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Interviews   

Thomas Vikström (Therion) : « Nirvana killed rock ! »


The metal world has its own terms and references. When an album takes a while to come out, we immediately relate it to Chinese Democracy. As a result, the latest Anthrax and Cybion de Kalisia albums are like Chinese Democracy in their own way. From now on, a new editorial rule has been instilled – every time the eviction or quitting of a musician is announced, the statement will be followed by this comment: “well, it can’t be worse than with Snowy White and Dimmu Borgir!”.

After having quit Therion to join Dimmu Borgir, Snowy Shaw announced that he was leaving the band the very next day to go straight back into Therion. His actions caused general confusion and hasty judgements. We needed to find out more. Unsurprisingly, Thomas Vikström who is very excited about the latest Sitra Ahra album and the brand new Therion line-up, confirmed that this is one of the most talked about subjects recently. Furthermore, the ex-Candlemass member told us about his keen interest in rap, but also about grunge and the worst year for music according to him, the 90s. In this interview we also took the opportunity to pay a late homage to Marcel Jacob who’s death last year attracted little attention.


« Then, like a light from heaven or hell, I got an email from Snowy saying: ‘Thomas Hi, how are you? I’ve just realised that I have made the biggest mistake in my life. I am sorry to have caused troubles. Bye bye.’ […] it is very human. You do your mistakes and he had balls enough to admit it. »

Radio Metal : How the work is going on with the new line-up of Therion? Because it is almost an entirely new band…

Thomas Vikström : It is! It is working great. We did three gigs in Mexico in June. I think it worked out really really good! There is a very good spirit in the band right now.

Is there a good chemistry?

Absolutely a good chemistry! I never seen Christofer so happy in my whole life! It works great.

Is it even better than with the previous line-up?

I don’t know what to say about that. There are no hard feelings with the previous line-up at all! It feels that all the three of them, (Kristian and Johan Niemman, Peter Karlsson) wanted to do something else, they were tired of touring.

You just said that Christopher seems happier than before so what is the reason for it?

I don’t know, I was pretty new in the band by those days I did not notice the tension that there maybe was between those guys. I remember when we had finished the Anniversary Tour the last time Christofer was completely exhausted I think he really needed this rest. Now we are back with full of energy.

Could you give us an explanation regarding the departure and the return of Snowy Shaw? He left Therion suddenly because he wanted to join Dimmu Borgir which he left in term of the day after the official announcement to go back with Therion. So from the outside it looks like he sees Therion as a backup band?

It is strange, isn’t it? I can give you the complete explanation. When we were going to these gigs in Mexico, Snowy took Christofer and me aside in the aeroplane actually.He told us that he had done an album with Dimmu Borgir and that he had made up his mind, he wanted to go on tour with them. We were totally chocked by those news because we have a whole tour in front of us and a new album coming out so we had to sit down when we came home from Mexico almost in panic making plans if we had to take a replacement for Snowy or not. We decided in the end to not and that I would do the main vocal myself. I never liked that thought because for me Therion has got four singers, but we simply did not have time to find any replacement. Then, like a light from heaven or hell, I got an email from Snowy saying: “Thomas Hi, how are you? I’ve just realised that I have made the biggest mistake in my life. I am sorry to have caused troubles. Bye bye.”. So I sent an email back to Snowy and said: “ If you feel like that why don’t you come back? The door is open, you still have your place.”. And he decided to do so, we are more than happy about that.

When you read all those articles about that, it sounds very like a man that has left his wife for a younger woman and then comes back three weeks later…

I can agree with that but it is very human. You do your mistakes and he had balls enough to admit it. There are no problems, he is back and we are very happy with that. It is the most important thing.

But why did not you explain that to your fans? I think that they still don’t really understand what happened so why did not you tell them the things you just said to me now?

That is why we are doing so many interviews. (laughs) I have been telling this to everybody now. The fans know that he is back and that everything is fine. We will probably give an explanation so that everybody knows. We simply did not have time yet .Because now so much things are happening around the band, you sit in telephone all days, you start a song because there are songs I never played live. It takes a lot of time!

I imagine that these questions about Snowy Shaw are the most frequently asked questions in interviews…

Yes it is! That is understandable, anyway, we have absolutely no secret about anything!

« The 1990s were a DISASTER for me when it comes to Hard Rock. I did not like the Grunge at all I’m sorry but, for me Nirvana killed Rock. »

Sitra Ahra is the concluding piece of the quadrilogy that the band started in 1999. Some songs in this album were already composed a few years ago apparently. I guess Christofer Johnsson must be relieved to have finally managed to complete this project…

It is funny when you play this album, you have played it for some time already and you think “Oh this is great! Because it reminds us a little bit about Sirius B and Lemuria” even though they are totally new songs. Some of the songs on the albums, but not all, were written around that time and have been growing until now so that is the reason why. But even though this is the end of the quadrilogy, it is not a concept album in any sense. All the songs are about different things, but for example, we have on this album Kali Yuga part 3 which was in previous albums too, there were Kali Yuga part one and two.

Sitra Ahra was announced as an impressive album even for Therion. Before its release we were wondering how it could possibly surpass the massive orchestration of the Lemuria/Sirius B. double album and in the end this album is very impressive but not in terms of means but in terms of theatricality. Would you agree with that?

Yeah, I can agree with that. When we started to plan for this album we just planned songs we did not plan how it would really gonna sound. It was happening along the way. What happened with this album is that it was catching the 70s a little bit. We have fixed what we thought was the best: backing vocal singers from the royal opera choir and the strings section…We have so many musicians on this album, it is amazing! But that is the thing with Therion, there are no rules, no boundaries, you can do whatever you feel in the band. I remember when we had finished with the mix me and Christofer said to each other after we listened to it, “it is okay if everybody hates this because we have done something we are really proud of.”

How is this album more impressive than the others?

This is special for me because it is my first album with the band, but I think we accomplished something that you can hear on the album. This album is very upfront and honest, there is absolutely no synthesize except on the places where it should sound like that. We had worked very very hard on it and I think that if you buy this album you have a lot of music for the money, it includes very different styles! I don’t want to compare myself to a great band like Queen but if you buy a Queen album you have everything in there, it is like having a musical buffet. I think we have a little bit of that touch on this album, you have a ballad with a children choir , you have a song that is called Land of Canaan that contains everything from strings to even accordion and harmonica. I think you have a lot of things in this simple package. It is pure quality in my opinion.

I think any other symphonic metal band would have tried to go even farther in terms of means after an album like Lemuria, to use the orchestra roughly. Do you think that most of symphonic metal bands haven’t really understood the essence of classical music and the musical interest of an orchestra?

I think this is now a little bit of a trap to use orchestra, it is pretty complex. Christofer is in many way a genius, that guy taught himself to read and write notes and to arrange for orchestra. People normally go to school for that. I like this new trend because it makes Hard Rock music even more interesting. It takes it to another level, for example, the 1990s were a DISASTER for me when it comes to Hard Rock. I did not like the Grunge at all I’m sorry but, for me Nirvana killed Rock. In my opinion rock music is about theatrical things, it is about drama, it is about bombastic elements and I think that is what we are doing in Therion. I absolutely welcome other bands that use orchestra even though they might not do it so good or they just follow a trend, it is the sort of a trend that I like anyway.

Don’t you think that some of the Symphonic Metal Bands are using the orchestra just to use it as a make up?

Absolutely! But I think you can excuse them because they are in a learning process. If you listen to the Theli album, that was of course a very new thing to use orchestra, but in that orchestration there are so many things that are really not so good, not so skilled!
You learn through the years, maybe a seed is planted and these bands who are using it now for make up, because they think it is cool to use the orchestra, will eventually go to it deeper for the next album. Nevertheless I agree with you!

(Photo : Marcel Jacob 1964-2009) « That was really disastrous because nobody expected that. […]I think he left Jeff Scott Soto that day saying “see you tomorrow” and then they found him in his home, he committed suicide. »

You wrote something on your myspace about Marcel Jacob’s passing. Could you say something about him a little to do a homage?

That was really disastrous because nobody expected that. Marcel went through a depressive period in his life because he was getting a autoimmune disease and he slowly went worse and worse on the bass of course. I think he left Jeff Scott Soto that day saying “see you tomorrow” and then they found him in his home, he committed suicide. That was what had happened, we were all totally chocked about that. I went to his funerals and what else can I say?
It was very nice fixed with everything, his bass guitar was in the front of the coffin with roses and stuff like that. Jeff Scott Soto was singing a song that he composed for him. It was very touching, it is so sad when that happens, it makes you totally speechless.

Does it bother you that no one talked about his death?

It was never spoke about so much I agree with that. I don’t know how to explain because that Bass player, Marcel Jacob, he was a wizard on the bass! He also played keyboards for Talisman on the first tour. I never heard Marcel Jacob doing a mistake, he was amazing and a very great person too.

Excuse me for saying that but you look pretty embarrassed talking about that. Do you have some kind of a personal relationship with Jacob? Was he a good friend of yours?

We were pretty good friends, we hang around each other often even outside the music, so yes he was a friend. I’m not embarrassed. I just really don’t know how much I can tell about it, because I have respect for his family and friends. I don’t really know what they had been saying to the press and everything. But I’m proud to know Marcel.

« Hip Hop? NO! If I do please tell me to get another job! (laughs)[…] So I never tried that, of course I never tried to growl either because I can’t. I have tried but it sounds silly. »

I have just one last question and actually this is the stupid question of the interview. You stated on your myspace page that you sang in every musical style except Hip Hop. Do you think you will do it one day?

Hip Hop? NO! If I do please tell me to get another job! (laughs)

What is your connection with that kind of music?

I simply don’t understand it, I’m maybe too old. I don’t like the attitude of it, that’s the reason why. When you don’t like something really much, you can’t probably do it. So I never tried that, of course I never tried to growl either because I can’t. I have tried but it sounds silly. Of course when I say I tried everything it is not really the truth but most of it.

Interview conducted in September, 2010 by phone.
Transcription : Isabelle

Myspace THERION : www.myspace.com/therion



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