For decades THERION have been blowing fans and critics away with their sounds. Their latest offering Leviathan is no exception. Rock Out Stand Out’s Lotty Whittingham spoke to band vocalist Thomas Vikström about Leviathan, the creating process during a pandemic and what songs he is looking forward to playing live when bands can tour again. Here’s what happened.
You released Leviathan a few days ago now. I absolutely love it. In your press release, it says you packed Therion hits into this album. How did you go about achieving this? Did you see what fans responded to the most or was it something else?
The two latest releases we did was one French cover album where we covered French songs which was unusual and the next was a triple rock opera called Beloved Antichrist. Christofer [Johnsson] and I sat down and said let’s go back home. It’s time to make a normal album. What we were trying to do was not re-create the past but we were trying to capture the core and the essence of those songs from the areas surround Lemuria and Sirius B. Now take those into 2021 where we are today, that’s what we were trying to do.
Did you guys also think when doing this approach that it would draw in some new fans?
Basically we do what we want to do and we hope that some people have the same taste as us. When I hear that we were trying to make hits, it’s not like we deliberately sit down and think “we need to make a hit song”. We try to make it pretty straight forward this time without being boring.
It’s receiving praise from fans and critics.
Yes it’s great. This time round fans and critics seem to be reunited in this. Otherwise it’s a big mix on what people think. One critic can say the album is great whilst the fans feel disappointed and vice versa. This time both fans and critics seem very pleased and we’re happy for that.
Given what went on in 2020, did you record the album during lockdown?
About 90% of the album was recorded during lockdown, from the writing to the recording process. We all live in different countries, I live in Spain and Christofer lives in Malta. So we started to write online, send files to each other and asking for their thoughts. That’s pretty cool, it’s normal to work this way these days. In Spain for example, we had such strong restrictions in the beginning of the pandemic. I could go take out the trash or go to the supermarket and that was it.
So in my home studio, I didn’t have anything else to do so I wrote a lot then take a Netflix break and then write again. Christofer did the same so we had a bunch of songs, the biggest problem was picking which songs to include in the album. The leftovers aren’t leftovers because they’re bad, they are leftovers because they didn’t fit on this album.
We then recorded the album in eight different countries; Germany, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Argentina, Malta, USA and UK. The technique we used worked, the only thing you loose is the direct conversation you can have with the producer in the studio.
When it came to the vocals, did you already have in mind who was going to sing on which track?
When I write songs, I sometimes think this would suit a guy, a woman, a soprano etc. Then I send it to Christofer and he has a totally different image of it. So we try to compromise but it’s his band, he created it so he decision is usually final. Looking at his past, he did a lot of things right so it’s OK. It’s often good to give other people stuff to look at because when you do your own stuff, you feel so immersed. It’s good to get input from others. Sometimes, we will have a song that we need somebody to sing a certain way for and if we don’t have that in the band, we bring in someone else who can.
Of course, I mean you got Marco Hietala for the track Tuonela and he is fantastic on that.
That song has a funny story. Christofer sent me the demo for this song and he wrote in the message about how he wasn’t sure if he liked the song or not. I told him “man, for once, listen to me, this is a keeper, let’s go with it”. For once he listened to me and I am happy with that.
Where did you record the choirs and how did you come across them?
We recorded them in Israel. We were on the Beloved Antichrist tour and we think we ended the tour in Tel Aviv in Israel. Before we got there, someone contacted us and said “I lead a choir here, can we come on stage with you for a song?” We wondered if they were good and they said they were so we invited them on stage for The Rise Of Sodom and they did, they blew us away so we invited them to sing on the album. Noa [Gruman], the person who contacted us, is a fantastic singer and she sings lead on one of the songs.
During lockdown, as well as recording what else has helped you pass the time or have some sense of normality?
From the beginning it was almost a bit exciting as you didn’t realise the seriousness of it all but here in Spain we had a total lockdown from the beginning. You could go to the pharmacy, you could go to the grocery store and you could take out the trash but that was it. Only one person from the family could go out, you couldn’t go out together. That got boring after a while so thank god for my home studio. That was a lifeline for me as I was sitting here writing a lot, not only for Therion but for other stuff too. I do backing vocals for other bands, I tried to keep myself busy as possible. In a pandemic, it’s good to have a good hobby. I also got into a lot of different TV series on Netflix, I think many people did. I started watching a series everyone was talking about.
Was there a particular series on Netflix you got into?
I just finished the series Vikings, it’s my home. Now I am into a series called Snowblaster, it’s about a train. The earth is post-apocalyptic and the survivors are going around the earth on a train that has to keep moving.
What’s mental health awareness like in Spain?
Spanish people tend to hug and kiss everyone so I wondered when the pandemic started, particularly with social distancing, how they were going to be effected. They are very physical. So for them to not be able to do that must be a huge difference to what they are used to. I do know people here who have Covid, luckily all the guys I knew who had it didn’t die and are still here.
Are there any bands or artists that are on your radar at them moment?
I listen to a lot of classic metal bands such as Judas Priest and Alice Cooper. If you want to check out a good new band, it’s a band from Tunisia called Myrath that I love. I really adore them, that’s a band I can tip my hat to.
What is your favourite song to sing live?
I think The Rise Of Sodom, it’s not the most difficult song to sing but to do it live with the reaction of the audience is such a kick in the butt. You get this fantastic adrenaline rush when everyone sings along.
What does Leviathan mean to you as an album and a word?
The word is a sea creature, nothing much more than it’s a cool world. The album for me right night means everything, that’s what I am living right now. I can’t wait until this is over so we can go out and tour with it.
Which songs from Leviathan are you looking forward to playing live the most?
I am looking forward to Tuonela, that’s going to be fun to do. I am also really forward to playing Nocturnal Light, it’s very cinematic.
Do you have a message for fans and readers?
I hope you like the new album, I can’t wait to get to the holy ground UK to play for you all. It’s always a blast to be there.
Thank you so much for speaking to Rock Out Stand Out Thomas.