First of all he knew no people that could sing the songs that would do it for the money one get paid in the rock business. Secondly there would be basically no money at all to pay musicians and singers - the recording had cost 56.000 German marks (around 28.000 Euro) which was by far the highest in the history of Nuclear Blast (the band even made a bad joke about it and thanked record label boss Steiger for selling his car to afford the recordings in the CD booklet). They never imagined it would have been that expensive so they wanted to see the sales go up while still being careful with additional expenses - the tour as a support act would cost tons of money anyway.
Chris got through friends and his girlfriend in touch with some amateur singers that he thought could do the job good enough.
To get musicians to the band, Chris asked his friend Tommy again to help out, this time as a drummer (Piotr was busy with his studies), Tobias Sidegård from Necrophobic was ”hired” (”Well, he got his apartment rent paid and the free beer on the tour” comments Chris) as a live session guitar player, Kimberly Goss (later in Dimmu Borgir and now in Sinergy) was also ”hired” for the task of playing the keyboards (and backing vocals) and then the band finally could go!
The tour was a huge success even though ”the band sounded like shit” according to Chris’ own words. ”I guess people were so amazed that we actually pulled it off that they simply had to love it,” he continues.
Lars drinking problems got worse and worse though and even the soprano and tenor that was ”hired” started to get serious problems to perform well from the ”rock n’ roll life” on tour. After Lars falling on his ass once due to being too drunk (besides playing like shit most of the time anyway according to Chris), the soprano starting to take drugs and the tenor getting worse and worse, Chris simply had enough and at the end of the tour Lars was fired and the singers were not welcome back. Luckily the record sales had gone very much upwards all the time, so Therion was now (for the first time) a very attractive band for promoters to book. A second tour with 2 professional sopranos and with Piotr (who had a short break in his studies here) taking care of the tenor parts took place in early 1997 with Sentenced, My Dying Bride and others and the band now sounded better. Bass player Andreas Wahl returned shortly to the band to do this tour.
The demand for the band was increasing so even a third European tour was taking place, now with Lake of Tears and Crematory, with Therion headlining the shows outside Germany. This was the first tour the band worked together with Sarah Jezebel Deva (Cradle of Filth). A guy called Kim handled the bass. The tour was a great success and this year was also the bands 10-year anniversary album ”A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” (a compilation of some remaining Theli songs, cover songs and the soundtrack Chris did for an art film called ”The golden embrace”) was released.
The wind was now finally blowing in Therion’s direction and everything seemed perfect for the next album recording; a manager had signed with the band, the deal with Nuclear Blast had been re-negotiated (and now guaranteed big budgets) and the sales figures were making everybody happy. The only problem was; ”the band” was now only Chris + hired musicians. He realized that the ”live musicians” would not be able to realize his visions in the studio, so instead professional studio musicians were hired to play the drums and the bass: Wolf Simons and Jan Kazda. Tommy was helping out with some of the guitars. Despite the fact that it was released under the band name Therion, Chris regard this record as being his solo album.
This recording took place in the famous Woodhouse Studios and for the first time a real string orchestra was used. Together with a hand picked opera choir it took Therion another step in the development on the path of progression. Sarah did some vocal participation as well along with an Austrian singer called Martina Hornbacher (now Astner, previously in Dreams Of Sanity).
The songs were more melodic and the production was clean and made the record more accessable for the masses. The result was that when this record, entitled ”Vovin” was released -98, it DOUBLED the sales compared to ”Theli” and the former underground band that had struggled for so many years was now one of the most hyped band in the European metal scene and the best selling band on Nuclear Blast.
A very extensive European tour was made as co-headliners with Moonspell. Two months of constant touring with only one day free - playing everywhere between Scottland in North-West, Finland in North-East, Hungary in South-East and Portugal in South-West. On this tour Tommy played the second guitar, Kim the bass again, Sarah and Martina sang soprano and the girlfriend of Kim, Cynthia, who has a very deep voice for a female was singing the male (!) parts.
The drums on the tour was performed by the, at this time, hired drummer Sami Karppinen. After the tour he was offered a permanent place in the band and some material for a planned mini-CD called ”Crowning of Atlantis” was performed. Later some live songs were added on and it got released as a full length ”in between-release” CD in 1999.
Introversion and regained band feeling
Being one of the best metal drummers in Sweden, Sami had good contact among the other high-skilled musicians. This was a great help to Chris, who had his roots in the death metal scene and knew very few musicians besides those of that scene. Now was the time to create a new real band line-up and Kristian Niemann (a guy that Sami had jammed a lot with) - who was a metal guy who had gone through a lot of jazz music and lately returned to metal again, was offered a place in the band. Later his brother Johan was offered the place as a bass player and for the first time in some years Therion was a real band with a full line-up again.
Chris already had all the material ready for the follow up to ”Vovin”, so there was no chance for the Niemanns to contribute with any song material, so maybe it would be fair to say that the result ”Deggial” was 90% another solo album, but played by a permanent band. The band never rehearsed together before the studio (a habit Chris got since ”Vovin” when there was no band to rehearse with) and it sounded therefore more like if it was recorded with studio musicians like on ”Vovin”.
The songs were less easy to listen to than the previous album - more complex songs and this time a full symphony orchestra. Chris has explained that his song writing started to become more ”introvert” - more written for his own pleasure only and less written for an audience. Reviews of the record after the release 2000 were mostly positive but varied - the complexity was too much for some listeners. Nevertheless it was a big success among the fans (selling better than ”Theli”) and Therion made their first European headline tour along with one of Chris’s old favourite bands Voivod and the support act Flowing Tears. From this point and onwards, a variety of different singers started to be employed for the live performace, most famous among these is Anders Engberg (ex. Lions Share), who made a huge impression on the audience with his performance and due to people not knowing his name got the nick ”The cool bald guy that nobody knows his name”.
After ”Deggial” Chris started to work on new songs for the upcoming album and had 7 good songs when he suddenly felt strongly that Therion should do an album inspired by Nordic elements and have influences by folk music. So the 7 songs Chris already had written was put on the shelf for the time being and Therion focused on making a ”Nordic” album instead.
There were already 2 songs written for a side project that never happened (Kristian and Johan had said those songs were too good and should be used by Therion instead) and they fit in with this idea and were the first two songs for what would become Therion’s first concept album; ”Secret Of The Runes” - based on the 9 worlds in the Nordic mythology. The rest of the material was completed very fast - in two months! Here Kristian also started to contribute with his song writing by writing the biggest part the opening track ”Ginnungagap”. The release was in 2001.
For the recording of this record Chris took a very brave decision - he took the recording budget and built Therion’s own recording studio - Modern Art. Together with drummer Sami - who was the brain behind the construction and did most of the actual carpeting along with some hired professionals, he brought to life the idea of having a studio where the band could take as much time as they needed for recording without any stress thinking of the clock ticking and a studio rent being paid by the hour. The record was recorded with Sami as a sound engineer and later mixed at Finnvox Studios in Finland.
This was also the first record where Chris recorded orchestra and choir (which now were more complex than ever) without using a conductor and therefore made all the instructions directly to the musicians/singer, sometimes trying to find ways to incorporate also their opinions on the small details in the performance.
This album really showed that Therion was now a real band again. Both Kristian and Johan helped out a small bit with the work when building the studio, there were democratic discussions about arrangements and the performance of the songs and most of the classic musicians and singers were hired through contacts that Kristian had through his ex. girlfriend who is a classic violin player (she also played on the album). Strong teamwork and a strong will to not give up when unexpected problems appeared once in a while during the recording resulted in Therion’s most complex and innovative work ever!
Again the reviews were mostly very good, but varied - even more complex than ”Deggial” this record confused some listeners that lacked the patience to penetrate the glorious depths of this brilliant musical creation. Being an album without any ”hits”, this massive piece of geniously assembled musical art have found its place as a favorite Therion album among a huge part of the Therion die-hard fans and is generally rated as one of their strongest albums ever.
The album got followed up by touring as a main act in Europe (with Evergrey and My Insanity as support acts) and the band’s first full Latin America tour that was an incredible success for the band. No matter the success, Sami decided to leave the band and work full time in the Modern Art studio as a sound engineer and instead of being in a band as a musically active session drummer for various bands and projects. This was indeed sad news for Therion, but Sami showed responsibility and didn’t leave the band before first getting them a good replacement drummer; Richard Evensand.
During the tour, there had been many concerts recorded and a few of those ended up on Therion’s first live album, the double CD ”Live in Midgard”, which was released celebrating the bands 15 year anniversary in 2002.
After the touring was finished the band started to work on the album that Chris was having in mind to make before the idea of a Nordic album had come up. Meanwhile there had been a lot of new songs written, so the 7 songs on the shelf had grown to a huge number of songs, which increased even more as time went by and also Kristian and Johan contributed with several compositions to the pot. When the time felt right to start putting all the ideas and songs together to an album, they discovered that they had 55 (!) songs - some of them being not entirely finished though. Discussions were made on how to do things with such a huge source of song material and they ended up deciding that they had enough good material for 3 (!) albums. They decided to record and release two of them simultaneously to catch up with their creativity (else there would probably be 55 more songs written by the time they get to record the third album in this trilogy).
The recording sessions started in Modern Art and besides instruments like drums, bass, guitars, balalaikas, domras and mandolines, the lead vocals and most of the opera soloist singers were recorded there. Then a huge symphonic orchestra, grand piano, harpsichord, some opera soloists and a 32 people strong choir were recorded in Prague. A real church organ was recorded at the oldest church of Copenhagen and finally they entered the Sun Studio with Denmark's finest producer Lars Nissen to make some additional recordings of hammond organ and mellotrone before finally mixing this huge mass of songs there.
The results of 171 people involved with playing/singing and over 9 months of recording and mixing were finally put together and were named "Lemuria" and "Sirius B" and were released in May 2004. These twin records will hopefully convince people that Therion is a band that just have begun their musical odyssey and that the journey will both surprise, tease and astonish both their long time loyal fans as well as new listeners for many years to come.
As drummer Richard suddenly decided he didn't want to be a permanent member and had him self tied up with other projects, Therion originally looked for a session drummer to do the touring for these albums. But they managed to find the right guy to become the new permanent drummer - Petter Karlsson! This is especially interesting, as Petter is also a good song writer and is likely to put his fingerprints on several Therion compositions in the future.
Petter did the World Tour 2004 and several festivals and shows 2005 together with the band and with singer Mats Levén also having joined in for the live shows (normally there are always different singers live compared to the records) + the classically trained soprano Karin Fjellander they have made improved the sound from earlier tours and they sound now better then ever both according to the band them selves and their live crew that have seen hundreds of shows with them over the years. As this also seems to be an opinion shared by the fans, the future indeed sounds very interesting!