Niklas Kvarforth remains a controversial figure in the metal scene. Stories of his live performances with his black metal project Shining proliferate the dark corners of metal websites all around the internet, from the manic episodes on stage to rumors of the open spray from his own fleshly cut arteries covering the headbangers in attendance.
I have no idea if these rumors are true. Nothing like that happened the one and only time I’ve seen them live (unfortunately). But regardless of how messed up the performances are or can be, you can’t deny that Kvarforth and the musicians of Shining aren’t one of the most consistent bands in black metal.
X- Vag Utan Flock marks the band’s 10th full length record, although there have been so many releases from this band it is hard to tell exactly how many they have put out. One thing I have always liked about them is their adherence to their language and their culture. Shining originate from Sweden and, unlike most bands from the Scandinavian country, Shining writes and performs in Swedish, deviating from this only on rare occasions.
The album opens with Svart Ostoppbar Eld, which immediately lets you know what you are in for on this album with its solemn opening lines and revving riffs that kick off a throttling and fast-paced melody. Kvarforth’s aggressive screams follow before the song leads into a gloomy interlude that wouldn’t be out of place on an old-school Opeth album (Shining and Opeth share a number of stylistic similarities). The band’s guitarist Peter Huss breaks up the gloominess with a bright and shining (see what I did there) solo. This guy can play guitar and is one of the best parts of the album (and the band) and is highly underrated in the community, in my opinion.
The pace slows a bit for the next few songs, both of which continue to kick major ass. There’s nothing really new in these songs, but they both continue the mood of the first song, complimented by more spine-chilling solos from Huss. The fourth song Han Som Lurar Inom breaks up the pacing a bit, starting off on a much more subdued and stagnant note before erupting into a blistering black metal barrage ending on an abrupt note.
Another thing Shining does that I find interesting is that they include at least one song on their albums which is completely different from the rest. Maybe it is an eerie tune played on harpiscord (III – Angst), maybe it a slow and haunting ballad of a sort (VII – Född Förlorare). On Varg Utan Flock, Shining treats the listener to a short and atmospheric piano piece with Tolvtusenfyrtioett. This leads into the acoustic opening of Mot Aokigahara, a long and fantastic ending track with a murky atmosphere that well represents the entire album.
Shining is one of the few bands in the metal scene in which I look forward to every one of their (consistent) releases. They deviate from their established formulas in incredibly subtle ways which often take a few listens to pick up on, and Varg is no different. This band truly stands out in the black metal community and their tenth full-length is definitely worth picking up if you are into experiental black metal, bands like Opeth, Novembre or Bethlehem, or if you just like gloomy and atmospheric music.