Thursday, January 4, 2018

Shining - X - Varg utan flock (2018)

Despite the band's cloying reputation as harbingers of depression, or as a vehicle for one of the most peculiar personalities in all the black metal jurisdiction, I've always found that what Shining translates to disc is often far more compelling than a lot of their peers who were stuck in the lo-fi rut of rawness and rasping. Rich and fulsome production values have long been their standard, and the material that manifests throughout the last decade of releases has appeared varied and interesting, if not ultimately memorable across the boards. Varg utan flock, the band's 10th 'proper' full length, or at least the tenth in their numerated series, upholds this pattern with a blend of traditional black and thrash metal, woozy suicide acoustics and drifting, dreamy aesthetics that create an evocative contrast between furor and stillness, desperation and violation.

Often reminiscent of Root, in how Kvarforth slathers a charismatic, almost comically serious intonation over the clean sequences, a lot of the songs here are nevertheless dominated by fist-balling brute black metal passages that harness the most basal riff patterns into pure force. When he emits that lower, grimier guttural roar over the more brick-thrash patterns, or the lead guitar spits off into an emotionally appealing or even shredding element, I was also drawn back to those Czech miscreants during their classic years, where the 'black metal' tag didn't feel entirely streamlined with the Norse standards. That said, there are plenty of meatier rhythm guitars here which cast the same dissonant, driving shades as their Scandinavian peers, and again the production is just so thick and satisfactory, with all instruments represented perfectly, the clashing and clanging of the kit (which often erupts into a jazzy cadence), the moping swerve of the bass-lines, and the oozing imperfections that continue to define Kvarforth as one of the most instantly recognizable frontmen in his field. Varg utan flock sounds absolutely fantastic blasted out from my speakers.

So why won't I rate it more highly than I'm going to? For all its variation, from the piano interlude "Tovtusenfyrtioett" to the barnstorming blackened pugilism that occupies about 50% of the playtime, the riffs really just don't stick with me for long. Having a standout like Niklas helps a great deal, and the weirder the album gets, like the glistening and ominous clean guitar-driven "Mot Aokigahara", or the deep, morose cover of Placebo's "In the Cold Light of Morning", the more it attaches itself to my conscience, but it just seems like its lacking a half-dozen killer riffs during the heavier segments that would have gone a long way towards its listening value. Don't get me wrong, the astonishingly fluid balance of instruments, the worthy production, and the sheer versatility all contribute to a good album well worth hearing, but I just needed a little further convincing to rank it among their best. A lot of folks will disagree, though, since what Shining conjures up here is so frontal and real that it's bound to land its hooks in withered hearts aplenty.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

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