Review Summary: A truly exceptional lesson in how to create one of the darkest, most horrific atmospheres in all of music leads to this becoming one of the finest releases in all of black metal
If there were ever a black metal band that deserves more attention in not only the black metal circles it originates from, but every genre of music, it is Shining. Seamlessly blending brutality with some of the most beautifully composed, extremely emotional music that effortlessly conveys feelings of hopelessness and loss, Shining make extremely powerful music that is not for the faint hearted. Each of their albums is good enough in its own way, however, it is their fifth album, Halmstad, that stands out to me the most.
Opening up with a sample of a poem, this really does kick off with some power. The poem itself pretty much sums up the lyrical content of this album with its line "i wish i wasn't there today", before diving headlong into Shining's signature brand of black metal. However, on thing immediately becomes apparent for those uninitiated to the Shining discography, and that is how clean and soft the album is compared to many of Shining's black metal comrades. The infamous black metal production is not as evident on here as, say, a Mayhem album, and the blast beats are not there. Before long, this has gone into a clean guitar section, which is exceedingly soft, and contains some absolutely tortured vocals from Niklas. Seriously, this is the one black metal vocalist who truly deserves recognition. The amount of emotion he manages to pour into his vocals is absolutely breathtaking, despite the style of vocals he adopts for much of this release. He also shifts between a number of styles at times, which makes for one interesting listen.
The album's crowning achievement is the true feeling of being without hope at all. The lyrics convey feelings of suicide, and Niklas vocals and the soft to heavy dynamics with the beautiful and yet haunting melodies found throughout ensure that even without the poorly translated versions of the lyrics, one can truly feel the exact pain the songs outline. The music on display here is one of the tightest, most powerful performances I have ever seen, being absolutely brutal whilst rarely conforming with the norm of black metal of using blast beats and tremolo picking throughout songs. These elements are in play here frequently, but not to the same degree as many of the bands out there. Shining truly are unique in the way they play their music, making the darkest most morbid adventure a listener will ever embark on.
However, this album is not without faults. The bass work on here is the most lackluster, lazy performance I have heard on a black metal album to date. The frantic bass work found on many black metal albums is still present here, but never aspiring to do anything other than mindlessly follow the guitar lines throughout the songs, never really adding anything to the album, instead taking away from it. This is truly a disappointment to hear, as this is the single most powerful album a listener is likely to hear for a long time, with its unrivaled feel to it. However, this is a reason to excuse the weakness in the bass department, as the rest of the instruments are as tight as could be asked. It just gets a little depressing in itself to think that the bass work could have been so much better than what is found on here, and yet somehow the other instruments miraculously enable the listener to completely overlook this fact, such is a testament to the talent of the band.
This is one of the most blood curdling, heart breaking tales ever told, with every riff, each drum beat and every last agonizing scream conveying absolute self hate, making this a flat out classics. The acoustic sections on Neka Morgondagen do not feel out of place, nor do the groovy riffs that open it up, making this album an entity on its own, where any style of music can be seamlessly integrated and yet still feel utterly brutal and have a tint of mourning to it. The guitar solos are both vicious and, yet again, emotional, and the sudden tempo changes are perfectly written. This is black metals finest hour, in my opinion, even toppling the greats such as Immortals better efforts and Burzums finest.