The death throes of one shitty year of existence have barely stopped twitching and another one is just about ready to be shat into existence. Same hopelessness, misery, discontent and feelings of negativity and it seems almost perfect that greeting it will be new releases from 2 of the most destructive and pessimistic bands in extreme music Watain and Shining. It’s almost as though they are saying “here you go, deal with it and good luck if you are looking for any safe spaces here!” Niklas Kvarforth seems like a seasoned pro by now unleashing Shining’s tenth opus and working through his demons and mania in as constructive way as possible. Sure madness follows at every step of the way, he will not find anything in the way of salvation in what he does or any quick cure. Perhaps there is a form of catharsis about his musical output, we have to do what we can to survive and whilst it still makes any sense to do so he is no doubt helping himself and others that derive any form of twisted pleasure out of his prolific outpourings. 20 years without submitting to self-destruction is no mean feat.

The album title translates as ‘Wolf without a pack’ but this is not entirely the Kvarforth show. Peter Huss has been an accomplice in crime since 2005. Although involved in the recording of the album it would appear Euge Valovirta is no longer part of the show but former drummer Jarle “Uruz” Byberg makes his return and new bassist Marcus Hammarström joins the fold. Nothing particularly surprising about all this, Shining have always had a revolving door policy but the expertise of the players has always been constant. Another thing that is too is the six song cycle of the new album.

After a spoken word part and atmospheric chugging guitar run we run kicking and screaming into things with ‘Svart ostoppbar eld’ and although I am no closer to learning Swedish than I was 20 years ago I am somewhat certain that search engine translation of ‘Black Cheese Fire’ amusing though it is, got somewhat lost too. The roars and death grunts are released along with a massive driving energy and beat that is full of twisting turning melody. This is forceful chaos but it has been designed with utmost care and precision. One of those acoustic parts Shining are so well versed in breaks the flow and it’s a gorgeous spine shivering moment that has the listener virtually trembling in submission as it builds around a dextrous, flailing guitar riff. This is classic sounding Shining and fans are going to be quick to fall into its embrace, acknowledging all of its heady motifs and gloomy corners along with the massive bursts of frantic energy. ‘Gyllene portarnas bro’ forms around a very distinct shimmering and shivering riff. I’m kind of tempted to call it their ‘How Soon Is Now’ riff although it’s not but it does have that same rich and masterful call about it. This is slower number enticing its way to heart with expressive clean singing and that gorgeous wail from the guitar. Whether ‘The Golden Gate Bridge’ of title is a metaphorical one is just one of the mysteries about it. Once the rage suddenly swarms in though the turbulent waters bellow are beseeching you to throw yourself in. No doubt you have already gorged on ‘Jag är din fiende’ and are well versed in who your enemy is and again this is classic stuff, gnarly, gritty and misanthropic in the extreme. Guitars slash and scythe away, a clean heartfelt vocal line is full of passion and there’s a lush solo from Andy La Rocque to boot. This is going to be a favourite in the live set in no time at all.

The b) side kicks off in a stabby mood with ‘Han Som Lurar Inom’ guitars sharp and strident, drums pummelling away and enraged vocal delivery. There’s stacks of energy swarming through this and it’s dark and vicious in the extreme. Of course there is plenty of breathing space within it and different moods and emotions form in a state of flux making it far from one-dimensional. We have become accustomed to expect something strange on a Shining album and it comes here as a bridge between the world of classical music and the extreme, ‘Tolvtusenfyrtioett’ fitting firmly in the former camp. Essentially this is a piano soliloquy done by composer Olli Ahvenlahti, conductor of the Eurovision song contest in Finland. It’s certainly more Schubert than Shining (Sibelius never did a piano concerto) and despite the mood and pathos of the piece some may wish for a track that’s more of the extreme side of the group that we are accustomed to. However before dismissing it and pressing the skip button bear in mind that we are observers here and it is not really right to question the creative expressions of the artist. The last track is a slow-burner too and Kvarforth is obviously the latest to full under the spell of Japanese suicide forest ‘Mot Aokigahara.’ Well it’s the perfect subject matter really and is a suitably haunting piece, although possibly not the immediate energy bomb that listeners may have been hoping for? Somehow though that makes it all the more enticing and with the spoken words announcing “I was born in December 1983 and I died in December 2017” one can only hope this is just more artistic licence as at the time of writing there are still 8 days for such a prophecy to be fulfilled. Although the wolf would be going out on a very high note let’s hope he doesn’t consider his job done just yet!

(8.5/10 Pete Woods)