Shining has been a consistent favorite of mine since I discovered the band. Since V:/Halmstad: Niklas angående Niklas I have reviewed every one of their records and have witnessed a change in the band that I think is hard to ignore. Starting with V, the band has continued an Opethian evolution away from the raw, gut-wrenching emotional black metal into something less raw, more catchy and proggy (Marillion prog not Dream Theater prog). Having now dropped the numbers and donned instead an English title, (what would have been VIII) Redefining Darkness continues the band’s evolution away from its gut-wrenching roots. Were we looking for a redefinition? After the mighty VII: Född förlorare I sure wasn’t.
Redefining Darkness, similar to volumes III: Angst and IV: The Eerie Cold, is made up of three songs in English and 2.5 songs in Swedish and clocks in at a paltry 41 minutes. Having relegated all the band’s recent covers (including Katatonia and Swedish pop stars Kent) to the ridiculously ESL named Lots of Girls Gonna Get Hurt, the record consists of all originals for the first time since Halmstad. From an audial perspective Redefining Darkness isn’t much of a redefinition at all. The same chunky riffs and acoustic work that have peppered Shining‘s modern work are still here; the feeling is largely the same, the songwriting doesn’t differ seriously much, except that the record is consistently less heavy across the board – launching further and further into Opeth territory with the acoustic work, there’s even a part at about 1:10 in “Hail Darkness Hail” that sounds just like Mikael Åkerfeldt singing backup vocals. It’s uncanny.
Still, it’s hard to argue with Shining when Kvarforth is doing what he does best and “Du, mitt konstverk” starts off Redefining Darkness with a blast and a tortured scream. A minute and a half later, starts the trademark mid-paced riff, picking up right where Född förlorare left off, really. This track tops off with one of Kvarforth’s less impressive acoustic parts, but a vocal part that has been stuck in my head since I first heard it (“Snälla, snälla, snälla, snälla…”) and bassist Christian Larsson’s standout melodic bass is totally perfect. “Han som hatar människan” starts off with another chunky Halmstad riff and Kvarforth’s “Huah!” (think “Förtvivlan, min arvedel”) that he likes to throw in at the beginning of tracks for emphasis. The song has some nasty, sticky riffs but also plenty of acoustic work and a saxophone solo which evoked Ulver‘s Perdition City.
What’s weird about this record is how much of it is spent in acoustic or alternative rock territory, though. Surprisingly large swaths of it are acoustic and/or extraordinarily melodic, pushing what once was black metal further away from the center. “The Ghastly Silence,” for example, has more in common with Kent than anything Shining has really recorded before, and “Det stora grå” is just a piano interlude. This creates a very calm atmosphere on the record, where pain and self-hatred seem to have taken a backseat to evil – almost reaching back to the themes of traditional black metal instead of focusing on the modern, disgusting and soul crushing nature of post-modernity, as has been the pattern up to now. It’s a little jarring; particularly given that Kvarforth’s English is not nearly as skilled at wandering the melodramatic line without crossing into the silly as his Swedish is.
While all the pieces are in place and there are a couple of standout tracks, this is probably my least favorite Shining record to date. While VI was marred with Van Halen guitar solos over depressive black metal – there was still something raw and bestial about it. Redefining Darkness, on the other hand, continues Född förlorare‘s less extreme feel without the songwriting that made that record one of my favorites of 2011. If good art moves you, regardless of the feeling it evokes, then Shining‘s currency has been hitting that emotional sore spot that so few metal bands ever get anywhere near. Redefining Darkness sets that back and I just fail to be moved by this record. It is the emotional weight and power that Shining brought to the table that made the band so consistently good, but don’t look for that here.