Writing about something you really enjoy could be difficult. And subjective. For this, my following words may be not so much about the technique and the production of this album, but about the feelings that this music evokes.
It was ten years ago when I first saw Swedish metal band Shining in concert. And it was a truly remarkable experience for me. It was about the stunning depths of this music genre, about the determination of a man to create a personal universe and to reveal some of the most intimate and awkward feelings. For two weeks I could not think of anything else. For Shining want to be “the path to enlightenment”. You could consider Kvarforth a buffoon or a god. This is not the point. Music is. And for that, it looks like he would do anything.
Listening a new Shining album is to set loose a world of infinite moods and realities. Being increasingly complex, their music is a mixture of authentic and tumultuous feelings and genuine instrumental excellence. “X-Varg utan flock” (English translation: ‘Wolf Without A Pack’) is the tenth Shining album and the second collaboration with Season of Mist label. Shining use black metal as a raw material, mixing it with all sort of sounds and styles, composing uncompromising songs. Each album is a surprise which unfolds every time you play it.
The conductor of this madness is no other than the charismatic Niklas Kvarforth which leads the assault with some of the most bold and expressive vocals, accompanied by the magical guitar of Peter Huss.
One of the most visible aspects of this release is Kvarforth’s vocals. You will hear a lot of pieces on this album that starts with a stream of melancholy and suddenly explodes into a painfully fast piece of existential trauma. Needless to say, the guitar solos bring a melancholic vibe with some old school rock influences.
First track of the album is “Svart ostoppbar eld” (“Black Unstoppable Fire”), a song which reminds me of “Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni”. Within the typical approach to the genre, there are distorted guitar sound, repetitive riffing, and mid-tempo drumming. Powerful, aggressive guitar work and relatively good production make each part of this song stand out, and the extended ballad-like midsection is of particular interest to me. It’s cold, and malicious, and mind-opening, and it takes me to a different place than black metal tends to.
“Gyllene portarnas bro” (“The Golden Gates Bridge”) is the second track of the album and melts into the rest of the album with varied musical styles and unique concepts. Consistent, with a mournful guitar tone, this song talks about suicide as a form of freedom. Another great thing about Niklas Kvarforth is his lyric writing. A lot of it is very deep, and also a bit disturbing:
“From the top of the golden gate bridge
Do you see the answer in all its fabulous beauty”
“Jag är din fiende” (”I Am Your Enemy”) is a classic Shining song with a drum vibe straight out from “Eerie Cold”. Peter Huss guitar keeps on playing with breaks between slow acoustic and electric parts. This is a rather catchy and melodically track dominated by Kvarforth’s clean vocals and a solo acoustic guitar.
The forth song of the album, “Han som lurar inom”(“ He Who Lurks Within”) doesn’t lose your attention at any point. Intense and disturbing, with riffs that are reminiscent of “Neka morgondagen” and with drums that creates nice filling with speed changes, Shining really knew how to mix it up.
“Tolvtusenfyrtioett” is the instrumental song of the album. It is an adaptation of Chopin ”Nocturne”. With a classical approach, the song manages to connect the deep states of the album. I see it like the highlight of the album. This classical piece mirrors “Åttiosextusenfyrahundra“ from “V-Halmstad” which is an adaptation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and represents definitely a standout from the rest of the cut wrist groups.
“Mot Aokigahara” (“Towards Aokigahara” which is the suicide forest in Japan) is the last and the longest song of the album. Starting with decadent tones of acoustic guitar, this song is a truly melancholic, transcendent sound of humankind’s most ignored vulnerable part- our knowledge that life can be and usually is a burden. Talking about suicide again, this song closes the album in a dysphoric note.
Kvarforth reminds us that “Halmstad” turned 10 in 2017 and “Varg Utan Flock” was a great opportunity. There are several obvious parallels between these two albums: the strong existential concept, the classical adaptation which is the fifth song on both releases.
“X-Varg Utan Flock” is a unique, eclectic opus and a haunting trip through the human psyche.
1. Svart ostoppbar eld
2. Gyllene portarnas bro
3. Jag är din fiende
4. Han som lurar inom
6. Mot Aokigahara