Shining – Shining


Is Niklas Kvarforth a black metal iconoclast, an obnoxious prick, or an agent provocateur? There’s no denying that the fourteen-year-old boy who composed Shining’s 1998 EP is a talented musician. Take out the fake suicide rumours and anonymity of the early days, and the trilogy of albums between 2007 to 2011 are as good as any in the black metal canon from this era. Of course, wherever he goes, controversy follows, whether it be his explicit desire for listeners to commit suicide under the weight of his evil music or his offensive behaviour towards journalists. Napalm Records had no hesitation signing the latest incarnation of the band once their contract with Season of Mist ended, and why would they think twice? With Nicholas Barker (ex-Cradle of Filth/Dimmu Borgir) on drums and Charles Hedger (Mayhem) on guitars, Kvarforth has a mouthwatering line-up behind him.

Album number eleven continues with the progressive elements first introduced on 2007’s V: Halmstad (Niklas angående Niklas) and follows the same structure of every LP to date with six songs and an instrumental at track number five. Not that Kvarforth is predictable in his compositions. Opener, ‘Avsändare okänd’, starts with discordant machine screeches looped into a percussive rotation and paves the way for a Godflesh beat to fade in with distorted guitars. Only at 01:27 does Kvarforth enter with a burst of blood-thirsty vocals in the ugliest of Swedish inflections known to the Germanic family of languages. You never know what will happen next, and it’s futile trying to guess how things will evolve. The reset to military snares and minor-key triad chords that follow the aggression are as surprising as the smooth drum beat that emerges from here. Listen to the wash of the guitars as they catch the higher-string pitches in the harshest of amp gain. The disembowelment roar from Kvarforth to signal a change of mood and tempo at the five-minute mark will leave you looking over your shoulder.

Is Niklas Kvarforth a Swedish Nick Cave in the making? He seems to think so on ‘Snart är dom alla borta’, where his chilling dance macabre approach produces a strange form of progressive black metal that is just as close to Moonspell as Mayhem. Here, Shining take the best parts of the late 90s Anathema sound and alternate them with a heavy doom menace. If you’re scratching your head, it’s because the main riff shares similarities with ‘Love, Hate, Love’ by Alice in Chains, and the death grunts communicated to the rhythm section to change gear are straight from the Tom G. Warrior playbook. The titillating piano melodies in the outro justify the nine minutes and fifty seconds of this song.

As a scourge of metal elitists and a critic of the childish elements of black metal, Niklas Kvarforth sure wants his art to be taken seriously. The grinding double-kick eighth notes of ‘Allt för döden’ soon relinquish their force in favour of a mischievous passage of clean arpeggios. Striking a balance between the red fury and the pristine white solitude – without finding a middle ground between the two – is one of the most notable aspects of the song arrangements on this record. ‘Fidelis ad Mortem’ makes you want to experience the solemn force of a clear moon underneath the shrubbery as you fantasise about what you’d like to do in your darkest of nocturnal contemplations with a knife in your pocket. The Erik Satie cover at track five makes perfect sense. Now you can imagine the Hannibal Lecter in you licking the red wine from your teeth as you absorb the melancholy chill of a soothing piano number.

Only when Shining revisit their black metal roots on closing track, ‘Den permanenta sömnen kallar’, do you question the wisdom of a ten-minute finale. A heroic rock guitar solo and a clever change from atonal riffing to melodic chord-picking are impressive enough, but you wonder if Kvarforth could have capped this at seven minutes. But you didn’t expect him to care about the listener, did you?

Like him or loathe him, Niklas Kvarforth will not go away. He earned the right to be part of the black metal conversation in the 2000s, and his music is still as intriguing now as it was then.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 15/09/2023

Record Label: Napalm Records

Standout tracks: Avsändare okänd, Snart är dom alla borta, Fidelis ad Mortem

Suggested Further Listening: Voluptas – Towards the Great White Nothing (2020), Negura Bunget – Om (2006), Henget – Beyond North Star (2023)