X – Varg Utan Flock
5th January 2018 – Season Of Mist
1. Svart Ostoppbar Eld
2. Gyllene Portarnas Bro
3. Jag Är Din Fiende
4. Han Som Lurar Inom
6. Mot Aokigahara
7. In the Cold Light of Morning
8. Cry Little Sister
Black metal, like a good horror movie, requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. With so many bands using elements of the occult, or exaggerated emotional states to produce emotive music, sometimes it can appear cheesy or forced when taken out of context, or even within context if you’ve been away from that kind of music for awhile – which is where I find myself as I listen to the new album from Swedish group Shining. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve allowed myself to be truly immersed in the blacked arts of dissonant or depressive music, and it’s not exactly like riding a bike. Hopping back on hasn’t been the easiest exercise, but when an album is as solid as X – Varg Utan Flock (‘Wolf without a pack’), something just motivates you to wipe the dust off, pick yourself back up, and pedal through the bleak foliage and darkened hills that surround you.
Varg Utan Flock is the tenth album from Shining, helmed by Swedish madman Nikolas Kvarforth, and it’s a stark contrast to the last few releases from the band. At the beginning of decade, Kvarforth made some announcements about drastic and dramatic changes for the future of Shining, however those changes were poorly conceived and just as poorly received. Bad singing, boring acoustic guitar tracks and horrible English lyricism hindered some otherwise decent songs over the past 5 or 6 years, and fans of Shining had to sit through two rather bland albums and an EP. The biggest hindrance, however, was that obvious lack of heart or genuineness to the most recent releases. I suppose it’s hard to maintain a career based on depression and suicidal thoughts for 20 years.
Or maybe not. As X – Varg Utan Flock has just released and despite having taken a substantial break from listening to black metal, or darker music in general, I find myself increasing wrapped up in its depressive and chaotic moods.
The album begins with “Svart Ostoppbar Eld” (‘Black, unstoppable fire’), a dissonant romp where the main focus is the harrowing vocal of Kvarforth. For the first time in over half a decade the vocals actually feel real; the impact of each howl and remorseful lyric hits the listener with full force. The song then transitions into the grandiose and somber “Gyllene Portanas Bros“. This slow, melodic and melancholic song perfectly captures the feel of the entire album; bouts of aggression intermingle with beautiful guitar riffs, and ramping blast beats.
The album incorporates a number of unique little passages of jazz, and classical music, including an entire interlude song that is just one piece of lovely piano music. This type of juxtaposition of gentleness with the other harsh aspects of the album brings a higher focus on the dark moments, and really hammers home the emotional depths that Kvarforth is trying to evoke. You’re in an isolation tank of sadness and despair while listening to this album, and there’s seemingly no end in sight. The little flickers of light that manage to seep in only make it harder, as you realize just what you’re being deprived of. It’s not hard to see why suicidal black metal has been the prevailing description for Shining throughout the decades.
The album closes on the beautiful and bleak “Mot Aokigahara” (‘Towards Aokigahara’), which is in reference to the infamous Japanese suicide forest which has been in the news quite a bit this year already. The song, like the album as a whole, starts rather simply with a gentle acoustic guitar passage. It lures the listener and persuades their ear long enough then transitions into the pummeling of black metal that everyone has come to expect. Closing on the longest song from the album is always a challenge and a testament to how well written a piece of music really is. In most cases bands fail and end up leaving the album to a clumsy and easily forgotten finale. Yet there are the rare cases like with Shining where the song just drives the themes of the album home. “Mot Aokigahara“ highlights the focus of the entire album, and forms a mental bridge between every song before it. Groovy bass lines, thunderous riffs, and genuinely tortured vocals adorn this track. And for this listener, the song and the album left me in a state of quiet, somber reverence for what can be considered the first true success for Shining in quite some time.