V - Halmstad (Niklas Angående Niklas)
My previous experience with Sweden’s Shining is limited to friends playing them for me and hearing several of their songs through various promotional mediums, but I am well aware of the semi-legendary reputation this depressive outfit has in the metal underground, and thus I jumped at the chance to really hear what this band is all about. I was very surprised, both pleasantly and unpleasantly, by what I heard on V - Halmstad. This is definitely not pure black metal (not even close), but rather a blend of several extreme styles, among them death, black, goth, and doom that I believe goes by the name “dark metal“ these days. This diversity in sound works in the band’s favor in some ways, but in others, it ends up being their biggest downfall. While these guys have the chops and creative capacity to come up with some excellent material, I ultimately found their ability in deep and compelling song craft to be dissapointedly lacking.
As I said before, Shining are intent to cover a lot of bases in all of their songs, whether it be the doomy riffing in cuts like “Yttligare Ett Steg Närmare Total Jävla Utfrysning” or the moments in “Låt Oss Ta Allt Från Varandra” and “Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni” that approach full-on death metal. This band can write some damn good riffs that showcase their various influences proudly, and guitarists Fredric Gråby and Peter Huss shell out some absolutely wicked solos on all of the album’s main songs. In fact, I’d say that the guitar solos were what stood out most as being consistently excellent all the way through this disc. I will say that those expecting (as I did initially) or hoping for black metal should look elsewhere. With the exception of a couple of short blackish segments throughout the album, complete with the ever present mid-paced blasting associated with the genre, Shining’s sound has very little in common with many of their suicidal Scandinavian and American peers sound wise, but honestly I can‘t really imagine black metal fitting into the type of sound this band has crafted, so I didn’t really feel let down in this regard. The production on this album is also top-notch, with every instrument audible and the tone of the music clear and punchy.
However, there’s a number of things about V - Halmstad that stand out to me as crippling weaknesses, most noticeably that the end results of Shining’s genre bending pleased me at first but failed to captivate me as the album progressed and left me with little to remember after it was over due to the lack of depth in these compositions. This album reminded me of fellow Swedes Opeth in that the individual segments within these songs are mostly well-written and skillfully played, but the method of fitting these pieces together is deceptively shallow, and the cut-and-paste formula with which the heavy and quiet parts are mingled is quickly deciphered and predictable. It’s a shame, because I won’t dispute Shining’s ability to write some damn intriguing riffs, but the songs as a whole often don’t do the material that they contain justice.
There are also some serious balance issues here as well. All of the five main tracks contain some kind of quiet intermission amidst the more aggressive segments, some of which are excellent (“Längtar Bort Från Mitt Hjärta”) and some of which are simply exercises in tedium (“Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni“). The problem is that these breaks are often way too long, sound completely detactched from the rest of the song, and tend to overshadow the heavy parts almost to the point of eclipsing them completely. On top of that, these soft moments often make their entrance at the worst times, usually immediately after the band has pummeled you with one of their sublime heavy segments. Opening cut “Yttligare Ett Steg Närmare Total Jävla Utfrysning” gets things off to a heavy, exciting start only to slam headfirst into a long and underwhelming acoustic medley before the opening riff even has a chance to leave its mark, while “Besvikelsens Dystra Monotoni” pretty much ruins its own promising beginning with an out-of-place jazzy acoustic section that again drags on for much longer than it is welcome.
These kind of awkward transitions are found throughout the album and disrupt the flow of these songs severely. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate quieter moments in metal like this just as much as the heavy and faster ones, but the method in which Shining implements this apparently key ingredient into their songs simply leaves a lot to be desired. On top of all of these songwriting missteps, vocalist Kvarforth’s throaty take on the loosely structured, tortured/injured vocal style pioneered by Nattramn of Silencer and Rainer Landfermann of Bethlehem is passable at best and more often unconvincing and even unintentionally amusing, and tends to detract from the quality and atmosphere of the backing music instead of add to it.
I find myself very frustrated by this album. If Shining had taken the basic material they had come up with, put a little more thought and creative effort into the arrangements and fleshed out the heavier aspect of the band’s sound more, you could easily add a whole point to my songwriting score, if not more. As it stands, I was still impressed by certain aspects of this work; Shining are skilled musicians with a dark and intriguing theme and some innovative and compelling ideas up their blood-soaked sleeves. But ultimately, the lack of depth, the overlong interludes and underused heavy segments, and the dubious vocal work keep V-Halmstad from reaching its full potential. There were enough good moments on this disc to interest me in checking out Shining’s back catalog, but with all the hype this band has gotten I was very disappointed with this overall.