January 5th was an interesting day as two Swedish giants of black metal Watain and Shining, both released new albums, both albums calling back to an earlier sound that gained them the spotlight and acclaim.
Shining's latest offering "X — Varg Utan Flock" was actively promoted as a successor to 2005's wildly popular and generally agreed upon best album "V — Halmstad". "V" is an album that I will continuously come back to, it's a bleak and powerful album, resplendent with haunting melodies and fiery vocals.
Shining has perfected their brand of black metal and I can say that I enjoy every release by them, there is the occasional fumble but they're consistent in what they do whilst managing to incorporate newer ideas in the established sound they've become so well known for.
So, coming into "X", it immediately had a lot to live up to if it was claiming to be a companion piece to "V". Does it match the quality of "Halmstad"?
Unfortunately, not really; it's by no means bad, I don't believe that Shining are a band that can produce a bad record so long as they stick to their proven formula, it's just that "X" is largely forgettable, it lacks the things that made "V" weasel into your brain and stay there for a long time.
The ways in which it’s similar to "V" are abundant: a more stripped back sound — the same stellar production is there, but the extravagant instrumental interplay is restrained compared to say "IX", there are few clean vocals, the same chorus, soaked jangly acoustic guitars return and the general sonic atmosphere that can be found on "V" is there.
The things that aren't there though are what stop "X" standing strongly alongside "V"; there are fewer of those pained tortured vocals, the cries of a man in despair, yes, there is still fury in his voice but it's been tempered. The riffs are good but they don't hold a candle to the guitar work on "V", and finally, small things that just infused "V" with atmosphere, like the samples from "Prozac Nation" of Christina Ricci crying hopelessly or the string crescendo at the start of "Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni", just chip away at the overall quality of "X".
I feel that this album was written in a way where "V" was analysed and the formula was replicated — which is all well and good, however, if it was written with the express purpose of being a successor to "V" it lacks the soul and raw hatred that made that album so great, maybe, the album lacks the stellar line-up that they had for "V", with only Kvarforth and Huss remaining from the time of "Halmstad", which prevents the album for greatness, the musicianship is great as it to be expected with any Shining record, it just lacks that 'X factor'.
I can't help but feel that Shining will never produce another "V" for the pure fact that they're so much more stable, Kvarforth has achieved more than I imagine he ever thought he would with Shining. Do I believe he still struggles with life? Yes. Do I believe the pain is enough to create another tortured masterpiece like "Halmstad"? Maybe, just not for this record.
Reviewed by Dan