Shining – Redefining Darkness
“Look at all the pathetic black clad wannabees running off to buy the new Shining album…” Right, we all know the monologue (Hint: IV). If you’ve actively researched Shining’s founder and creative mastermind, Niklas Kvarforth, you might get the impression that he has three major pastimes: cutting himself on stage, worshiping Satan or some abstract manifestation of evil, and writing compelling Swedish depressive black metal. For me, it’s always been the third pastime that has gotten my attention. 2005’s V: Halmstad was an absolute stunner, that combined catchy blackened riffs with some of the most depressing melodic passages ever recorded. Since then, Kvarforth has been in sort of a mid-life aural crisis. 2009’s VI: Klagopsalmer was arguably heavier, but it wasn’t as atmospheric and as a result, lacked a bit of that Halmstad’s magic. Then last year’s VII: Född Förlorare had Kvarforth moving away from his black metal roots to explore more of the progressive inklings that have always been present but till this point, served as textural musings. After only a year of waiting, Kvarforth and friends now grace us with their 8th full length in Redefining Darkness.
Redefining Darkness is indeed a very apropos title for this record. Not because Kvarforth provides cogent philosophical arguments about the true nature of evil. but because the title is really a reflection of Kvarforth retooling the core sound of Shining proper. That’s probably why despite the exact same track layout of every other previous release, this one isn’t prefaced by a Roman numeral. Stylistically, the album is a significant departure from previous efforts with its clear focus on traditional melody and clean vocals. Yet despite what you may have heard, Redefining Darkness is still undeniably Shining and quite frankly, catchy as all hell.
Opener “Du, Mitt Konstverk” (“You, My Artwork”) immediately plunges you into traditional black metal territory, with Taake’s Hoest on active scream duty and some impeccable blast beat work. Kvarforth makes his entrance about a minute and half in with his trademark misanthropic singing and general disdain for life. Nothing obvious really prepares you for the stylistic shift that occurs about 4-minutes in, when all the reverb and buzz fade into acoustic guitar and a lot of softly spoken “Snällä’s.” Accompanied with a marching drum cadence, the acoustic part is incredibly catchy and will have you singing the chorus “Please, please, please…Let me hurt you….” (yes, those are the lyrics) for days to come. “The Ghastly Silence” follows the same formula with Kvarforth leading with angry vocals and Halmstad like riffs before a melancholic saxophone takes over. This segues into what is I believe the first real serious attempt of Kvarforth at clean singing.
“Han Som Hatar Människan” (“He Who Hates Mankind”) is probably the most classic sounding song on the album. Aggressive guitar work throughout, that only loses steam during a very short atmospheric passage before a somewhat over the top solo shepherds us back to the black. Conversely, “Hail Darkness Hail” is probably the most progressive song on the album with several thematic shifts during this 7-minute journey. About 2-minutes in, Kvarforth again goes acoustic while introducing a very Lunar Aurora like sound effect. But then 2-minutes later, we get a very catchy chorus line that makes me want to get out my concert lighter (or virtual one on my smartphone). The song does finally flip back into more classic black metal riffing before simply just fading away.
Like the many albums before it, Redefining Darkness reserves the 5th track as an atmospheric interlude in the form of “Det Stora Grå” (“The Large Gray?”). This Katatonic piano piece certainly feels gray, ending with rain drops falling that also provides the introduction to the album’s last track and absolute masterpiece, “For The God Below.” What’s strangely ironic is that this is probably the lightest track on the album, undeniably rooted in hard rock territory, but the chorus line sung by Kvarforth is insanely infectious and the over the top “November Rain” guitar solos are just simply dynamite.
Yet I still have one major complaint about Redefining Darkness: Its just not that original. The infusion of hard rock really doesn’t add much to the music other than making it more catchy and easier to sing along too. Though I find Kvarforth’s clean singing palatable, his lyrics are cheesy and their delivery is more melodramatic than sinister. Even his Satanic Swedish brothers Watain can dial it back a little when they need too.
Produced by Andy La Roque of Sonic Train Studios, Redefining Darkness contains no clipping or brickwall which is unbelievably refreshing. In fact, the dynamic range score is a full point higher than Född Förlorare! As with most Shining records, Kvarforth’s vocals are the centerpiece, and this record is no different. Except this time the mix has to respect the fact that he is not screaming or shrieking but actually singing. Moreover, all of the progressive sections are tastefully done and sound fantastic. Other than the lack of headroom, there is very little to complain about and I wish all future Shining records are of this production quality.
Here is the bottom line: Redefining Darkness maybe a bit more cleaner and polished than prior Shining outings, but it still exudes all the euphoric suicidal tendencies we all know and love. Is this their best work to date? No. Halmstad is still in my eyes their magnum opus. If you aren’t familiar with the band, seek out that album first before spinning this one. But I thoroughly enjoyed Redefining Darkness and believe many of you will too. Now where did I misplace that razor blade…