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I have previously expressed that while I deem Shining to be a highly consistent band, I did not care much for their debut, 'Within Deep Dark Chambers'. While it would take until their fourth album for Shining to hit their stride, 'II: Livets Ändhållplats' shows Shining already moving in an interesting direction with their music. That being said, the band is not yet out of a Burzum worship phase with this record, and and like the first and third album from this band, does not tend to stir me in the same profound way that the best material from this band does.
Although the highly negative lyrical content is still here as it always would be for Shining, the band's way of expressing their hatred of life and others is channeled through a more straightforward black metal sound. Shining's 'III' would see the identity and individual style begin to peer through, but at the stage of 'Livets Ändhållplats', do not expect Shining to go beyond the call of duty. Shining plays a brand of depressive black metal that isn't unlike Silencer, complete with drawn out compositions, washed out guitar tones, and Niklas Kvarforth's near-inhuman wailing. In terms of atmosphere, 'Livets Ändhållplats' does not grab me like the titans of the depressive black metal style, but it draws me in. Burzum is another act that Shining could be compared towards at this point. Along with Burzum's firm grasp of atmosphere, a problem I had with much of Burzum's music has also transferred via the influence, that being the highly repetitive songwriting structures. The sensation of hearing these drawn out chord progressions play in a loop has the effect of mildly hypnotizing a listener, but they don't overcome their influences on this one.
The music is not challenging perse, but it is difficult for me to get into. I am not opposed to a lo- fi rendition of depressive black metal, but the conflict between the need to concentrate in search of subtle melodies, and the inclination to simply 'let the music wash over me' makes 'Livets Ändhållplats' an album that leaves me a little underwhelmed, despite demonstrating the band's great potential. I feel that if the compositions had used their ideas better, I would have found myself loving what Shining offers on the second album. Alas, I will have to look to their fourth album and onwards for a fulfilling experience.
There has been an element of sorrow and gloom within black metal, almost since the very beginning. Songs such as Venom's "Buried Alive, Hellhammer's "Triumph of Death" and Bathory's "Call from the Grave" all possessed a sombre atmosphere, to one extent or another. This was expanded upon, in the early 1990s, as various bands incorporated an increasing number of mournful melodies into their overall sound, including Burzum, Darkthrone, Strid, Dissection and so on. From tortured screams to miserable guitar riffs, this sort of negative and depressive vibe certainly has a place in black metal, but only as one part of the greater whole. In time, bands came along that sought to focus on this one aspect and no other. Thus was born the Depressive Suicidal Black Metal movement.
The question is then, at what point does this music cease to be black metal? It all depends on the manner by which the bands go about creating such a bleak and dismal atmosphere. However, with Shining, it is clear that this does not belong to the same sub-genre as the likes of Mayhem, Gorgoroth or the aforementioned groups. There is a line between making music that carries a feeling of despair, versus just outright emo nonsense. When your band is making songs with titles like "Att Med Kniv Göra Sig Illa" (meaning, "To Hurt Oneself With A Knife"), that line has been crossed. While many can relate to the horrible feelings that this sort of music may conjure up, there is nothing evil about self-mutilation. Even when Dead, himself, did so during Mayhem gigs, it had nothing to do with evoking a dark or evil aura and that was by no means the central part of the performance. Nonetheless, it was but one part of the greater whole. Shining seems to have latched on to such imagery and, maybe thinking it to be more significant than it was, built their identity around such things. Even the cover of Shining's 2001 release, Livets Ändhållplats, is a simple image of a bloody forearm. While some people are legitimately troubled and do such a thing, albums like this one have inspired countless brainless sheep to slice themselves to pieces and try to show it off, thinking it will make them cool or more Black Metal than the next person, when it has nothing to do with it at all.
Musically, it is evident that Shining was influenced by some of the Second Wave bands, most notably Strid and Burzum, but their strongest inspiration is Bethlehem. Kvarforth's vocal approach seems to follow that of Andreas Classen, who handled those duties on Within Deep Dark Chambers (as well as Bethlehem's debut album). Occasionally, he attempts tormented shrieks reminiscent of Varg Vikernes, but not often. The guitar tone is distant and fuzzy, sounding a lot like that attained by Strid on End of Life. There is a decent amount of clean guitar that is utilized, from time to time. The main riffs sort of drone on, while tremolo melodies come and go. Every song is mid-paced and crawls along lifeless and bereft of any trace of aggression or energy. The bass lines are much more audible than on most metal releases, and this instrument appears to have a more prominent role on Livets Ändhållplats. Despite all of these elements, the end product is not particularly dark or depressing. One can see how it might come off as such to someone that is inexperienced or just does not know better, but a seasoned listener can see right through this. The effort is there, but the songwriting skill is lacking. Kvarforth should have spent less time trying to scream like his idols and more time composing sorrowful melodies that actually possess some sort of feeling, rather than the boring and average material that Shining's sophomore L.P. consists of.
Black metal fans should avoid this, as it only shares certain technical aspects of that sub-genre, without actually belonging to it. However, even for a dark metal record, this is painfully average and ineffective. Livets Ändhållplats is unable to create even a fraction of the disturbing atmosphere that was present on classic Bethlehem albums, such as Dark Metal and Dictius Te Necare. With such limited musical abilities, it is no wonder that Kvarforth turned to other methods of whoring for attention, so people would notice him and his mundane band.
Given the continuous line-up changes over time, Sweden’s Shining were always bound to alter into a band that were almost unrecognisable from the band they were to begin with and on efforts like ‘Halmstad’ and even the newest edition to the fray, ‘Klagopsalmer’, these changes are felt to the core of the bands being. The olden day era of Shining, which consisted of a teenager by the name of Niklas Olsson, amongst others, were a deep rooted black metal band with a sound that kept to its style which strict enforcement from their leader, also known as Kvarforth. As Kvarforth began to change into the enigma he is now, so did the band. The bands style changed from a dankly produced outfit intent on making bass a foreground instrument like on this effort, ‘Livets Ändhållplats’, into an experimental force that has become one of the most consistent black metal bands in the industry, let alone the region of Scandinavia, where black metal was once reigning genre of metal music. This area of the world was, as stated, the king of all that is black metal but has now been demoted to a servant to the genre.
Though the romanticism over the Scandinavian genre still exists, and is held in high esteem for a lot of fans, nations like France and Germany began to overtake their rivals in the war to become to most prestigious nation in the business. Though countries like Norway and Sweden, in particular, have lost a lot of their spark, the global interest still exists in regards to the notable second wave bands like Burzum, Darkthrone and Immortal. Though Shining may have missed out on the second wave, they have made sure that the black metal genre still has a home in Scandinavia and are, in my opinion, one of the best bands in the industry in today’s world. Though things may have gotten off to a shaky start, and once again went off the rails when Kvarforth faked his own death (though I’m not sure this actually happened - its all a bit confusing), the band have maintained a level of consistency that has been the main failure behind bands like Darkthrone and Immortal who, in my eyes, deteriorated as they got older. Shining, on the other hand, have gone from strength to strength and this is shown particularly well in the latest effort, as well as ‘Halmstad’, which features a lot of new elements for the bands audience to swoon over.
Personally, though I do prefer the band in today’s world, the past will never be forgotten because Shining took the Scandinavian scene off of its knees and restored some pride to the area with efforts like the debut, which was produced by a very young Kvarforth, and this monumentally dark piece, which rivals bands like Italy’s Forgotten Tomb in terms of creating a minimalistic vision of black metal in the darkest sense without having to rely almost entirely on aggressive tremolo guitar leads and enforced double bass. A lot of bands, who claim to be “raw”, don’t hold the same appeal as they lack a certain majestic vibe that bands like Forgotten Tomb and Shining possess, despite being as equally dark, if not more dark in terms of the atmospherics. The careers of the bands are actually similar, in the grand scheme of things. Both started out as a minimalist vision and as they delved deeper into the genre, they began to experiment more and more with the formula, increasing the standards of the genre as they went along - particularly Shining as many people didn’t take kindly to Forgotten Tomb’s clean vocals (though I personally loved them). So, how does this effort stand up in comparison to the newest editions to the discography?
Well, I still enjoy ‘Livets Ändhållplats’ a great deal. It offers a side of Shining that isn’t felt as well any more because as they started to experiment, the darker side of the band was marginally lost. This effort is the epitome of the old sound - deep rumbling bass is felt throughout the ordeal, often leading over the guitars, a high pitched clean guitaring is used to increase the sensitivity of the emotions that lie within the songs and the vocals don’t tend to vary at all in this era. Kvarforth shocked me when he introduced clean vocals into the bands sound and, as I feel in regard to Forgotten Tomb’s use of clean vocals, though there was an initial period of adjustment, I ended up loving them more than the original vocals which, in this case, aren’t rasps, but deathly screams from the back of the throat which echo over the dense production which gives the feeling of an enclosed area, of isolation, as if we’re trapped in an emotional roundabout and cannot get off. This record is as cold as Shining get. It doesn’t deviate from the formula much, but it doesn’t necessarily have to as the band has sufficient enough levels of generated positivity to carry on doing what they’re doing with their compositions.
Kvarforth is obviously the center of attention, presumably the way he likes it, but the performance of the bassist, in particular, must be noted as his contribution is important to the gravely desolate sound the atmosphere harbours towards the audience. The vivid imagery attached to the pain of the bass, especially when taken into consideration alongside the other areas of instrumentation (particularly the guitars and the vocals), is expressive and captivating, despite not being as experimental as newer fans are probably used to. Though this record doesn’t deviate much from the debut, which I also enjoyed, the band had a formula that worked for them and they stuck with it until the line-up changes enforced a different point of view in terms of the bands overall sound. This area of the discography is imperative to know if you want to understand the bands history and how they became what they are today - which is one of the best black metal bands around. Though this doesn’t rival the latest efforts, it is still a pretty damn good affair.
I know Shining is surrounded by controversy, I know their image and lyrics are not on a high level, but when I listen to such albums like this, I forget about everything and really believe in what Kvarforth & co. try to explain. Isn't it, then, exactly what should black metal be about - to possess the listener and make him believe?
"Livets Andhallplats" is generally the atmosphere of pain, sorrow, inhumanity. The songs are long and don't bring anything revolutionary, but keep the atmosphere and develop it all the time.
Compared to the previous release, "Livets Andhallplats" has more acoustics and is generally more complicated. However, it stucks in mind, which couldn't be said about "Within Deep Dark Chambers". Still, it isn't an album which you could listen to at any time, anywhere. It's just too much "black", too less "metal" to be treated this way.