Review Summary: A decent effort that hints at the brilliancy to come.
Shining is certainly an interesting band in the black metal scene. They play a very distinctive style of black metal with a heavy focus on atmosphere, and should be noted for their unique message. Shining is a self-professed pro-suicide group, and the band’s leader and main songwriter Niklas Kvarforth has stated in multiple interviews that he takes pride in the fact that fans have killed themselves under the influence of his music. While it is often easy to dismiss a group espousing such views as an extreme metal cliché, a band simply trying to shock their listeners, for the most part Shining’s music is surprisingly convincing. The band has an excellent discography, and their albums IV - The Eerie Cold and V - Halmstad stand as landmark releases for the subgenre of depressive black metal. The mentioned albums are arguably the band’s creative peak, and serve as an excellent demonstration of Shining’s signature sound. The music featured on the mentioned albums alternates between harsh black metal and cold acoustic passages, and is absolutely drenched in depressive atmosphere. When one hears the intensity and emotional depth of the music featured on many of Shining’s albums, it is difficult to not take this band seriously.
Three years before the release of the excellent The Eerie Cold came Shining’s third full-length, III - Angst - Självdestruktivitetens emissarie. The title, which translates to “Angst, Self-Destruction’s Emissary”, should make it very clear that the album’s subject matter is just as dark as the group’s later work. Indeed, the album fits in very well with the rest of Shining’s discography. While it falls short of the brilliance of its immediate successors, Angst is an important album in regards to the band’s musical evolution. Angst is the first of the band’s albums where clean guitar work and ambience was featured as an important element in the music. This marked the shift in focus from the unrelenting aggressive black metal performed on the band’s first two releases to a new, more creative form of extreme metal. Ambient passages would go on to become a very important aspect of Shining’s sound, and Angst is the album that began to experiment with these new elements. Angst laid down the groundwork for the masterpieces that would follow it, and while it is not an album without issues, it should prove a worthwhile listen for any fans of the band’s later work.
Repetition is a key element on Angst - Självdestruktivitetens emissarie. Each song on the record, excluding an instrumental track, is very lengthy; the shortest full-band piece, bluntly titled “Submit to Self-Destruction”, clocks in at just over seven minutes. While the long song lengths would certainly allow for a variety of musical ideas to be introduced and expanded upon throughout a single track, it is disappointing to say that the majority of the album’s tracks only feature two or three ideas that are repeated for minutes at a time. While the repetition does contribute to the overall atmosphere of the album, giving the music a hypnotic feel, the band simply overdoes it on many of the album’s tracks. Album opener “Mörda dig själv” is an excellent example of this. The song drones on for nine minutes without going anywhere, playing variations on a single riff for the track’s duration. The only variety featured on the track is a few tempo changes and variations in drumming patterns. The music starts to blend together after a while, and goes on for far too long.
The wall of sound approach featured on “Mörda dig själv” is present on the majority of the album’s tracks, at least during the metal segments. The album starts to get interesting on its third track, “Självdestruktivitetens emissarie”. After beginning with two minutes of harsh black metal, the song abruptly breaks into an atmospheric segment driven by clean guitar. The segment, while soothing in an eerie sort of way, retains the dark atmosphere of the album as a whole. This atmosphere is intensified when the drums kick in and vocalist Kvarforth begins moaning over the calm guitar, creating a disturbing ambience. The clean guitar segment featured on this piece serves as a prelude to Shining’s later work, as clean guitar work is featured to a much greater extent on the albums following Angst.
While the ambient segment featured on “Självdestruktivitetens emissarie” is very effective in adding to the atmosphere and sonic diversity of the album, unfortunately not all attempts at creating atmosphere through ambience on Angst are successful. While the inclusion of an instrumental keyboard track marks the beginning of the band’s tradition of making the fifth track on each album an instrumental, the song Shining chose to include on Angst is an abysmal representation of this tradition. The track, titled “Till minne av Daghen”, consists of a (poorly) improvised synthesizer lead played over rain and thunder sound effects. The track is obviously supposed to be disquieting, but unfortunately comes across as poorly-conceived and extremely cheesy. The song really breaks up the flow of the album, and the album honestly would have been better without the song’s inclusion.
There is one aspect of Angst that deserves enthusiastic praise. This is the excellent drum work provided by Jan Axel Blomberg, long-time drummer for the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Blomberg’s performance on Angst stands alongside his absolute best work, and his drumming contributes greatly to the album’s overall mood. This is especially clear on the album’s second track, “Svart industriell olycka”. The drum work on this song features excellent cymbal work and intense, unrelenting blast beats that alternate with calmer segments. The performance gives the impression of being improvised, but this does not detract from the listening experience. Unlike the aforementioned synthesizer segment on the album’s instrumental track, Blomberg’s improvisational drum techniques are performed very well.
Although the drum work on Angst is truly impressive, it must be noted that the bass work is less than stellar. Bassist Phil Cirone, who stayed on board for the follow-up album The Eerie Cold, is just not given any time to shine on the album. He is an excellent musician, and his work on The Eerie Cold provides the album with some of its best, most haunting moments. Unfortunately, his talents are greatly underused on Angst. The bass is clearly audible on each track, but often just mirrors the guitar work. This is a great disappointment, as some inventive bass lines would have really enhanced the musical depth of the album and contributed to its uniqueness. Addressing the vocal work on the album, there really isn’t much to say. Kvarforth gives an excellent performance as always, providing tortured harsh vocals that fit the music in a perfect fashion. Kvarforth often uses his vocals as more of an instrument than a way of communicating his lyrics; he growls and moans over the music to contribute to the album’s depressing mood. Kvarforth has one of the best voices in black metal, and his vocals only get better on later albums with further experimentation.
Overall, III - Angst - Självdestruktivitetens emissarie is a solid album that should easily be enjoyed by any fan of Shining’s work. While the music performed on the album is not as refined as what is featured on its immediate successors, the band’s potential is clearly demonstrated. Angst is best viewed as a starting point for the experimentation that would follow on later albums, an album created during the process of a band perfecting its signature sound. The album does have a very effective atmosphere and several strong points, but in the end suffers greatly from too much repetition and a regrettable instrumental track. Although the album is far from perfect, the excellent drum work alone makes this album worth at least one complete listen.