For Fans Of
Occasionally, when I come across a band that has an entire catalogue in a language that I can’t understand, I feel like I’m being mocked, because I’m a card-carrying narcissist and everything is always about me. However, I feel sort of ambivalent about Shining’s latest album, ‘X – Varg Utan Flock‘, being entirely in Swedish, title and all.
On one hand, I get spared from a title which would no doubt try just as hard as the band’s previous English album titles: ‘Redefining Darkness’, ‘Five Valid Reasons for Self-Inflicting Harm’, and ‘Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends’. (Yes, we get it Niklas Kvarforth, you’re a misanthrope, I wrote shitty depressing poetry when I was 16 too). As it turns out, upon doing some very cursory research through Bandcamp I discovered that this new album’s name translates to ‘Wolf Without A Pack’. Ah, some things never change, it seems. Conversely, I feel like I’m missing out when I cannot understand lyrics that I feel like I should. There are several moments on this album, particularly during the interludes, which I will get to soon enough, where Kvarforth – whose vocals are a key element of the band’s music – is clearly meant to be understood by someone. Given what I just said about the album titles, I’m not expecting Dickens or anything, but Kvarforth could be the best goddamn poet since e e cummings and I’d have no idea cause this isn’t in English. So I’m not sure what the intent of this is, I must admit.
Maybe Shining are doing what Peste Noire have been doing for years, making music exclusively for people who speak their language so that those who don’t understand it can pretend not to know just how fucking nationalist it all was, but I doubt it. What I’m saying is that Shining’s tenth album being in Swedish makes it not for me figuratively, in that I’m not a fan, and it makes it not for me literally, in that the music is not intended for my peasant monolingual ears. However, I’ll be as positive as possible and say that I actually kind of liked this album, lingual niggles aside. So let’s dig in to it.
Firstly, I was quite impressed with the opening track, ‘Svart Ostoppbar Eld’. The intro isn’t anything new for DSBM, but the main riff that kicks in about 30 seconds in is fast-paced and thrashy enough for my tastes. I would have been happy enough with that, but the post-rocky tremolo riff that undercuts it really impressed me too. It adds a new level to the riff that lent it something beyond the standard black metal tropes that I was expecting from a band this old and deep-seated into said genre. The song does suffer once all the fun parts disappear to give way for an unnecessary interlude, though. On the upside, the cowbell that’s used to ring in the return of all that glorious depressive fun and thrashy goodness actually works for a change.
‘Gyllene Portamas Bro’ is probably my favourite song from the whole album, solely because of how good the lead guitar sounds in the beginning of the song. It occurs all throughout this track, but it works particularly well in the beginning, not unlike an old man’s genitals. The third track ‘Jag Ar Din Fiende’ has the advantage of having a main guitar riff just complicated enough to remind me of Cobalt, but not enough so to as annoy me And I fucking love Cobalt! (Now that I think about it, can more black metal bands remind me of Cobalt, please? I’m not even sure I can articulate it properly, but it’s a combination of mid-paced aggressive riffs that really scratches me behind the ears. I’m certain there’s some formula somewhere in there, and its discovery will lead to an explosion of distilled black metal sex, but until then, I’m stuck with blasting Cobalt’s ‘Gin’ on repeat). Hell, even the interlude on this track is decent, due to the wild, jazzy drumming that’ll keep most engaged all the way through what would otherwise have been nothing more than another session of Kvarforth’s croaky singing voice.
The last song I wish to talk about, however – ‘Han Som Lurar Inom‘ – I feel the need to really discuss as it’s a tricky one to describe. I think I enjoyed the main three-chord riff, but I’m not fully certain, which is a strange feeling to have. It’ll either start growing on me or it will be annoying the shit out of me after a few more listens,. For now, the riff consistently comes dangerously close to getting too repetitive for me, but it somehow never reaches that point, and I quite like that. I’d call it ‘precipitous’ if I was to be extremely pretentious. Another confusing and disappointing moment of the song is when I expected another irritating acoustic interlude, but I was thrown a real curveball in the form of a super groovy, bass-heavy section. “If only they’d defied my expectations more often!” I suddenly thought. Only for the band to jam in another fucking acoustic interlude towards the end of the track. Don’t defy my expectations and then make me feel like a chump for being impressed with you, Shining. Now I know how my parents feel.
Hopefully, you’ve noticed a pattern forming here. ‘X – Varg Utan Flock‘ uses interludes in the same way that Lucy snatches away the football from Charlie Brown before he even gets to kick it, the poor sod. There’s a certain number of times when I stop being surprised, and this album reached its limit by the third damn song. I’m not against cool, acoustic interludes if they’re done sparingly so, but if they’re on every single track, I will quickly lose interest, because the songwriting process starts to reek of a strictly adhered to formula. The fact that I’m not a big fan of Kvarforth’s vocals, whether they be his screams or weird croaks, doesn’t help matters at all.
Shining has been around for a very long time, more than 20 years now and are one of the key DBSM bands. So I wasn’t coming into this effort expecting them to have reinvented the black metal wheel. However, it’s extremely frustrating when a song that I’m beginning to genuinely enjoy disappears behind a curtain like a small child that’s shit at hide-and-seek and refuses to come out until Kvarforth is done waxing lyrical and giving us acoustic interludes. There is indeed a few good songs hiding here, maybe even some great ones, as I can see their feet sticking out, but the moments that I really like are too disparate for me to enjoy the album much as a complete whole. I can’t help but feel that if ‘X – Varg Utan Flock’ was shorter, faster, and a little less indulgent, I could really see myself really digging this record.
1. Svart Ostoppbar Eld
2. Gyllene Portarnas Bro
3. Jag Är Din Fiende
4. Han Som Lurar Inom
6. Mot Aokigahara
‘X – Varg Utan Flock’ is out now via Season Of Mist. Stream it below: