It has been a few years since we’ve had a studio album from Swedish symphonic veterans Therion. That’s because they have been busy recording the triple album rock opera Phantom Antichrist. Vocalist Thomas Vikstrom fills us in on the ambitious project, tour plans and other subjects.
Chad Bowar: How did drummer Sami Karppinen’s return to the band come about?
Thomas Vikstrom: It was a natural choice. He was Johan’s drum tech while Johan played with us. He played on some Therion records and he is a real killer drummer. And he said in his humble typical Finnish way that he really felt like it. So, we are more than happy to have him in!
How long has Beloved Antichrist been in the works?
A long time! (laughs) When Christofer presented the idea we all read the book and started to write songs. Or should I say pieces. And since it’s a story, it’s not just enough to have good songs. They also must fit to the story. I think this is an idea Christofer had in his head for many years and finally the caterpillar became a butterfly. The first time I heard about the idea was I think 2014.
Did Christofer write all the lyrics, or was it a collaborative effort?
No, it takes a real writer for this kind Of thing. We used Per Albinsson to make the libretto together with us.
As the main character, how challenging was it to record such a lengthy album, even with all the other singers?
It’s always challenging to make a Therion record, and to do it with Christofer as the producer and songwriter. He writes the melodies with extremely high notes. I think I am up on an F on some places on this record. That is unnaturally high, especially when you must use a classical clean voice, which is the idea for this record. And on top of that, I’m soon to be 50 years old and the voice changes with the years. So yeah, it’s tough but fun. Christofer and myself work very well together.
Speaking of the other singers, you utilized a couple of your current live singers. Where did you recruit the rest?
The role of Appolonius, for example, is sung by Marcus Jupither (yes, it’s his real name), one of the biggest opera stars we have in Sweden. We are childhood friends. His father Rolf and my father Sven Erik were friends and colleagues at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. So we have been through a lot together. He does an incredible job. He goes in to the studio, reads the notes, and just nails it. It’s a pleasure to see him work. The rest of the singers are friends or recommendations. Some singers also auditioned for it.
With your theatre background, are you better prepared to execute such a complex project than the typical metal singer?
Yes, I think so. At least, I think it’s a great advantage. I’m used to working with directors and I find it interesting. And theatre and concerts are two different worlds. But in this upcoming tour we will not act in that way. We will just play some of the pieces from the opera.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
It took a long time, but I remember the feeling of creating this monster. I remember thinking that this has never been done before. Yes, there are rock operas and great ones, but none that I know about where all the singers sing with opera voices. That’s something pretty unique. I also remember a great typical Christofer comment. We had recorded vocals for around four hours and it was around midnight. Christofer says, honestly surprised, ”You seem to be a little tired in the voice?!” Yes, Christofer! I am. It’s pretty natural after singing for four hours! (laughs)
Do you think the album’s fictional storyline has any parallels to today’s reality?
Yes, just look at the news. Nations are against nations, religion against religion, even on Facebook you see things like: ”Oh, you don’t think like me, I’ll unfriend you.”
What do you think the response to the album will be from both your fans and the metal world at large?
I always think when we release something new that some will love it and some will not. But so far, people’s reactions have been very, very positive about the nuggets we have put out so far: ”New Temple Of Jerusalem” and ”Night Reborn.” I only saw a few haters. I just received a review from Sweden Rock magazine where we got 8 out Of 10 points, which doesn’t suck. This is an album you must listen to and digest. It’s long, so you can have a pause for dinner and then go back to it.
You have an extensive European tour coming up. Any plans for a North American run this year?
I want to! The USA is holy ground for me when it comes to music and food. Plus, I have a lot of relatives in Florida so it’s a little like home for me. It’s tough to tour in the States, though. It costs a lot! But If we get a good offer, I’m sure we will do it.
How much progress have you made in trying to be able to perform Beloved Antichrist in its entirety in an opera house setting?
We have been so occupied with recording, planning tours, fixing visas and stuff so not so much yet I’m afraid. But it’s something we will start working on soon. It’s a huge project that must involve so many more people than just the band.
When you perform older Therion songs live that you didn’t originally record, how do you balance staying true to the song while still putting your own style into it?
That has never been a problem for me. I like most of the old material so it’s not hard at all. The hardest thing is to make them respectful to the old singers and to the fans but, I can only be me.
You’re listed as a member of several other bands, although none have released material in a while. Are any of them currently active?
No, not really. I’m still working on a solo record, but I never seem to have time to finish it. (laughs) We also have an offer to make a live thing with my first band Talk Of The Town. It’s a typical melodic ’80s band, which in the melodic scene almost became cult. We will see. Therion is the first priority.
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
I’m into fishing and boats. I like cooking and watching movies. I’m also an ice hockey nerd. Me and Christian Vidal plays a lot of FIFA soccer on tour. He is Argentinean so for him football is religion. When I win against him, he unfriends me for some minutes! I also have two stepsons. They are my girlfriend’s cats Milka and Moon. They are fantastic. But I’m also a lazy nature and I’m good with doing nothing.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Judas Priest’s new single. I love Priest!I had the honor to meet the Metal God some years ago.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Can’t wait to get out on tour again. I hope everybody will enjoy our new triple album Beloved Antichrist.
(interview published February 9, 2018)