Review Summary: Shining on autopilot.
It’s hard to deny Shining’s simple gravitational pull on the depressive/suicidal black metal scene over the course of the last twenty years. Since establishing their signature sound back in 2000 the band’s mastermind Niklas Kvarforth has churned out musical efforts on a near predictable, ever consistent basis and while the madman’s masterstrokes are evident (shown in career defining pieces such as Halmstad
and The Eerie Cold
) Shining has always presented a band simply “going through the motions”.
Not that it’s a bad thing. For the most part the depressive… somewhat suicidal portrayed throughout the twenty year have carried a disheartening message for listeners; positive boredom, conveyed from a milked gimmick and an unwillingness to push up from the bottom of the water’s surface to breathe fresh air again. Varg Utan Flock
is an on-par, middling record hampered by Shining’s own nuances, even if these nuances are what gave listeners’ grandiose in the form of Halmstad
and co. Shining show conflict within their musical template; there is an easy contrast between light and dark, melancholy and grace, but it meets a Niklas Kvarforth simply wandering down a path, direction already chosen.
Varg Utan Flock
runs the path of Shining’s last four releases, middling where it should be mind-blowing and impressing where it should be unfathomable. The music is a combination of watered down brilliance, pretentious coatings of niche, building into a cliché copy of the music Shining fans want to hear again. At its core, most fans would appreciate the resemblance to Halmstad
, but the mirrors between both records add to the appreciation that Varg Utan Flock
doesn’t have a chance of meeting the same grander quality levels, casting doubts on whether the Shining moniker will ever reach the heights of musical virtuosity. It’s depressing sure enough, but in completely the wrong way.
Despite Varg Utan Flock
’s “old-school” black metal groove and roll feel the usual stereotypical black metal traits recur into heightened intensity, before dropping into bleak melancholy. These days it seems like a modern day recipe for making black metal, a relevant terminology for any number of bands releasing music in the last decade, but Shining still measures against the rest with their own flair. It’s how Shining do this that prevent Varg Utan Flock
becoming any less than a middling black metal record. It’s not something that can be taught or changed from album to album, maintaining a naturalist quality to their music, living off the relics built off an ever-lengthening musical career.
At six tracks (eight if you pick up the deluxe version), Varg Utan Flock
doesn’t become tiresome or long winded. Shining’s tenth studio record also includes a somewhat reclusive piano led interlude that splits the anxiety away from the music whilst maintaining a clean melancholic air, but the album’s true highlight comes in the album’s final track, “Mot Aokigahara”. The track is honest, melancholic, truly depressing building off a host of song-writing styles including a chilling spoken word. “Mot Aokigahara” references Japan’s suicide forest in whole and in contrast with itself. Smooth tones meet blistering black metal passages making the track worthy of the genre’s finest traits while sounding the less forced of all the new album’s tracks. The natural progression of the music only builds on the atmosphere, building on the realism of such a place and is worthy of repeated listens.
Overall it’s hard to fault Shining’s Niklas for doing what he has done over the course of the last twenty years. Varg Utan Flock
can’t help but present a “going through the motions” approach to music. Thankfully Shining on ‘autopilot’ are a safe (if not mind-blowing) listen in 2018