Shining

Redefining Darkness

01. Du, Mitt Konstverk
02. The Ghastly Silence
03. Han Som Hatar Människan
04. Hail Darkness Hail
05. Det Stora Grå
06. For the God Below

[10/29/12]
[Spinefarm Records]

For nearly two decades, the depressive black metal outfit Shining and its indomitable leader Nikolas Kvarforth have been a mainstay in the black metal scene, becoming one of the most recognized and controversial outfits in the metal-verse. Their blend of  emotionally raw, depressive black metal and sludgy mid-tempo doom riffs are almost unmistakable, and have lead the band to great critical success over the course of seven full length albums. Redefining Darkness isn’t an all together misleading title, as this is a different sonic landscape for Kvarforth and company, but it probably isn’t the type of redefinition most people were expecting.

The first thing that long time fans will undoubtedly notice is the album’s title, and the song titles. In place of the typically Swedish album title is an English title. The majority of song titles and lyrics also predominantly in English, a major turn from what the band have been doing for the majority of their career. Some may not see this as an overtly ‘big deal’, but it drastically changes the atmosphere and presentation of the band’s music. Not to mention the fact that Kvarforth’s lyrics make it plain as day that English is a second language for him. Instead of focusing on the music, and the collision between instrumentation and pained shrieks and howls of Kvarforth, listeners may find themselves groaning at the teenage angst ridden lyrics. It’s a major detraction from the album, and not an altogether ‘welcomed’ change.

While this is billed as a redefinition for the band, and there are plenty of moments that feel new, the album as a whole is more of a subtraction than anything else. The elements that have littered and sprang up over the past few releases are all here, and amplified, but the sonic qualities that originally dominated the band’s sound are almost non-existent. The album sees an increase in Opethian acoustic sections, and a lot more clean singing than usual. In fact, most of the clean singing could be mistaken as Mikael Akerfeldt, lead vocalist for Opeth. It’s a bit jarring to be honest, and it doesn’t quite fit with the picture of the band that audiences have come to know over the years. Also, the acoustic guitar is not Kvarforth’s strongest skill set, and it shows on Redefining Darkness. The same lovable and catchy Halmstad era riffs are present on the heavier tracks, as well as Kvarforth unearthly shrieks and howls, but these moments act more as fading glimpses of the past, rather than the main focal point of the album.

In a band where the vocalist is the predominant member, and the main point of focus for the band’s sound, you would think the band would have the foresight to include more of the harsh vocals that have made up the majority of the band’s catalog, as Kvarforth is obviously more skilled in that style, and it lends itself to music much more than the soft clean vocals that make up the majority of Redefining Darkness. It’s a bit of a head scratcher, actually. However, when Kvarforth does what he does best, it’s fucking brilliant. The album opens to the immense skriek and pummeling sounds of ‘Du, Mitt Konstverk’ which assaults the listener for a good few minutes before transitioning into a nice melodic acoustic section, with some surprisingly simple and catchy lyrics. The majority of the albums flows similarly to this song, large, piercing black metal sections that last for a short time, then a transition into more melancholic acoustic sections with clean vocals. It’s not a bad pattern, but just unexpected.

Redefining Darkness continues the downward trend for this band, opting out of the raw, depressive style of songwriting, and visceral sonic foreplay, and instead brings in more progressive sounds, leaning towards a softer and less energetic sort of album. There are a few standout tracks here, and there is definite cause to for re-playability, but it doesn’t necessarily capture the same energy and emotional evocative songwriting that fans are used to by now. Redefining Darkness is a mixed bag; some will see it as an evolution for the band, and some will see is a degradation. You just have to decide if that’s something you like, or if it’s time to redefine the way you see this band.

Shining – Redefining Darkness gets…

3/5

– EC