With black metal, there are certain bands that hold an iconic status. Whilst one would immediately look to the Norwegian scene for the most iconic and infamous bands in black metal, the neighbouring country of Sweden has long contributed to the movement with bands of similar weight in status. SHINING are one such band. Since 1996, Niklas Kvarforth has channelled his demons and pain into his music and today, SHINING are one of the most iconic names in black metal. 22 years after their formation, the band face an impressive milestone with their tenth effort, X – Varg Utan Flock, as Kvarforth aims to deliver another bout of torment. But does X – Varg Utan Flock hold its own against SHINING‘s formidable back catalogue?
Aiming to make an instant impression Svart Ostoppbar Eld opens the record through a solid opening riff before unfolding into explosive and frantic pace as Kvarforth‘s iconic vocal shrieks reign above the musical mayhem. The trademark atmosphere of SHINING‘s take on black metal is ever present as the guitar work of Peter Huss and Euge Valovirta combine to inject sheer speed into the bulk of the track’s first half before subsiding into an intricate and mellow passage that intends to build atmosphere. This atmosphere is intensified before unfolding back into a frantic conclusion, demonstrating the defining musical characteristics that SHINING are known for. It’s a solid opening track and sets the stage nicely for what follows.
From there, things intensify in the best possible manner. Gyllene Portarnas Bro is dominated by a gorgeous bend in the lead guitar riff which carries emotion in absolute abundance and Kvarforth‘s whispered vocal lines help maintain the emotional atmosphere. It’s not uncommon for SHINING to demonstrate melody in their craft and on Gyllene Portarnas Bro, this is pushed to the forefront and it works to wonderful effect. It’s the strongest track on X – Varg Utan Flock. Similarly, Jag Är Din Fiende is another stand-out track as a result of featuring the best guitar play on the record. Huss and Valovirta‘s chemistry is incredibly strong here, offering riffs that are packed with bite and venom, and the guest solo from Andy La Rocque is completely left-field and unexpectedly excellent; one which is executed with such precision that it could easily appeal to those in the progressive metal scene. It’s moments like these that showcase the versatility within SHINING‘s musical pallet and demonstrates a band that are pushing their sound to new and interesting pastures.
Yet, whilst X – Varg Utan Flock certainly experiments with new techniques, this is still an out and out SHINING record and it aligns itself comfortably with the band’s back catalogue. Han Som Lurar Inom showcases a blistering display from Jarle Byberg on the drums which add a urgency to Kvarforth‘s twisted and pained vocal deliveries to which crate an uneasy atmosphere. Similarly, this is demonstrated again as Kvarforth and bassist Marcus Hammarström combine together in the track’s mid-section to pack a real punch. It’s these elements that show the gut-punching nature of SHINING‘s take on black metal, one which holds nothing back, and when the band click together, the results are menacing.
Clocking in at just over 41 minutes, X – Varg Utan Flock is a compact record that is packed to the brim of both musical exploration and emotional release. Ebbing and flowing, the mood and pacing of the record is executed incredibly well as a solitary piece from the piano on Tolvtusenfyfioett sets the stage for a grand finale in Mot Aokigahara. Here, the dominant acoustic guitar work fuses with Kvarforth‘s sorrowful vocal lines to create a moving and building atmosphere before exploding into one final bout of fiery black metal as the record draws to a conclusion.
At this point in their career, there would be questions as to whether the band could deliver the goods once again for their tenth record and on X – Varg Utan Flock, SHINING demonstrate their experience to craft a record which holds its own against their strong back catalogue. Offering flickers of musical experimentation, which work wonderfully well, which takes the band’s sound forward and maintaining that pained and gut-wrenching atmosphere that SHINING are revered for, this new offering certainly delivers the goods. Whilst it won’t reinvent the wheel for black metal or set the world alight, X – Varg Utan Flock is another solid slab of depressive black metal from Kvarforth and co and fans of the band will not be disappointed.
X – Varg Utan Flock is set for release on January 5th 2018 via Season of Mist.
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