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Shining: Redefining Darkness

Niklas Kvarforth reaches new heights of despair

Whatever one thinks of Niklas Kvarforth – and he does continue to split the seas of popular opinion like some sort of depressive metal Moses – it’s hard not to be impressed by the high standards Shining continue to maintain, despite an increasingly prolific output. Indeed, Redefining Darkness – interestingly the first of the band’s albums not to be prefixed by a number – marks their eighth full-length album and comes hot on the heels of l ast year’s extremely well-received VII: Född Förlorare, not to mention this year’s Lots Of Girls Gonna Get Hurt, a covers EP that showcased the band at their most commercially accessible yet.

Redefining Darkness continues to expand the band’s emotional and stylistic spectrum, making use of contrast with creeping moments of outright aggression sitting alongside calmer and more introspective passages. Blending obvious black metal traits with doom, depressive rock and progressive overtones, the dynamics that have been displayed by the band for much of their career remain alive and well, the clean guitars and gentle vocal refrain on songs such as Hail Darkness Hail – ‘Without you there’s no light at the end of the tunnel’ – only serving to make the more vitriolic moments hit that much harder.

There’s also no questioning the songwriting here, nor is there any denying the ambition within the songs. Niklas has long made it clear that he would like to take the band to a much bigger audience and with Redefining Darkness that seems a less far-fetched proposition.

Yes, the group’s unrelenting negativity and suicidal overtones mark them as a more extreme proposition than acts such as Opeth and Katatonia, but it’s not exactly an aesthetic that is scaring off fans, and the fact that this uncompromising attitude is balanced by richly emotional, expansive and memorable songs suggests they have the potential to be just as accessible as their more cuddly countrymen. Like those groups, Shining also offer a real journey in their music, each song being immaculately constructed, making use of light and shade to paint an immersive if occasionally sprawling experience.

That said, the band have retained the furious drive and venom of old and it’s unlikely that anyone who enjoyed the last few albums will be disappointed by the material here in terms of outright heaviness. Niklas remains very much the focal point, and with new Shining girlie shirts now proclaiming, ‘I have a boyfriend at home but I think of Niklas Kvarforth when he fucks me’, that would definitely appear to be an intentional strategy.

Nevertheless, his presence never swamps the songs and though they do continue to showcase the singer’s versatility – and unlike many of his extreme metal contemporaries his voice is a three-dimensional beast, always saturated in emotion, whether that be incensed rage or apathetic disillusionment – there’s also plenty of space for the instruments to breathe, the musicianship on Redefining Darkness remaining faultless throughout. Shining have once again delivered a considered and stellar entry.