Shining is about as hip as it gets among so called “underground” black metal bands, though really at this point, what with being signed to Spinefarm now, I guess they’re not super underground anymore. But whatever, success does not make a band sucky by its very nature—no, it’s Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™ that does that. And with the anticipation building around VII – Född förlorare (English: Born Loser[s]) due to the myriads of issues that surfaced in the process of recording, mixing and getting the album even out, it pretty much should go without saying that I’ve really been looking forward to this record. Haven’t you been looking forward to it? Damn straight.
But first, I have an admission to make. When I reviewed VI, I got carried away. With the exception of one or two songs, I really can’t say that the record has lived up to the review I gave it. I was just so excited that the record had finally gotten to me and I reviewed it in the heat of a listening frenzy instead of letting it get ripe. When the best song on a record is a cover, then your record doesn’t deserve the score I gave it. So, I give VI a revised 3.0, because it was still good, but there were some glaring issues. The writing felt strange and forced and certainly didn’t live up to the expectations that Halmstad had set, and the guitar solos just really throw me for a loop. They were a bit like if Kvarforth were to go on stage in a Hello Kitty shirt or something. Vastly out of place.
Född förlorare on the other hand is a step away from the problems, a step forward from Halmstad and what I see as a step in the right direction. Starting out the door with “Förtvivlan, min arvedel,” (Despair, My Inheritance) the record is recognizable as a Shining endeavor. The track is mid-paced and riffy, similar to “Neka morgondagen” (Deny Tomorrow) from Halmstad, and it perfectly encompasses Shining‘s current feel with lyrics as cheery as “And nothing means anything!” The use of acoustics works very well on Född förlorare and is par for the course, really. While the acoustic tone feels brighter than on previous records, the lyrics and feel of Kvarforth’s vocals definitely offsets any chance to feel a lot of warmth from the beautiful acoustic melodies.
And every track on this record is great, from the aforementioned nod to PÃ¤r Lagerkvist through my favorite track on the record (as of this moment) “Tiden läker inga sår” (Time Heals No Wounds) which has the most emotionally poignant acoustic part on the whole record for me. It’s a bit reminiscent of the breakdown part and the crying chick in “Låt oss ta allt från varandra,” (Let’s Take Everything from Each Other) but the lyrics are quite deep and bordering on a profound description of being swallowed up by another person, but wanting it as an escape from one’s self. Another highlight for me is the Nordman guest-vocals on “Tillsammans är vi allt” (Together We Are Everything), which while it comes off as a ‘love song,’ has a great sense of foreboding at the same time and an excellent main riff. I was reasonably skeptical about Nordman singing on this track, but his vocals work perfectly in the context actually. And the whole song is 9 minutes of excellence. Another standout is “I nattens timma” (In the Dark of Night) which mostly piano and sounds like an old Swedish folk song. In fact, I Googled quite a bit to make sure that this wasn’t just a folk song I’d never heard before. It’s gorgeous and perfectly placed with a solo that could have been on the iconic Jazz på svenska by Jan Johansson. [Someone over at Last.fm posted this link to the original song, so apparently this track “I nattens timma” is a cover off the band Landberk‘s 1992 record Riktigt äkta.]
Still, while Född förlorare is definitely an improvement from Klagopsalmer, I’m not sure that it lives up to Halmstad or III: Angst, självdestruktivens emissarie, largely because it seems to lack the sort of barn burning track that even Klagopsalmer had with “Fullständigt jävla död inuti” (Entirely Fucking Dead Inside), despite the ridiculously out of place guitar solos. Certainly nothing with the individual weight of a track like “Besvikelsens dystra monotoni” (The Dreary Monotony of Disappointment) or “Fields of Faceless” stands out for me. My other big complaint about it is the production and the vocal performance from Kvarforth. The drums, for example, in “FFF” lack the much more acoustic sound that the earlier material had and I really miss that. The production, while much ‘better’ is still not as organic or atmospheric as I’d like across the board and it’s a lot colder and mechanical than I’d choose. Also, Kvarforth doesn’t sound as fucking horribly miserable as he used to. And I think this might also be a production thing, though it may be performances—and it kind of draws back a bit from the feel of the record compared to the older stuff.
Where Född förlorare is successful is as an album, in my opinion. It has a great flow and solid writing. While not as heavy as previous records it is still a solidly written, produced and played record. And it’s gotten better and better with every day that I’ve listened to it and it set aside any doubts that Klagopsalmer may have left in my mind. Indeed, Shining is still one of the best Swedish bands in operation today along with Marduk, Watain and Ondskapt and I wish them a long and happy relationship with Spinefarm. Also, I expect that VIII should be just around the corner since this album should’ve been out like a year ago. Why not head back to Halmstad for inspiration, Kvarforth? I have it on good authority that it fucking sucks there.