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Therion

Therion was een hele poos uit de schijnwerpers verdwenen. Sinds ’Sitra Ahra’ hebben ze in feite geen noemenswaardig album meer uitgebracht. ‘Les Fleurs Du Mal’ werd op gemengde gevoelens onthaald en Luciferian Light Orchestra kon de leemte ook niet vullen. Maar nu is Christofer Johnsson terug, meer dan ooit! Op negen februari komt zijn lang voorbereide rockopera ‘Beloved Antichrist’ uit en hou je vast! Het is een werk van drie uur, verspreid over drie albums en meer ‘over the top’ dan ooit. We hadden een uitgebreid gesprek met Christofer zelf over deze grootse uitdaging…

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Christofer, this is a comprehensive work! ‘Beloved Antichrist’ is made up of three acts, three albums. What can we expect?
This work is written to be performed on stage. The third part is musically the heaviest. In the first part, everything goes well and there are love scenes. In the second part, things start to go wrong and the music gets a bit darker. In the third part there are conflicts and wars and those are reflected in the heavier music.

In the beginning this rock opera happened to be based on the book ‘A Short Tale Of The Antichrist’ from the Russian author Vladimir Solovyov. But you have changed a lot in this story, isn’t it?
In the original story there are no women at all. This needed to be changed. I guess women in the eighteenth century were just sitting at home? (chuckles) First of all, we gave the antichrist a wife. There is also the opponent of the antichrist. He has a small, but very important role. I have expanded that role and made a woman of it. Now it is a character in the vein of Jeanne d’Arc. To make the whole thing more opera related, she is also the sister of the wife of the antichrist. That’s why the woman has a conflict, because she has to be loyal to her husband or to her sister. We also changed the end of the story. I really don’t like the way the book is ending. So we changed that and we also made a longer introduction of the story.

How did you get the idea to take exactly this story for your rock opera?
When you make a rock opera, you must have a dark theme. Our fans should not take it if we would come up with a lightly, positive story. We could not go too far either, since then, the mainstream audience would reject the rock opera. They would say: ‘Well… a metal band… of course they come up with Satan and devilish things’ (laughs). Thus the challenge was to chose something that suits us, but something that will appeal to many people. Solovyov is a very respected writer. That’s why we could borrow a dark theme from him and get away with it. I always liked the story and I wanted to make a kind of ‘Antichrist Superstar’ from it. If that title wasn’t already taken by Marilyn Manson, I would have called the album like that. This has to be considered as the Jesus Christ Superstar of Therion. This is not a new Therion album, this is made to be performed on stage. Of course we have an album version, but that was the case with Jesus Christ Superstar as well, but most people who watched the live performance, never listened to the album.

band imageWhat kind of man was Solovyov?
He was a Christian philosopher, but also a well known author in the nineteenth century. I am afraid that he is a bit forgotten in Russia these days. If you ask someone in the streets if they know him, you will notice that he is not so famous like Dostojevski or Tolstoj. But in intellectual circles he is still very respected. It depends on who you ask it. He was not popular enough to became one of those eternal classics, but his works are praised all over. To change the story, I was also inspired by different things. You will find elements from the ‘Omen’ movies from the seventies in it, at the end they put the palace of the antichrist on fire; this is inspired by Wagner. And the whole idea to put this thing on stage is inspired by ‘Fire Angels’. Musically I also went broader than ever before. When people are going to compare it with other rock operas, from Ayreon or Avantasia, they are completely wrong. These are albums with a story, this is a stage act. Coincidentally you can buy an album of it. Thus our approach is completely different.

It will be a huge work to bring this all on stage…
Yet we will do that for sure in the future. In a worst case scenario there will be only one or two times that Therion plays this rock opera, but my vision and dream see things bigger. It doesn’t have to be Therion who’s playing it. This can be performed by others, with our music. If someone tells me that he wants to perform my rock opera in Canada, with a different cast, I am open for negotiations. Just like they still do with ‘Cats’ or ‘Phantom Of The Opera’. The band does not need to play it. On the contrary, then we have a problem. Where are we going to put the band? Nobody wants to see the bassist playing all the time when following the story… If we want to do it with the band, we need a kind of place like in opera houses or theatres. Another idea of mine is to play the music playback and only the vocalists who perform live. Then we can do it in smaller venues as well. But in 2018 we are going to start with a normal Therion tour in February, we will play a few songs from the rock opera. There’s a lot of work to be done if we want to go on the road with a big production. When I resume it, I would say that 1/3 of the album sounds like Therion, 1/3 totally different and 1/3 somewhere between both extremes. Therion fans will have to live with the fact that they will get one usual Therion album with two bonus discs with something else. If they don’t like the bonus, I can live with that, but I think we always had fans with quite an open mind and view. We have written non-metal songs earlier in our career, like on ‘Lemuria’.

Are you someone who sees things in a mathematical way or do you rather use spiritual approaches in your art?
This time I went for a completely spiritual approach. The protagonist of the story is a very religious person and he often speaks directly to God. He sees himself as a second Messiah, even bigger than Jesus. At a certain moment, he stops talking to God and he gets very frustrated. He becomes a depressive man and decides to commit suicide. He climbs to the top of a huge cliff and jumps, but during his fall there are mystical forces that catch him and they put him gently back on the ground. The force speaks to him and pretends to be his real father. He is seduced by evil and so he becomes the antichrist. The first thing he does is go home and write a very remarkable book. It is a book about solving all problems, in politics, in philosophy, in religion… Everybody reads the book and that’s how he becomes an enlightened world leader. He also becomes the spiritual leader of the world and indeed, he solves all problems. There is no more hunger, no more diseases, no more wars… everything is perfect. But then there is this huge religious congress where he wants to unite all religions and churches, but there is also The Pope and he says that the antichrist never looked up to Jesus. Something breaks in the antichrist and from then on, religious leaders do not have respect for him anymore. People start to be divided. Half of the people rejects his leadership, the other half doesn’t care because they have a good life under the leadership of the antichrist. The real question is: what is more important, the gift in your hand or the hand who gives it? For instance, image if a Nazi community collects food for homeless people. Is it wrong or right? That is the problem in the rock opera. Of course he is the son of the devil, we should not forget that. But it makes you think: what is important? Being religiously correct or having a good life on earth? We do not come up with answers, there is no moral of the story. It is just entertainment. But it is fine when it makes you think about things like that…

Now that you are so involved in opera, do you see already signs of interest or respect coming from that sector of art?
No, not yet. When you are a famous footballer, you don’t mean anything in the hockey world, you know. These are two different worlds. Nobody in the metal scène knows opera stars and vice versa. Take Markus Jupiter, our baritone, as example. He does not leave his house for less than four thousand euro per day. He is the most famous baritone in Sweden. Normally it costs you a lot of money to engage him, but fortunately he is a childhood friend from Thomas Vikström, our singer. So we could arrange something within the budget. And he did an amazing job! There is a reason why he is so famous! I thought it would take three roles to sing his role. He did it in one day. We were lucky. But in general, opera stars don’t care about rock stars. Maybe if they would meet Paul McCartney or ABBA, but they don’t care about James Hetfield or Metallica.

How are you going to convince the mainstream audience?
We will start with convincing our own fans. For the rest I just want to try this. We have to wait and see if we succeed in that, but I had to make this dream come true. Writing a rock opera, it has been in my mind for years, you know that. Finally it is done and now I want to do the utmost to bring it to as much people as possible. It is an adventure, a challenge I wanted to do now that it is possible. We are no longer the band with major sales, like the times of ‘Vovin’, that was our best selling album. I am aware of that, but it gives me the opportunity to experiment, just like I did with ‘Les Fleurs Du Mal’ and just like I did when recording for Luciferian Light Orchestra. When you are at the peak of your success, it should not be smart to isolate yourself from the world to write a rock opera, such a time consuming challenge spread over five years. I had to take a step back to fulfill my dream, but now that it is done, I am ready to go for it all the way.

That means we can look forward to Therion on stage again…
Indeed, the tour starts at the first of February and it will be a long one. The beginning of a worldwide tour, before I will concentrate on working to bring the rock opera on stage. So you can see the familiar Therion in Spring with four or five new songs.

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