Shining or the allegory of pain

Shining’s death mask was ripped off a long time ago, following a very cold era when Niklas Kvarforth and his gang were still experimenting with their artistic approach and getting closer to a sort of groove that drove them away from the depressive black metal of their origins. Redefining Darkness, the band’s new album, has reached another level. Aggressiveness seems to fall in the wake of mental pain. But the recipe is well-known and well-liked by the band’s fans. That being said, what evolution can this album bring?

Shining is undoubtedly made up of talented musicians and boasts a strong identity. Contrary to many of their contemporaries in this genre, they initiated a serious artistic change in 2007 – a change they’d already hinted at with The Eerie Cold in 2005. The mutation is obvious, and is akin to watching dark granite turn into dark marble: the color is the same, but the material is less grating under your fingertips.

To say that the band’s music is deeply melancholic would be stating the obvious. And yet, this melancholia turns into a sort of hybrid, more akin to sadness. In 2011, VII: Fodd Forlorare already tried to create, through music, a wider vision of what sadness is about. It depicted a large range of feelings leading to ultimate sorrow, and aimed at what always hurts one’s ego, one’s pride and one’s optimism: failure – of one’s principles, of a financial model, etc. But there’s also the frustration that stems from failure, and that would drive even the most nihilistic person to believe in fate and that would lead to anger, or at least a feeling of revolt. From a musical point of view, Redefining Darkness sounds like this sorrowful mental charge, as on “The Ghastly Silence”, with its instrumental sections accompanied by a saxophone. There’s also violence and aggressiveness, as with “Han Som Hatar Människan” about which Niklas says: « This particular song is particularly hateful, and the lyrics are the worst I’ve ever written. ». This song also introduces the listener to Rob Caggiano, from Anthrax, and his solo

But this approach to music and to the feelings it promotes is not carefully studied by the band; it appears naturally and sound like a universal truth. In this respect, Submit To Self Destruction (the 1998 EP) is not that far removed from Redefining Darkness; the initial reasoning has been the same for over ten years now. “Inisis”, from Within Deep Dark Chambers (2001) already showed how the Swedes’ music is structured. The acoustic elements serve two purposes: the first is to make the listener uncomfortable, and the second, to sublimate this malaise – kindled by the length of the songs. Niklas Kvarforth manipulates our darkest feelings, and explains: “If I can’t find darkness, I create darkness”. This new album is a good example of that.

Ever since their musical evolution, Shining have been walking further and further away from depressive black metal to get closer to traditional black metal, and sometimes even to the avant-garde scene. “For The God Below”, which concludes the album (and whose title is a reference to “FFF”, the final track on Fodd Forlorare), is a luminous title. Paradoxically, this song, more “metal” than “black metal”, demonstrates Shining’s current attitude. Thanks to their increased stature, Shining have been living somewhere between light and shadow, remodeling their identity while keeping the same foundations. Instead of inflicting pain, they consider it as a necessity: at the end of the album’s 41 minutes, the listener is closer to liking this malaise than to fear it or to see it as a negative thing. That would be a second paradox, since Niklas Kvarforth is definitely not a catharsis enthusiast. In the end, Shining is, just as the singer, bipolar.

Everything on this album is here to seduce – especially the massive, very warm production. There’s everything from jazzy, acoustic, sometimes Opeth-like songs (“Hail Darkness Hail”), songs that are repetitive in a good sense, being more hypnotic than boring, and efficient solos, perfectly in tune with the different tracks. The band even welcomes a few “guests”, like Andy LaRocque from King Diamond, Hoest from Taake, and Peter Bjärg from Arcana. The album also boasts a well-built playlist, logic and coherent. It starts in a spectacular fashion with “Du, Mitt Konstverk”, which ends in a totally different way. You can take a breath on “Det Stora Grå” (reminiscent of Dissection’s “No Breed In Breathless Sleep”), and then the curtain falls with “For The God Below”.

This album is no musical discovery, even though it’s more conventional that depressing, which widens the gap with the past. Redefining Darkness is not a conscious reflection on the feeling of sorrow – it’s about the evolution of a band. Of a schizophrenic man surviving within a band also made up of Peter Huss (guitar) and Christian Larrson (bass), whose importance keeps growing. This album makes its leader proud: “This is our De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, our Filosofem, our Violator, our Ziggy Stardust”. Musical coherence is a counterbalance to the vocalist’s sentimental and emotional wanderings. There lies in this the richness of this album, which proves the band’s cohesion and offers true, honest music, without falling prey to dramatic processes that would expurgate the feelings. Shining is going steadily forward and is slowly becoming the muse of a new genre.

Redefining Darkness, out since October 29th, 2012, by Spinefarm Records

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