REVIEW: SHINING – “X – Varg Utan Flock”
Music can be described as a means of expression, a way to channel deep-rooted emotions and thoughts that may otherwise be difficult to describe; but every so often, you hear something that lets you peer into one’s very soul to see what misunderstood, tortured monster lives within. In the case of Sweden’s Shining, writer, frontman, and founder Niklas Kvarforth has never been shy to show off his inner demons – and with this tenth instalment, ‘X – Varg Utan Flock’, the lone wolf does much more than that.
First of all, labelling Shining as “suicidal black metal” is seriously misleading, as there are far more interesting components to their sound than that tag implies. ‘Varg Utan Flock’ itself comprises many elements from not only other genres of metal, but from classical and jazz as well. I mean, one of six tracks is nothing but a beautiful solo piece performed by guest pianist Olli Ahvenlahti. Now, while it does make for quite a sad three minutes of your life, it is also very beautiful and elegant, and the mere fact that something like that appears on an extreme metal album, ironically, makes me very happy.
The first track, “Svart Ostoppbar Eld”, opens up the album nicely with some fast and thrashy guitar riffs, courtesy of Peter Huss and Euge Valovirta, with Kvarforth’s most angsty and strained vocals (which I don’t mean in a bad way). As with much of the album, it also contains ominous guitar tones that lay an eerie foundation for either vocal experimentation, or in this case, a shredding solo. Following that, the beginning of “Gyllene Portarnas Bro” has more of a post metal feel, before mellowing out and giving way to a gentle, yet pained sort of croning whisper by Kvarforth. Now more than ever do I wish I spoke Swedish, in order to understand where he is coming from in this, the most heartfelt and anguished song on ‘Varg Utan Flock’.
Let us move on to my favourite section of the album, tracks three, four, and five, starting with “Jag Ar Din Fiende”, which initially has an adventurous sounding nature. Drummer Jarle Byberg incorporates light cymbal accents throughout, as well as lots of great snare work, particularly toward the end with his ghost notes. This track also features another guitar solo, this time by guest musician Andy La Rocque, who actually co-owns the studio in which the album was recorded, and lent his skills to the mixing and mastering side. “Han Som Lurar Inom”, on the other hand, is where Marcus Hammarström’s bass comes out of the woodwork. While the blast beats and simple yet sinister guitars are fantastic here as well, half way through the track, the energy drops into a tight groove of ride and bass, where Kvarforth steps in with a catchy spoken vocal, and the result is something that you just have to nod your head in time with. Then, of course, the fifth track, “Tolvtusenfyrtioett”, is the gorgeous piano composition mentioned above.
Transitioning into the last movement of the album, we go from the shortest to the longest track, ending things off with “Mot Aokigahara”. Some light acoustic guitar leads into the deep, throaty voice of Kvarforth, with soft, soothing cleans in the background. An emotional guitar solo emerges this time, in pleasant contrast with those that had come before. Then everything stops, and between the staccato plucking and the ambient, floating melody that follows, I am reminded more of a film score atmosphere. During this section, English listeners are offered the potentially “suicidal” aspect, in the form of the lyrics, “I was born December 1983, then I died December 2017.” As the latter date has not entirely passed yet, I sincerely hope that this was just metaphoric, or food for thought, as I would really like the “wolf without flock” to continue writing albums like ‘Varg Utan Flock’.
Six tracks, forty minutes, several guitar solos, and Niklas Kvarforth’s soul in your ears: that is ‘X – Varg Utan Flock’. While similar to his previous albums, Sweden’s troubled genius brings much more to the table this time around, fusing even more refined elements of music into the heavy blackness. Black metal either has the audio quality of a potato, or is just as over-produced as most other modern metal, however Andy La Rocque has managed to find a nice middle ground, where the music sounds genuine without compromising on quality. The talent comes through just as much as Kvarforth’s intent, making his tenth album not only his best work thus far, but a great way to start off a new year. ‘Varg Utan Flock’ is set to be released January 5th, 2018, via Season Of Mist.