The title of the email said ‘Shining’ and we opened it in a wave of excitement thinking we were going to be reviewing something by those Norwegian progressive, black jazz nutters of the same name. When we read a little further and saw that this 7-track album was sub-headed ‘Suicidal Black Metal’, we realised that we were dealing with the Niklas Kvarforth’s incarnation and – much like the band themselves, from the sounds of it – we weren’t optimistic. We wanted extreme avant-garde metal and we were getting depressive black metal. No fair!
Imagine our surprise then, when opening track “Svart Ostoppbar Eld” blew our living tits off! A crisply produced punky riff-off that, as opposed to sounding overtly black metal, reminds us of some of the more mainstream Scandinavian metal output of the 90’s. With toiling riffs and fag-puffing vocals dissolving into an eerie clean passage with vampyric spoken vocals, X – Varg Utan Flock is blackened for sure, but this ain’t stock black metal fare by any means!
Initial disappointment aside, we’re well onboard.
Stylistic hopping then proves to be the overall theme of the album. From the air of doomed romance that explodes into furious blasting (“Gylene Portarnus Bro”), to Metallica locked in a coked up jam with Emperor replete with extreme metal crooning (“Ja Air Din Fiende”) – nothing here is predictable but everything is accessible.
“Han Som Lurar Imom” would be closer to the black metal norm were it not for Shining’s penchant for a totally brilliant breakdown and yet another gloriously weird denouement from vocalist Niklas Kvarforth. “Tolvusenfyriott” signals yet another sudden U-turn consisting of nothing more than a stylistically modulating piano solo with a cautiously optimistic vibe, unexpected and really rather beautiful.
Closer, “Mot Aogigkhara” then resolutely refuses to give you the bombastic send off you expect. It’s restrained, melodic and sounds like something Akira Yamaoka may have written for the Silent Hill video game series and its eerie message, retrospectively citing the vocalist’s own death, haunts the listeners mind, long after the the music stops.
This album ties directly to black metal’s penchant for having irregular song structures – sudden changes of tack, phases that are played once and then never revisited and lengthy breakdowns – yet there is always a, dare we say, commercial sensibility to the music, via a healthy dose of classic rock, thrash, punk and even alternative rock. But the area where X – Varg Utan Flock really shines (sorry) is in the skillful, multi-faceted and freakishly dramatic vocal delivery of Niklas Kvarforth. Believe us when we say there are precious few like him in the genre; a mercurial, talent. We came into this review feeling mildly irritated that we weren’t going to be writing about the ‘other’ Shining. We came out of it with a new musical obsession! 9/10