Therion are the poster band for symphonic metal. For over 30 years, they've developed an innovative power metal that often engages with classical orchestration and theatrical drama. That said, Beloved Antichrist is far more ambitious than anything they've done previously; it makes Gothic Kabbalah and Sitra Ahra sound minimal. Fully 46 tracks are spread over three discs/acts clocking in at 182 minutes. It features the septet and numerous guests (there are 29 individual singers), an enormous orchestra, and choir. This conceptual musical drama is inspired by and partially based on philosopher and abstract theologian Vladímir Soloviov's novel A Short Tale of the Antichrist. It is the career realization of Therion guitarist and founder Christofer Johnsson; he conceived, arranged, and wrote the music (with several lyricists). The basic story line (detailed in an expansive libretto) involves Seth, a man able to converse with God directly and who sees himself as the Messiah. His conceit results in losing his gift. In despair he jumps from a cliff, only to be rescued by Satan, who offers Seth another gift. The story follows an involved and twisty transition from self-proclaimed Messiah to an Antichrist who becomes the globe's ruler. He even ushers in a Golden Age that makes his subjects more devoted as he works to bring forth the darkness of his true intent. Johnsson's characters -- particularly Seth, played by Therion vocalist Thomas Vikström -- are executed with depth and dimension. This rock opera -- and that's exactly what it is -- is an expertly crafted allegory dramatically paced and chock-full of musical imagination. It's easy to find overwhelming, and most will likely absorb it in segments, but a single listening episode in its entirety offers a more powerful experience. The arrangements are elaborate, juxtaposing a large number of instruments that illustrate narratives episodically and further character development. On "What Is Wrong?" and "Time Has Come/Final Battle," string sections swirl panoramically as earthshaking horns and timpanis illustrate the force of the underworld. Piano, bells, and chimes add a flourish to the album's quieter moments, and harpsichords flit in and out of the mix in interludes that require nuance. In "Temple of New Jerusalem," classical recitative is accompanied by reeds and winds floating above layers of strings, organ, and synth; that's before chugging guitars and cracking snares claim the center for Vikström's Seth and Markus Jupither's Appolonius' (Greek and Roman gods are cast members) argument while the choir mediates. "Night Reborn" commences as pure crash-and-burn power metal, but the principal singers and choir provide color and texture. These combinations and recombinations soar on the final disc's "Forgive Me" and "The Wasteland of My Heart," the former a ballad-cum-rocker led by Chiara Malvestiti's Joanna confronting Seth, the latter an angular prog metal cruncher with twin leads framing Vikström. Ultimately, it's impossible to summarize the massive Beloved Antichrist in a few tracks, but taken as intended, as a whole, it is an exhausting, enthralling monolithic marvel.
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