About Me

Interview with Therion

At last, Therion’s trilogy is completed with Leviathan III, that came out December 2023. The latest album from the Symphonic Metal band showcases a brand new plethora of occultism, mysticism and a pantheon of worldwide gods. Metal Imperium had the opportunity to chat with the heart and soul of Therion, Christofer Johnsson, and learn about his new inspirations since the first Leviathan album came out three years ago.
Certainly, Therion’s sound and music is quite known for experimenting, combining new genres, and take a step further when developing a new album. Started as a Death Metal band, Johnsson’s lyrics and riffs since early 90s is solid evidence that Therion carved their way to stardom, and still fill a whole arena when performing either in Europe, as well as in Latin America.
Npronetheless, Christofer also shared with us a bit of his side projects, the next upcoming concerts for this year and what the future holds for the band. The Swedish musician that still honors the classics such as ABBA, Pink Floyd and Celtic Frost gave us insights of entrepreneurism, in order to know why Therion jumped to the digital streaming platforms, and how capitalize art, even if it’s music.

M.I. - Let’s start from the beginning. Why changing the name of Megatherion to Therion? 

I’m a little bit puzzled, but people bring up the Megatherion thing, because when we made a biography in 1990, it was part of what the band was, but we were only called Megatherion for two or three months. We didn't record anything under that name, we never played a concert as well. Highly theoretical.
We just formed the band called Blitzkrieg or I formed the band, and then I realized there was another band called Blitzkrieg and they had made a record. I had to find another name, and I had just quite recently discovered Celtic Frost, which were my big thing then at the time. I was thinking: should I call my band Pandemonium, or should I call it Megatherion? At the end I thought it felt too much like Megadeth. Let's short it down to Therion. I think it was even the idea of the bass player Erik, who just joined us, maybe it would be better to be just Therion. I mean, if I wouldn't have written that in the early biography, nobody would have known that. We didn't make any noise, because making the demos, no recordings and no concerts at all.

M.I. - In the end, Megatherion was just a short couple of months band name?

Yes. The thing is, I split up Blitzkrieg a few months. We had a lot of problems with the drummer at the time, Oscar, who seemed to be very uninterested. We thought, if we can't rehearse then, we split up the band. I originally played the bass, so I should try to change to the guitar. Our player, Peter, showed me a power chord, and that was it. I sold the bass and bought a guitar, and then when it became summer and was warm, we could rehearse in my parents’ garage. It wasn't isolated, it was unheated in a way you could use it in the winter. We started to rehearse there and then kind of reformed the band.
We changed the direction a little bit, because, like I said, I had the Celtic Frost influence before we tried to play some mixture between Thrash and Heavy Metal, very noisy stuff with the distorted bass. We sounded like Venom, trying to crash, in the beginning. Therion is my first band, I never had a band before. I formed Blitzkrieg when I have played the bass for three months, so I was just a beginner, and the guitar player we had, he had played the guitar for one year. We were all beginners, except for Oscar, the drummer, who had played ten years, because he plays drums since he was a kid. However, he didn’t play this type of music. He used to play with his father, who was a trumpet player at a royal parade.
He wasn’t into this type of music. He liked punk music, that sort of stuff, and a bit metal, but not much. Then, he had lost interest. We reformed with another drummer, but he never showed up and left his drum kit. I started to play the drum this time. I played the drums, and we would do some covers of Celtic Frost with the guitar. For a while we were thinking if I should do the drums, but then I persuaded Oscar to come back. He persuaded his parents that we could rehearse at his garage, which was insulated and heated in winter. We did some changes and we moved in there. All of a sudden, we were back together the way we started, except for the guitar and the bass player. The style was changing more towards Death Metal due to Celtic Frost being the big thing and then Carcass, a little bit of Morbid Angel, a bit of Autopsy, the very punky type of early Death Metal in the 80s.

M.I. - The Cover Songs 1993-2007 (2020) shows that you’re a fan of the classics like Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, Venom, and even ABBA. Aside from Rock music, what other genres inspire you to create music?

I like all kinds of music, but I prefer music that has a bit of a soul. If it is too mass produced, I don't like it.
I like a little commercial music like ABBA, but ABBA is extremely exceptionally well made. The people behind that are genius, totally top of the line, recording equipment for the tone and they were working class musicians and singers, and that’s why I like them. I like The Beatles, ABBA, Queen… I don't like 80s Queen that much better, but 70s Queen. 70s Queen also taught me not to be afraid of experiment. I think I owe that to Queen and probably Celtic Frost. They built a good career with Into The Pandemonium (1987) by experimenting and threw it down the toilet with Cold Lake (1988), which I didn’t like at all. Yet, I respected them, and they did what they wanted to do. So be it, I don't have to listen to it, right?! We were not so sensitive like today, crying on the internet if they don't like a song or something, it's like “big deal”. 
Those, I think, were the ones that inspired me to be brave musically, but I drew a lot of inspiration over the years, a lot of 70s like Pink Floyd, the Atom Heart Mother (1970) album, and a Canadian band called Klaatu. They made a few records, but I didn't really like most of them. The first one is pretty good, the second one is genius, it's called Hope (1977), which is orchestra. I listen to a lot of metal, and I grew up with the 80s metal. I would say my favorite band, that would be Accept probably; Voivod was also a huge inspiration for how to write in the perspective of guitar playing with chord figures. I also like a lot of Classic Rock, like AC/DC, they’re huge. I love the hit songs from Jimi Hendrix too, and 70s Judas Priest. We’re also talking about Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, which has been a huge influence for me. Basically, everything you know from the 80s, like the early albums of Mötley Crüe, early Twisted Sister, early W.A.S.P., Manowar, Iron Maiden too and Girlschool. 

M.I. - It’s been a couple of years since our last interview, when Leviathan (2021) came out. The trilogy is completed with Leviathan III (2023). Why the title of this powerful sea serpent? Any relation with the Old Testament or Hobbes?

I had a little vague vision of what they were, at the other side of the hill back in the day, and I remember when we had done the Vovin (1998) album. I had an idea about making it, an album calling it something related to dragon/ winged serpent at the time. Leviathan means dragon in Hebrew, and Vovin the same, but in Enochian. Then, when we were about to try to make a hit album for our fans, I'm not trying to gain you, to give the fans what they want, one day, I remembered, I have to make another Leviathan, and then to turn into a trilogy.

M.I. - In the last interview, you mentioned that Leviathan would be darker and melancholic and the next one a bit more diverse with experimental songs. Should we expect a new sound from Therion? 

Leviathan II was a bit dark, comparing with the first one, and Leviathan 3 is more experimental, definitely a lot more experimental, because we wanted to make a Leviathan for different categories of fans. I like streaming in one way, because you get real numbers, otherwise everybody just says what they think and they say about their opinion. Actually, it was very difficult back in the days to say which songs are the most popular ones. I mean, the big hits were easy to define, but if you're not going to play on the popular ones, then which songs? Or even those people who like the least songs on the record, which ones? It’s very difficult, because you see the reaction to concerts, and now we're streaming. You get an exact number; I can say how many listens to this song, from what gender, in what city, the hit song, the big hits songs. The majority seems to think that type of category of Leviathan. We want to make it, so that every song on the record, because when we were writing songs, we thought “let's make one song, which is the hit song for those who don't like the hit songs, those who like the more adventurous and more experimental side”, because if you would take comments on the Internet, you would get the impression the more experimental Therion songs are, the most popular it gets. If you look at the streaming numbers, you see those fans, the more experimental fans, they're a bit more active. They’re very engaged, but I think they deserve to have their own opinion, and then, since we wrote so many songs, we just have enough songs for a third record. Leviathan II is pretty much the songs that didn't fit on one or three. Then, it just happened, but it became darker, if you want to call it. I don't know why or if it’s just a coincidence, but that was good too, because they didn't like, it was a category of fans who preferred that stuff as well. So, the whole point would be that we could make a Leviathan for most of our fans. Of course, you will have people who only like the Death Metal records, or people who only like the old records, because we don't like new sound or whatever. You can never please everybody, but if you can please the majority of the fans or take the best songs from the trilogy and make your own Leviathan, that's good enough. Then, it's mission accomplished. Very good so far. I mean, Leviathan 1 charted higher than any of our previous records in Germany, and streaming has been really good. We were never a streaming band. We streamed really, really bad and now we almost doubled the amount of people via stream. It's like we actually found new fans and the interesting thing is that the new fans, they started to stream the old stuff. Yeah, I got back the old ticket lot of Therion, almost the whole backlog beginning of 2020, I have all the statistics, all platforms. Also, the streaming for women doubled, because of Leviathan II, so there were new fans coming, but they agree with the old fans that more than apparently like 60% or something of those records who were most popular back then, like Lemuria, are also the most popular with the younger fans or new fans, which is interesting.

M.I. - In the beginning, did you plan to write a trilogy, or it just happened spontaneously?

That just happened. We just got a lot of inspiration.

M.I. - Did the pandemic help you to write the tracks or, as many musicians felt, it was a barrier that prevented your creativity?

We were anyway in the face of writing. For us, it didn't make a huge difference for the creative process. For the recording, we made a huge difference, because I had just moved to Malta, and everybody was supposed to fly here and was supposed to record here, and, all of a sudden, they shut down the airport. I can't fly out, they can't fly in and you have to find a different way of working. We recorded everything remotely, which was a new way of working and there were good and bad sides from it. I mean, with some members and I will continue to work remotely, because they stepped up when they get more responsibility. Some of them became floppy, but they really needed some fire under there or someone there. It would be a waste of money, because they would make some recordings and I would say “Ok, no good”, “this time again” and another version. Some of them, I think I'm going to apply them in the future. I think I will continue to record on this really to work well. For instance, I always hated to record, one day and then another, another day and then another day. You’re already tired of it, and then you're going to listen to bass for two days, then it’s the guitars. With drums and bass, they really did a great job doing it by themselves. I give some directions if there's something I'm not happy with, they redo it. With the guitar, we took it bit by bit to be just testing things to “Is this the direction I want to take?”. I think for guitar it was better when we're sitting in the same room, because we would usually do this by ourselves and then we would kind of write together. For writing, I don't have to sit there and listen all the time, even though I play a little then. He's so much better guitar player, so why should I record rhythm guitar for the principal? We record from clean guitar, so I can write my name on it but, my big job is to be a producer in some way which is more than a muscle anyway. 

M.I. - I got the feeling you see Therion as a “company”. Would you consider yourself as an entrepreneur? 

I usually joke with friends. I'm an office worker and occasionally I get to do a little bit of music as well. Yes, I did the band management for 18 years. I mean, if you don't do the job, you won’t get any money. I think I earn considerably much more money than other artists on the same level, because I'm a good businessman, because I care about the detail, and it’s time consuming. You need to understand the economy, the legal matters and so on, but it's the only way to sell something. Even if it's art and you love your art, you're still selling it. You need to take care of the business part. If you don't earn money, somebody else will. A lot of musicians have this hippie attitude: I don't care about money or anything, but that's what you say when you're 20 years old, and then when you turn 40 and you realize I’m not earning any money, I’ve been playing all my life and, once you realize it, it's too late. I made a mistake of signing stuff which I didn’t understand. I realized for the next contract it was very difficult business English, and I wasn't very good at English in school, because I didn't care about school, but I learned English very much by doing interviews. I got a lot of written interviews, and I didn't understand what they were writing. Then, I brought home a Swedish-English dictionary, and I would learn the words. When you are at that stage, you get some really difficult business English. Even today, it's very complicated, because you don't understand it, but if you don't learn those things, they’re going to screw you and that's the whole point with it, to make it difficult.

M.I. - Insofar, Ruler of Tamag is my favorite song. Again, the Occultism is quite present and a reference to Hell itself and the Middle-East. Can we expect more of these themes in the upcoming album?

All the things are the way they've always been since 1989. Different mythologies, different occult things, different teachings and these things are always an interest to me. A very wide range of mythologies. Take for example Nummo, which represents the Dogon tribe, where there’s a fish-like deity. Then you take the song Midsommarblot, which means summer sacrifice. This is somewhat Neo Pagan, in this case. Then you have Ayahuasca, which is a hallucinogenic in South America, actually made from some leaves, used for religious purposes. Then you have Twilight of the Gods, again Nordic mythology, Ruler of Tamag which is the ruler of the Turkish underworld. It’s hard to explain, it's like the Devil in the music, especially in southern Spanish music tradition. It's like something that can possess you, especially within flamenco, which is an incredibly cool performance, but not from this world. After that, you have Duende almost at the end of the album.

M.I. - It seems we have again different Leviathans/ historical references in this new album: Ninkigal (Babylonian), Tamag (Turkish), Midsommarblot (Norse) and Nummo (African). Different cultures with different mythos?

Yes, it’s like the same previous Leviathan albums, very varied.

M.I. - Therion’s music is always evolving. From Death to Symphonic Metal, the band’s always known for experimenting different music genres. Would you consider bringing back Therion’s Death Metal roots in future albums? 

We can do traces of Death Metal in the opening tracks, like Leviathan. They had a Death Metal choir, actually. I don't have anything against it, but it just feels like there's not much to explore there. It has been done, and I'm not going to do any growling with work on myself to give it up. I don't know, Death Metal was something very brand new and very thrilling when it came, but it's not just Death Metal. In general, nothing feels new and fresh anymore. Everything has been done and everything is just about making different types of blends and try to make a blend that nobody else did and then is failing now. I mean, you can still do original music, but it's really hard, and the last time I heard a completely new sound like a band that would have been like five or something years ago. I'm not slacking off Death Metal, but it’s like AC/DC, pretty much play the same 3 chords over 40 years, and I love them. I think their Lost Recordings is one of best. So, if you're total Death Metal, of course, it doesn't need to be new for somebody to like. No disrespect to what those extreme metal bands continue to make, happy for their sake, but for me, I don't know. I feel it just pushed Death Metal as far as I could with those 4 first albums.

M.I. - You’re 51 years old. Any upcoming and future projects you’d like to share with us?

Well, there's a lot of interesting things with music, and I've never been more productive in my life. With this mega trilogy work, we recorded over, we wrote and made demos for over 40 songs, and I think we recorded like 37 songs or something. I really need a little creative break from Therion while, probably a couple of years, to get the inspiration to get back. Meanwhile, I'm going to do 1 or maybe even 2 records with my side project, Luciferian Light Orchestra. We made one record before, which is very inspired by Jimi Hendrix's, a lot of Ritchie Blackmore in there in the guitar as well.
It’s like Ritchie Blackmore and Jimi Hendrix, where I make a tribute to Rosemary's Baby, satanic horror movie made by them. I would like to make 2 more records for that project before I'm done with it. If the first album was trying to get the sound from the late 60s, early 70s, the second one would be more like mid 70s and the third one would be like late 70s. I feel that should be it. We haven't thought for 2 more records that we have recorded. Definitely, it can be one, and I also want to make an 80s Heavy Metal album like a classic metal guitar bass.
I owe the 11-year old Christofer the Heavy Metal album, because when I discovered metal around 10 or 11 years old with Judas Priest and Accept, in a way we did that type of music, but we didn't have leather and spikes outfit, and we didn't become an arena band like those bands, but pretty much fulfilled my dream in a different way. It would be cool to make one record exactly how I imagined it, but, of course, you won't be very original, because how can you be original? There are so many records made and not even the classic bands of the 80s can deliver records anymore that are considered on the same class as the 80s effort. I don't really have any commercial aspiration for it, just want to make the record, and I may even release it myself, because it feels like I’m releasing it for my 11 year old alter-ego and for myself. Now, I just want to make a metal album. This came about when the K.K. Downing left Judas Priest, and we offered our services, via his manager. It felt a bit unprofessional by his manager/ assistant. Then, we thought we can write some really commercial stuff. I just wrote the record in two weeks, all the music was already written. We just needed time to record it. Now, we have this release to promote that we're going on tour, it's going to take a while to get clearing off the table, but once that's done, we're going to name Luciferian Light Orchestra.

M.I. - You’re coming to perform in Portugal, and we can’t wait to see you! Do you have fond memories of being here? 

That's so different, between the countries, but I do remember when we toured in 98 with Moonspell. That was the first time we played in Portugal, and the show we did in Porto was the second last show of the tour. We did 48 with one day off and the day off was the worst day, because it was a travel day. Porto was one of the finest shows in Europe by far, and also the band was pretty worn out at the end, but we got some extra spark at the end of the tour. Again, that was actually one of the best performances on the tour and one of the best shows.
I have to mention the withdrawing or the withdrawal in the future, because we have other interests than just touring. We're much bigger in Latin America, Russia and China. So, if you're going to cut touring, it's going to have to be Europe. We’re definitely not going to fully cut countries, but we're not going to make extremely long tours anymore, like we did in 2018, where we did 58 concerts in Europe. We’re not going to do anything like that anymore. Probably, we'll do approximately 25 shows or something, and then it'll be up to the booking agent to determine where it's going to be. We already skipped the UK on this tour, but in the future, we will not go everywhere in Europe. We’ll have to see. I mean, it has grown so much for us in Latin America. We did 18 shows in Mexico alone on the tour, and half of them were sold out. Most bands only do three or four shows, I don't know why, but we are so huge in Mexico. The worst show we had in the tour, it was a transport show. It was a bit far to go between that city and that city. Let's play there, nobody played in Villahermosa. We have right now, I think, almost 73.000 thousand fans from Mexico. It's totally crazy. I don't know why, but it's crazy, and if I make one concert in Mexico City, I earn more money from that concert than the whole tour in Europe.
It's not like you just play for the money, but just putting in contrast the big difference. Also, in Europe, they complicate everything so much. You have different artist taxes, you were asking before about having an enterprise. On every tour you need to do a lot of research: what is the latest EDF tax rules? EU was supposed to make everything unified, but everything is different in every EU country, and it's very, very unfair. Plus, if I would pay tax in, let’s say France, they have one of the worst rules. I don't get any benefits there, I don't drive on the road there, nor go to the hospital there. If you want to avoid that, you need to make a double taxation form with every source of income you have on a tour, which usually means every promoter, which usually means every show. If you make 30 shows, you will probably have 25 different sources of income, and then you have 7 people in the band. Around 10 forms that you need to be filled in for every concert. Maybe that could work for me, since I’m a little bit of a businessman, but for everybody else they're just going to be like: No! I'm not going to do this. If I ran the band like the company doesn't like, I would have to pay everybody's tax. 
We may carefully in the future choose the tour in the countries that have easier rules than other. On the latest tour plan, we did 5 shows in Poland and think we have one scheduled in France, so that's the reason.

M.I. - Thank you very much for this interview. It was, indeed, a huge pleasure speaking with you. Would you like to share any last message with our readers and your fans?

We just look forward to getting on the road again and hope everybody will enjoy the concert, because we don't know when we will come back.

Listen to Therion, on Spotify

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by André Neves