As child of the ’80s, and metal fan of the mid-to-late ’90s, Sweden was a signpost that meant “great metal.” Sweden was a magical haven of everything my neighborhood wasn’t: filled to the brim with amazing bands. Ironically, by the time I moved to Sweden, the things that were left over were the things I liked the least: shitty post-Gothenburg mehlodic ‘death’; orthodox black mehtal; and empty clubs1. Still, when all of my favorites had gone into deep freeze, a tiny ray of light remained: Shining. Through Halmstad, Shining had a stretch of unique records that redefined black metal—Kvarforth’s tortured scream and dour lyrics were always backed up with a great sense of writing and sick riffs, and it still had roots in a scene that had gone mightily stale. Unfortunately, Shining‘s post-Halmstad output has been much more inconsistent. VI was a weird experiment, while VII was a return to form—even if it wasn’t so raw. What should have been VIII (but was instead known as Redefining Darkness) was only half-good, and left me wondering whether Shining still had it in ’em.
IX is a continuation of Redefining Darkness‘s calmer, cleaner tone. While the band has ditched the English—hooray!—for a totally Swedish record this time around, the album doesn’t recapture the heart-wrenching extremity of the earlier material. However, IX doesn’t disappoint on the melodic front, with each song containing memorable bits and moody tones that keep the listener (mostly) interested. The opening track “Den påtvingade tvåsamheten” (vulgarly translated as “Forced Monogamy2“), starts out with Ye Olde Metal Openinge Soundescapes but merges smoothly from that into a nearly neo-classical, guitar driven crescendo, before tapering off into an Opethian smooth guitar solo.
At first IX felt like a heavier record than it actually is. The songs that stand out immediately are “Vilja och dröm” (“Will and Dream”)—which opens the record with driving riffing, with attack on the guitars and borderline blasts—”Människotankens vägglösa rum” (“The Wall-less Room of Human Thought”)—heavy, riffy, memorable—and closer “Besök från i(ho)nom” (“Visit from Him/Within”), which features of the few real blasts on the album. These moments, while listening in passing, gave me the initial impression that this album was more aggressive than it really is, because they are well-placed, and IX is a short album, just 40 minutes long (with a 4 minute introductory track). And when this album pops, it really pops: great riffs, groovy feel, and stuff that’s hard not to dig.
But time and deeper listens revealed that IX is a record marked more by its mid-paced and slow moments, with the intense moments taking up only mere percentages of the heavier tracks. Rather than the seething rage and self-hatred of previous albums, Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends feels more like a representation of melancholy; and it’s almost doomy in its presentation at times. “Vilja och dröm” may start heavy and grindy, but its mid-paced drive has more in common with its follow-up “Framtidsutsikter” (“Future Prospects”) than something heavier. “Inga broar kvar att bränna” (“No Bridges Left to Burn”) fits the same mould, heavy moments, but mostly the “trademark” clean electric picking chords with Kvarforth croaking over them. And while “Besök från i(ho)nom” starts out heavy, it mellows out after a couple minutes and fades into a beautiful melody. These tracks drag quite a lot, with the repetition leading to a lacking intensity.
Still, the acoustic moments are good. “Framtidsutsikter” features Kvarforth doing great cleans with a haunting melody. He might be doing a Thåström impression, but it’s a damned good one, and melody is sticky with lyrics that (without a lyric sheet) seem like they might be rather insightful, more than just self-pitying. These melodic moments are what keep me in place, every song on here has some kind of melancholic melody which awakens my inner sadboy. The aforementioned “Inga broar kvar att bränna” has a similar feel, but unfortunately Kvarforth doesn’t sing on that one, he only croaks. It works OK, but it doesn’t feel extreme or provocative, it just makes the song slow.
The record’s shining moment (woo, pun!) is “Människotankens vägglösa rum” which is basically everything I want a Shining record to be. The song is driving, with a main riff and guitar melody that are top tier. The verses are grindy, with a feel that is definitely a throwback to Halmstad, and I knew that it was a special song the second the main riff started. It’s got a classic, groove with an Ofermod feel that is a welcome change of pace on a record filled with sleepy riffs, and sleepier writing. And unfortunately, it’s this contrast that makes the rest of the record feel weaker than it would otherwise.
One thing you can say about IX is that it sounds pretty good. From a mastering perspective, IX is a noticeably quieter than its predecessor. While the drums still sound replaced, the record clocks in at DR8, and is well-balanced. That said, there are two moments where I have noticed a high-pitched squeal that sounds like feedback or a bad contact in a guitar jack (“Inga broar kvar att bränna” and “Framtidsutsikter” in the soft parts), which makes songs painful to listen to at times. These may be artifacts from conversion to mp3, but whatever they are it’s painful now that I’ve noticed it.
IX is a record that probably would have received a higher score if I’d written a review after only a couple of listens. I started out enjoying it, but discovered with repeated listens that while the record has a feel that really works, the songs become monotonous. While there are recognizable moments of brilliance, and some aesthetic choices that I love (see: all the Åkersolos and the progressive turn), I can’t get excited about this record as a whole because I don’t think they’ve figured out how to balance these turns with the SDBM sound they pioneered. I’ll likely come back to this album and enjoy it, and I hope to be munching a huge plate of crow come year end lists. But given the band’s later output, I’m not super surprised by my feelings about this, and I suspect that Kvarforth would simply answer that I shouldn’t be surprised by the bleak monotony of life’s little disappointments.
- Fun fact. Sweden has the worst promoters in the entire world. They get basically no bands that aren’t enormous or that aren’t super obscure. The chances of a mid-level band coming to Sweden are roughly the same as taking Moscow in a land assault or betting against a Sicilian when death is on the line. ↩
- Not to get too silly with the translation here, but tvåsamhet actually vaguely translates to “twoness.” It’s a closeness between two people that can be considered nearly codependent. However, the concept often gets attached to monogamous relationships and marriage. So, instead of saying “Forced Closeness between Two People” I chose “Forced Monogamy.” ↩