Review Summary: A solid foundation that the band would later build off and have perfected by the time of their fifth album, this packs in so much raw hatred and emotion that it is a wonder they pulled it off at all.
To call Shining's most recent works "Depressive Black Metal" would be a completely false description. Today, the band hold very few of the traits that would make for a band carrying that tag and are instead more of a progressively-oriented band with a highly depressing sound that sprinkle in moments of black metal. However, back in 2000 with the release of their debut album entitled Within Deep Dark Chambers, it is not hard to see where this categorization came from. Utilizing fast tremolo picking, speedy blast beats and carrying a production so filthy it could have been crapped out by vocalist Niklas "Ghoul" as well as lyrics speaking of feelings of isolation and openly promoting self harm and suicide, this album was not for the faint-hearted.
Whilst being light years away from the upper echelons of the bands discography, Shining's first album is certainly an interesting enough listen. The vocal performance is more akin to that found on a traditional black metal album such as Storm Of The Light's Bane or Pure Holocaust than the haunting sounds Niklas released on V: Halmstad and the rest of their later material. This is not to say that he does not sound like a man in pain going through his own personal hell, as towards the end of Stonelands and about four and a half minutes into the opening song we are gifted some extremely tormented vocals. Just because his vocals were more harsh does not mean he was unable to channel as much emotion into his voice, as Niklas really does pour his soul out on this album. Despite this, his range remains rather limited throughout the duration of this album, with a higher pitched shriek and a slightly lower tone, both of which he weaves together to create some truly menacing vocal patterns that are terrifying to listen to and at the same time suck the listener in. Niklas' vocals on this release are definitely one of the highlights and are an experience in their own right.
This album manages to undergo a number of changes in pace that help to develop a really evil sounding atmosphere, with the guitar work rarely shying away from the tremolo picked insanity, leaving the drums to dictate the pace. The opening to Stonelands is an example of one of the slower, sorrow-filled passageways of this album and is a great example as to the sound of this band. The highly distorted bass in the background casts a spell upon the listener that forces them to envision the most pain-filled man out there, and Niklas spends the duration of the song dictating this man's story. Meanwhile, the drums are pummeling their way into your brain and the guitar is incessantly breaking you down inside and melting you, telling you to succumb to the acts that Shining is encouraging you to do openly. This album has an effect on a listener like few others, in the sense that you can truly feel the emotion dripping from every second of it.
The down sides to this album are the standard faults that can be named with black metal. The production is abysmal, sounding overly cheap and the cymbals have a horrible tone to them and are far too loud in the mix. The fuzzy sounds that are found on nearly every black metal release out there are also present here and do little to add to the atmosphere, instead vastly detracting from the overall sound of the album. Mayhem proved on their debut that a black metal band doesn't need to be overrun by guitar feed back and have the sound of a broken cassette tape to build a sense of emotion in their music, and Shining didn't listen. Also, the songs are all very samey, with a range of different tempos used in sections, but all of them lead into the same 600 beats per minute carnage, which completely nulls the point of changing the tempo. The guitar solos may have changed a little of this but they are unfortunately rendered near inaudible by the production job that ensures the rhythm guitar is constantly at the forefront even during the guitar solos.
This is a fantastic album for one to familiarize themselves with the absolute chaos that is Shining with, but is by no means the essential Shining album. This creates a depressing, morbid atmosphere as well as nearly any release out there but nearly every song has the inevitable endless blasting and Niklas shrieking over the top in his unintelligible tones that kills off any sense of variety established by the occasional tempo changes. This is a solid release and a good entry point for those unaware of the black metal scene as well, and is recommended, but is nowhere near the best in their discography. Take V: Halmstad over this one if given the chance as that is superior in every respect.