Twenty years on from Shining’s debut EP, now onto their 10th album and umpteenth line-up, you might wonder what more arch provocateur Niklas Kvarforth has to say that he hasn’t already screamed in our faces until blacking out, several times. After a wayward ascent, Shining decisively nailed their MO with V – Halmstad in 2007, but their subsequent development proved equally wayward, pulling between paradoxical strands of miserable, vituperative black metal and good-time, party-hard rock, sometimes seeming like a battle between Kvarforth’s head and heart. Shining’s mass-appeal misanthropy has made for some intriguing contrasts, but just as often felt like an awkward mismatch, jarring tonally, impeding the flow.
Appropriately, however, Shining have put out a record that crowns their second decade as effectively as Halmstad did their first, deploying their best signature tricks to maximum effect; X – Varg Utan Flock resolves that elemental battle and finds confluence, bipolar wavelengths cohering with unified force and direction. Arrangements lurch between windswept stadium heroism, brute-force punk simplicity, icy Swedish BM and sinister acoustic breakdowns, and Kvarforth’s voice runs the gamut of eccentric ejaculations – manically rolling his ‘r’s in a protracted croak, wheezing like a drugged busker, imperiously sexualising Tom G Warrior’s death grunt – but there’s greater fluidity and maturity at work, and the strength of material shines through. Guitars reach new heights, Peter Huss and Euge Valovirta laying down some gorgeous leads, creamy licks and affecting melodies, and one listen to the beginning of Jag Ar Din Fiende (‘I’m Your Enemy’) confirms that the riffs have teeth, and bare them with a smirk. Hopefully this all points to an increasing sense of balance within Shining’s troubled mastermind, although as Kvarforth solemnly announces the date of his death as December 2017 in epic closer Mot Aokigahara, the morbid thought occurs that Varg Utan Flock might end up being Shining’s definitive and resounding valediction.