(We present Andy Synn’s review of the new album by Sweden’s Shining, which will be released by Season of Mist on January 5, 2018.)
Wubalubadubdub! What up, my glip-glops?
That’s right, it’s time for another album of musical misery from everyone’s favourite alcoholic, misanthropic, existential nihilist Rick Sanchez Niklas Kvarforth and his merry band of Mortys… aka Shining!
Now I happen to be of the opinion that Shining have never made a bad album. But that doesn’t mean that all their albums are equally good either, and there are definitely a few lesser entries in the band’s discography, with 2015’s IX: Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends being one of them.
However, the nature of existence means that we all inhabit a vast skein of infinite realities, and so I’m sure there’s a universe out there where IX turned out better than it did here.
But if you’re reading this now, well, you’re one of those people lucky enough to live in a reality where the band’s latest album turns out to be one of their best releases since Halmstad.
Of course, the ingredients and elements which make up X: Varg Utan Flock – the groovy, swaggering riffs, the sudden eruptions of blastbeats, the proggy melodies, sombre acoustic interludes, and shamelessly bombastic solos – are all largely unchanged from the band’s original, long-running formula, meaning that if you hated Shining before… well, good luck to you with that.
But if you were already a fan, or even just someone on the fence until now, then the clear passion and fury and ballsy, bloody-minded vehemence which animates this album should make you want to get schwifty right away.
Opener “Svart Ostoppbar Eld”, for example, wastes little time in getting the ball rolling, its twitchy, thirty-ish-second intro soon giving way to a furious gallop of punchy riffs, hard-driving drums, and eerie, blackened melodies – all topped off with Kvarforth’s signature self-loathing snarl – which hits hard and then keeps on hitting you, right up until the moment the song pulls an abrupt 180 and transforms into a piece of dark, moody Prog, replete with some truly gorgeous clean/acoustic guitar work and a sense of bleak ambience broken up here and there by an unexpected bout of extravagant soloing or chunky, hook-heavy riffage.
The slippery, seductive strains of “Gyllene Portarnas Bro” find the band erring closer to the doomy proggery of Redefining Darkness (as well it should, considering the song’s initial genesis can, in fact, be traced all the way back to 2012), while also flipping the formula from its predecessor entirely on its head, moving from a much more mellow and downbeat beginning to a far more visceral and intense finale, while the strutting, priapic riffs and arrogant grooves of “Jag Ar Din Fiende” showcase Kvarforth and co. simply doing what they do best, kicking ass and taking names entirely on their own terms.
It’s “Han Som Lurar Inom” which is the album’s biggest surprise, however, as I honestly haven’t heard Shining put out anything this visceral, this violent, this unabashedly blackened since… well, I’m honestly not sure when… but suffice it to say that the chugging, hypnotic riffs, grim and groovy bass-lines, and utterly frenzied blastbeats (courtesy of powerhouse drummer Jarle Byberg) which make up the lion’s share of this track help it instantly stand out as one of the nastiest, heaviest cuts in the band’s already extensive repertoire of sonic depravity.
Last, but by no means least, “Mot Aokigahara” (following on from the now de rigeur piano-based instrumental “Tolvtusenfyrtioett”) finds the band back in a hauntingly introspective mood, slowing things down to a more sedate yet sinister pace, and channelling more than a little bit of their inner Pink Floyd in the process, only to finally explode into ferocious metallic life right at the very end.
It’s a fantastic way to end the album, and one which – like all good album closers – should leave you with the immediate urge to listen to the whole thing again, just to see what you might have missed the first time around.
I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention the portentous (or should that be pretentious?) message contained within “Mot Aokigahara”, where Kvarforth seems, for all intents and purposes, to predict his own death… and while this could easily be a purely symbolic statement, his history with his own mental and emotional struggles gives these lines a certain weight which they simply wouldn’t have coming from another artist.
Of course the likelihood is that the line “…and I died December 2017” is simply a blatant attempt to aggravate and agitate his audience, as the man has always been wickedly self-aware in this regard, and more than willing, on multiple occasions, to fuck with his fans in ways that range from the devilish to the distasteful.
But if Varg Utan Flock were, for whatever reason, to prove to be the last ever Shining album, it would certainly make for one hell of an epitaph.
Season of Mist