CRISTOFER JOHNSSON (THERION) “If You Write For The Masses And Success You Can Be Happy”

Therion band photo

Swedish Symphonic Metal veterans Therion are set to release their new album/third and final part of their Leviathan trilogy entitled Leviathan III on December 15th. Therion’s founding member Cristofer Johnsson took the time to talk with Metal Express Radio about their upcoming album, playing live in Cyprus for the first time, Therion’s current lineup, and more. Check out the chat below!

Metal Express Radio: Your band Therion, are set to release their new album entitled Leviathan III, what can you tell fans about the upcoming release?

Johnsson: It concludes the Leviathan trilogy, which is a series of albums where we wanted to thank our loyal fans over the decades by trying to give them what they want for a change (after making 16 albums not giving a shit).

MER: How was the writing and recording process having this being your band’s nineteenth studio album?

Johnsson: Previously, all song writing was spontaneous, but with Beloved Antichrist, we had to learn how to write in specific directions, given that it was a rock musical with different scenes than needed music. So after learning that we came up with the Leviathan concept and continued to write in the same way, trying to not copy previous songs, but trying to figure out the secret sauce that was hiding within the most popular tracks and see if we could decipher the reason why certain songs are more popular than other songs and write more popular songs. The idea was to just write one album, but we had so much inspiration that we wrote three.

MER: How would you compare Leviathan III to Leviathan I and Leviathan III?

Johnsson: It’s the adventurous one in the trilogy.We decided to divide the songs so each album would get a different character rather than just make three albums sounding similar.
The first one was more vocal and hit oriented. The second one partly hit oriented, but more choral and also darker and a bit more melancholic. On the third one we try to give the die hard fans who don’t prefer the most popular songs what they want.

MER: How did it come about making Leviathan a three part album?

Johnsson: We intended to write just one album, but because we had so much inspiration, we wrote over 40 songs and had enough good material for three albums. So it was an accident of birth entirely.

MER: You recently released a video for the song “Ayahuasca”, how did the concept of having the video filmed in the Amazon along with a real shaman come about?

Johnsson: When we wrote the songs, it felt very far out, so I gave it the working title “Ayahuasca”, but with time it felt it could be a cool theme to write a real lyric about, so we did. As that is a very specific topic and also very tied to that geographic area in South America, it’s very limited what kind of music video you can do. It’s basically either a video where the band just plays or you do a concept video about an Ayahuasca experience/journey. We decided on the latter and as our video clip partner (Carlos Toro from Abysmo films) is located in Chile, it was making sense to have him fly to the Amazonas and do it with real people on the grounds where they normally perform this. It’s of course throwing pearls before swines doing such a thing as on internet anno 2023 nobody gives a shit about anything (unless they have a complaint about something – then it’s the end of the world for them) and you could spend a million dollars on a video clip or shit on the lens of your iPhone camera and upload and it will get the same number of views anyway. So it’s more for our own sake than for promotion that we wanted to do it the proper way in all honesty.

MER: You will be playing live in Cyprus for the first time in February of 2024, what are your expectations on the upcoming show?

Johnsson: It’s usually not a radical difference between the shows in various countries on the same continent. But I guess people tend to be at least a bit extra appreciative when it’s the first time a band plays there. So I think it will be pretty much business as usual for that part of Europe. The Greeks are a bit more hot blooded than say Germans, so I guess it will be like playing in Greece, given that we play on the Greek part of Cyprus (though I hope some of the Turks for the other side will cross the border and join too, at a concert we are all brothers and sisters and politics are left outside the door).

MER: You’ve released three songs from Leviathan III so far, do you feel those three songs give fans a good idea on what to expect from the full album?

Johnsson: Yes and no. The album is exceptionally diverse in style and there aren’t two songs that naturally sound like they belong to the same album. Fact is each song could easily have been by different bands. So in one way those three singles give you no clue whatsoever how the rest of the album sounds. But as all songs are different, those songs are just as representative as any other songs. Except we of course use the songs we have better commercial penetration for singles.

MER: Do you and your band mates have anymore plans to tour after the show in Cyprus?

Johnsson: Yes, we will be touring Europe, China, and Latin America in 2024. Possibly some more shows in Asia as well if we are lucky.

MER: Is there anyone that you hope to tour with that you haven’t and why?

Johnsson: In general, we did everything we dreamed of. It would be cool to do a huge arena tour as a support act though. That’s the only thing I feel we never did that would have been fun to do, doing a full arena tour. Either some old heroes like Maiden or Judas Priest, or some younger band like Ghost, Sabaton or Powerwolf would be awesome too. But we will be playing one arena headline in Mexico City with an orchestra (it may even be sold out), so at least we will experience that once.

MER: How do you feel about the current lineup with your band?

Johnson: I’m obviously very happy with the other guys, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Thomas and Lori has been with us since 2007 (and Lori is now also returning to playing live), Nalle since 2008 and Christian Vidal since 2010. Drummer has been unclear, we didn’t have a permanent drummer when we recorded these albums, but now our old drummer Sami is back as he didn’t like playing with Opeth and longed home to Therion.

MER: Therion has been around for almost forty years, what has been the key to your band’s longevity?

Johnston: Never being afraid to experiment and stay true to what we really want to do, instead of trying to seek commercial success I think has been the main key to preserve the passion and inspiration over the years. If you write for the masses and success you can be happy, but if you fail commercially after writing such an album, then you are stuck with a worthless album that neither you or the fans like. So best is to write for yourself, then if it fails to sell, you still pleased yourself. With the Leviathan trilogy we found a great challenge in making ”hit albums” for our existing fans, but we still wrote in a way that we ourselves also loved the songs. Because we never played the same style over and over, it never felt like a job. Sure all the traveling and waiting sure does, but never the composing, recording or live performance.


  • Matt Zaniboni

    Matthew is an interviewer here at Metal Express Radio. He started his passion for music journalism back in his college radio days serving as the Heavy Metal Director at WKKL out of Hyannis Massachusetts. During Matt’s tenure in radio, he has had time working for commercial stations in Boston Massachusetts such as WAAF, WZLX AND 98.5 The Sports Hub before landing with Metal Express Radio. Anytime you want to talk heavy Metal, hockey, Guiness, and dad life, Matt is your guy m/

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