What a great album title and perfect use of alliteration, airing a complete sense of negativity and disillusionment in just a few words. It can only really mean that everyone’s favourite depressive Swedes are back with their ninth album. I have to admit that I have had the download of this album in my grubby mitts for quite some time and this has both been a good and a bad thing as although I have had plenty of time to form an opinion on the album I have perhaps lost the spontaneity of having to do so quickly. My opinion has changed a bit over time too as I have been able to play it in sporadic bursts and then put it down for a while and come back to it for a fresh perspective. One thing that is evident though is that the band are continuously growing and expanding upon their ideas and to coin a cliché redefining darkness in their own unique way.
The cult and mystique of the band is something that has in all the right ways become stale, sure vocalist and founding member Niklas Kvarforth has done all those things to make him infamous and if he had accidently offed himself, no doubt the stuff of legends too but again the band prove that they are all about the music. When was the last time you heard about tour misbehaviour or anything like that? Nope the focus is about playing great songs now and Shining are constantly maturing as they bring out new material. That’s not to say that like a newly dug up second world war bomb that things could suddenly explode again but for now the beast is expressing itself in all the right ways and doing so through its art.
Surprisingly it’s an instrumental piece that they start off with and ‘Den Påtvingade Tvåsamheten’ (Being Forced Into Twosomeness) starts with a scratchy sliding guitar part that could be construed as a similar effect of nails down a blackboard. Opening up, melody austerely comes through and there’s a huge sense of drama coursing through the melody as it bombastically weaves away. It’s like an extended intro that sets you up for something massive coming and if they are using this as an intro live it’s going to have the audience on tenterhooks. Vilja & Dröm (Will And Dream) then barrels in on a hefty death grunt and massive drumming from Rainer Tuomikanto. Anyone listening to this thinking that Shining no longer have black metal at their heart will quickly be put right. As it settles down vocals are elongated and roll off the tongue and melody has a depressive air and some short stabbing guitar parts sounding like a heart attack about to happen. Peter Huss and Euge Valovirta bring a glorious melody to things, guitar parts gleaming like scalpels and the bouncy bass work of Christian Larsson drives it all along as echoing grunts and some sinister underlying whispers see the ever more possessed sounding vocals spitting out their mania. I don’t normally mention all the component parts of a band when writing reviews but here they strike as so integral it’s kind of difficult not to name all the players; this is definitely no one man show.
‘Framtidsutsikter’ (Future Prospects) is bound to be bleak with a title like that and it is left for some gorgeous acoustic guitar work and clean crooned vocals to project it here. It is so tempting to say that Kvarforth at times has the voice of an angel and he does albeit a fallen one, here it is never more profound. Guitars build like a storm and sound very familiar this is a melody that has been dabbled at before and no doubt that will be noted by those that have followed the band through their career. It’s on the whole left for the acoustic touches of the song to really work on you here though. The vocals are full of heartfelt emotion and some of the guitar work and melody here does remind a little of mid era Opeth as much as anything else. The sinister builds come occasionally and you expect the track to explode into a welter of abuse but it never quite goes beyond a mid paced black n rolling thrust, with some absolutely sublime guitar soloing. ‘Människotankens Vägglösa Rum’ (Human Thoughts, A Room Without Walls) takes us into the asylum with deranged madness spilling out. Guitar parts clamour away gnawing at you incessantly and as with everything the Swedish vocals work so well and expressively that even if you do not understand what they are saying emotions spill out without any restraint. Tuomikanto gets plenty of time here for a massive bombardment and has a real solo workout which is flawlessly executed and gives the number a speeding adrenaline rush. There’s also some real rock-star flamboyance from Huss as well and solos are really allowed to flourish before what sounds like a siren going off in the background lays this one to rest. Inga Broar Kvar Att Bränna” (No More Bridges Left To Burn) turns head again going for a more mellow form of loathing rather than the abject blackness of its predecessor. A gloomy melody and distorted vocal rasp work around weeping guitar lines which have the gothic textures found on the likes of a band such as Fields Of The Nephilim before it gets jaunty with what could almost be a banjo taking up the twanging rhythm! It’s a somewhat stripped back number but it really shines (albeit in shades of dismal grey despondency) and comes from the heart so well it’s almost painful to listen to.
Besök Från I(ho)nom” (A Visit From WitHi(m)n) finalises the traditional six number album with some classic Shining nuances that could belong to no other band amidst the meandering riff work and vocal clamour. This one does explode and goes off like that aforementioned bomb exploding all over the shop and causing maximum devastation, which is going to be particularly bruising when delivered live. Shredding guitars hit like shrapnel and the percussive blasting takes out anything else left standing as the band really go for it. Naturally though the song is far from one dimensional and mellower periods of introspection show off the tracks schizophrenic tendencies perfectly.
That’s not quite it as this time around there are a couple of extras included. A somewhat surprising Rammstein cover of ‘Ohne Dich’ is given a very respectful treatment and sounds completely natural with it, vocally certainly so illustrating no end to the vocalist’s talents. Finally there is an updated version of something Svart and industriell (Black Industrial Eleven) of which no real description should be necessary.
So the prognosis and verdict of the album? Well I am not sure what my thoughts would have been if I had just a week to review this but with the time I have had at my disposal including some intensive listens over the last few days I can only contest that Shining IX is another work of near genius. Should I have really expected anything else though?
(9/10 Pete Woods)