Yes this is the Swedish Shining and they do have a proper album title this time round and have dispensed with the numerology. In case you were wondering though this is album number VIII. I had a very good insight into this having got hold of half the tracks some time ago and interviewed the group’s muse Niklas Kvarforth about the forthcoming album. If you have not done so already and are interested give it a read for plenty more information. Since tracks and videos have been aired in the run up to the release I have noticed a lot of people ripping into things. The words sell out are thrown around and people are bemoaning that this is no longer black metal along with the fact that the video is all tits and blood. I consider that album wise is no exercise in selling out, just a natural progression of things and that listening to the complete album may have you making sense of things a bit more. If not, perhaps Shining are no longer for you. There are lots of lush and gorgeous guitar tones to be found here as always, were you listening to past albums, they have always been present? The same to some extent can be said for the clean vocals. This time there are three songs in English making things that bit more understandable and if you have a great clean singing voice why on earth would you not utilise it? There are plenty of roars, grunts and death belches amongst the songs to keep you happy and Shining have always really been about the depression in the music more than anything else and it is here in spades As for the video, well that has been explained in length if you want to read into that it is up to you as is dismissing it as tawdry titillation. The one thing that I will say is that what the detractors are doing is feeding the negativity; do you not think that Kvarforth is laughing at you?

Well I have said plenty about things as has he so let’s get straight onto the music and let the six tracks do the talking. You have probably read that there are some guests involved such as Hoest (Taake) and Peter Bjärgö (Arcana) on vocals and Andy LaRocque (King Diamond) and Rob Caggiano (Anthrax) on guitars. Where they appear is up to you to guess, that is part of the fun.

First up was one of the new songs for me. ‘Du, Mitt Konstverk’ flails in and blisters with antagonistic hatred, you say this is not black metal, think again my friend. I get the words ‘You, My artwork’ from translating and the lyrics in Norwegian do not offer further insight but vocally once things break this is angry and raging. The melody is what can only be described as stormy and it is full of nuances that Shining listeners through the years will recognise. There are some classic sounding Swedish guitar parts that stem from Dissection and are similar to Watain but that is to be expected; Peter Huss leads again sound fantastic and there is some virtuoso licks going out here. That sound of depressive, dismalness crops up again with a rather odd clean part from the vocals. I would like to know what this is about and am certainly intrigued but am just left with the music itself. ‘The Ghastly Silence’ is one of my favourite songs in a long time and having heard it stacks of times it is one I know well. Basic melody is not a million miles from the theme of 28 Weeks Later, something that Niklas admits and the vocals are English allowing much more access to his thoughts. It is moody, depressive and sad. The saxophone playing adding to this and really making it deadbeat until that soaring chorus comes in, once you have heard it you will be stuck for life (well maybe it will take a few listens but)….. It’s a gorgeous slice of misery and it is impossible not to revel in it. Han Som Hatar Människan is a complete contrast, a balls out black rotting roller of a song. There’s scything, razor sharp, wrist slitting riffs, angry vocals and a pounding melody. I guess this is the song that most of the people moaning may have second thoughts on hearing even if the brutality is again counterpoised by some acoustic parts sparkling away before the fury once again piles in.

‘Hail Darkness Hail’ is an atypical title really when you think about it. Niklas did say a lot about how important his belief and allegiance to the left hand path were and this along with the albums final track seem to be conjoined thematically. It is a mid paced number, again in English with a heavy furrowing groove about it until it goes very gentle with some spoken word Norwegian parts, sounding like someone is telling a tale. The ‘without you there is no light at the end of the tunnel’ part is another unforgettable segment and the flamenco like acoustic guitar work and its celebratory vibe may well catch a few listeners out. Don’t worry a ‘c’mon and death belch is on the way. I guess I am going to just look on Det Stora Grå as a bridge for the last song. It’s just a bit of moody piano playing, a depressing sonata and I have to admit after expecting six songs I felt cheated by it and a bit let down. Oh well final assault ‘For the God Below’ is another classic. If people don’t want to hear the words lovely and Shining together in the same sentence this is probably the main one that is going to be a problem and it is the song that was unveiled in advance. Again having heard it lots of times I absolutely love it. I can appreciate that it has a certain commercial feel to it at times but what an undisputed ode to darkness it is.

It took me a few listens to fully gel with the tracks that I had not heard falling into place but they did pretty quickly and I think this is an excellent album. I am not going to be silly and give it top marks or anything like that, in fact I am not going to say that it is the best album of the year either. It will be in my top ten I fully expect but where exactly remains to be seen.

As far as Shining are concerned look out for news on a limited edition split with Italian’s Monumentum and tour dates coming in 2013. The future is bright, the future is Shining!

(8.5/10 Pete Woods)