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To call Shining's most recent works "Depressive Black Metal" would be a completely false description. Today, the band hold very few of the traits that would make for a band carrying that tag and are instead more of a progressively-oriented band with a highly depressing sound that sprinkle in moments of black metal. However, back in 2000 with the release of their debut album entitled Within Deep Dark Chambers, it is not hard to see where this categorization came from. Utilizing fast tremolo picking, speedy blast beats and carrying a production so filthy it could have been crapped out by vocalist Niklas "Ghoul" as well as lyrics speaking of feelings of isolation and openly promoting self harm and suicide, this album was not for the faint-hearted.
Whilst being light years away from the upper echelons of the bands discography, Shining's first album is certainly an interesting enough listen. The vocal performance is more akin to that found on a traditional black metal album such as Storm Of The Light's Bane or Pure Holocaust than the haunting sounds Niklas released on V: Halmstad and the rest of their later material. This is not to say that he does not sound like a man in pain going through his own personal hell, as towards the end of Stonelands and about four and a half minutes into the opening song we are gifted some extremely tormented vocals. Just because his vocals were more harsh does not mean he was unable to channel as much emotion into his voice, as Niklas really does pour his soul out on this album. Despite this, his range remains rather limited throughout the duration of this album, with a higher pitched shriek and a slightly lower tone, both of which he weaves together to create some truly menacing vocal patterns that are terrifying to listen to and at the same time suck the listener in. Niklas' vocals on this release are definitely one of the highlights and are an experience in their own right.
This album manages to undergo a number of changes in pace that help to develop a really evil sounding atmosphere, with the guitar work rarely shying away from the tremolo picked insanity, leaving the drums to dictate the pace. The opening to Stonelands is an example of one of the slower, sorrow-filled passageways of this album and is a great example as to the sound of this band. The highly distorted bass in the background casts a spell upon the listener that forces them to envision the most pain-filled man out there, and Niklas spends the duration of the song dictating this man's story. Meanwhile, the drums are pummeling their way into your brain and the guitar is incessantly breaking you down inside and melting you, telling you to succumb to the acts that Shining is encouraging you to do openly. This album has an effect on a listener like few others, in the sense that you can truly feel the emotion dripping from every second of it.
The down sides to this album are the standard faults that can be named with black metal. The production is abysmal, sounding overly cheap and the cymbals have a horrible tone to them and are far too loud in the mix. The fuzzy sounds that are found on nearly every black metal release out there are also present here and do little to add to the atmosphere, instead vastly detracting from the overall sound of the album. Mayhem proved on their debut that a black metal band doesn't need to be overrun by guitar feed back and have the sound of a broken cassette tape to build a sense of emotion in their music, and Shining didn't listen. Also, the songs are all very samey, with a range of different tempos used in sections, but all of them lead into the same 600 beats per minute carnage, which completely nulls the point of changing the tempo. The guitar solos may have changed a little of this but they are unfortunately rendered near inaudible by the production job that ensures the rhythm guitar is constantly at the forefront even during the guitar solos.
This is a fantastic album for one to familiarize themselves with the absolute chaos that is Shining with, but is by no means the essential Shining album. This creates a depressing, morbid atmosphere as well as nearly any release out there but nearly every song has the inevitable endless blasting and Niklas shrieking over the top in his unintelligible tones that kills off any sense of variety established by the occasional tempo changes. This is a solid release and a good entry point for those unaware of the black metal scene as well, and is recommended, but is nowhere near the best in their discography. Take V: Halmstad over this one if given the chance as that is superior in every respect.
Originally written for SputnikMusic.com
Shining, a notable member of the lately (in)famous depressive/suicidal black metal family, released their debut full-length album when the band mastermind Niklas Kvarforth was only sixteen years old – although he had a few more experienced musicians helping him out here, such as the former Bethlehem vocalist Andreas Classen (who sang and played keyboard for legendary Bethlehem album ”Dark Metal”) – and perhaps it's not entirely hard to believe this album was largely written by a teenager (as I assume it to be), for the song structures show considerable lack of experience, and the riffs downright radiate with youthful enthusiasm – what a strange dichotomy for a supposedly depressive black metal album.
As the imagery of Shining and this album suggest, the music is very dark; at times even lethargic though never catatonic, at times bursting into rampages of violent anger. Kvarforth melodramatic lyrics about depression, suffering and solitude are, however, perhaps slightly overstated juxtaposed with the actual nature of the music. The atmosphere recalls Burzum at its darkest, but not at its most melancholic. It isn't sorrowful in that it would induce mournful feelings in the listener; the atmosphere is mainly isolated and hateful. It could be said to represent the solitude of one whose persona is too unnatural to warrant any true contact with other human beings. The monotonous drone of highly reverbated wall-of-soundesque richly produced black metal riffing; the riffs that are not always sorrowful, but rather anguished and insane; the atmosphere of claustrophobia – all this makes ”Within Deep Dark Chambers” a work of music rather about hate and isolation than depression itself. It's more of an adventure indeed in deep dark chambers with no way out than an excercise in tearjerking. Nor is the album anguished to the point of being distressing: it is in fact strangely calming. It's main effect is the momentary dulling of one's feelings and perhaps the standing out of apathetic ones, and a feeling of isolation from peers and the world as a whole.
Though the album is cleanly produced and sounds good, it's a primitive one. Shining use chord progressions highly typical of black metal, as well as the standard melodies to go with them. The musicianship is also raw; the beginning of ”Vita Detestabilis” shows the drummer's lack of stamina as he slightly stumbles and slows down the blast beat, and Kvarforth's vocals – as a counterpoint to Classen's more controlled screeching and the occasional impressive deeper growl – are an apparently intentional half-assed black metal vocal performance, perhaps indolent in order for Kvarforth to make an impression of being wounded and physically sick. Even the songwriting is undeveloped, again perhaps intentionally so, or maybe merely because of Kvarforth's immaturity and lack of experience at the time. The first impression, however, is one of a refined album, due to the clean drum tone and full, rich and layered guitar tones saturated with reverb, and though young and inexperienced, Kvarforth shows himself to be highly talented particularly in the riffwriting department. Though they are not original, they are often of laudably high quality.
Shining's first full-length album is a rather standard dark black metal album obviously influenced by Bethlehem's ”Dark Metal”, and is not in fact that similar to the depressive/suicidal black metal bands that are so often seen as Shining's closest peers. The stylistic choices are mostly fine, and while there is apparent inconsistency within songs, nearly each song on the album is on equal level. In some songs the filler material is more pronounced, but each song features quality moments together with those less worthy passages. It doesn't entirely hold up for intensive listening due to the even placement of lacklustre moments, but as semi-background music it's hard to beat. Some parts will catch the listener's attention and play with his emotional states, while others will simply drone on and drown out. Song titles such as ”Ren Djävla Ångest” (which literally translates to pure fucking angst) are perhaps more than not misleading, because the music is largely atmospheric, dark black metal, and not particularly angsty or agonising. There is apparent angst and hatred in the music, but not the kind to serve as a stereotype for suicidal black metal.
Although there have been some alterations to their sound, fundamentally, Shining have remained a constant, but most importantly, a consistent threat to any band who’re looking to dominate the global black metal market. This band, despite the ridiculous antics that have gone on behind the scenes, market a sustainable sound that is dark enough for some sections of the fans, and experimental enough for others. This is a product that can be, and probably is, targeted at a wide audience who listen to a range of bands, from various genres and sub-genres of metal or otherwise. Shining have a appeal that stretches far beyond the realms of black metal. Though the antics, which might have cost the band dearly, as well as a section of their usually dedicated fan base, were unprofessional and uncalled for, the band remain a force within the genre and their next instalment, ‘Klagopsalmer’, which is due out in October, I believe, is eagerly anticipated by myself and numerous others. Bands like this, and Italy’s Forgotten Tomb, have pioneered in the mainstream side of black metal a sound which is incomparable to most bands. Instead of being a follower, a sheep, Shining are the leaders, the shepherd, who watches over its flock, dictating to them what their next move should be. Shining are the innovators and bands attempt to emulate their style, not the other way around. I hate to harp on about things, but this review will focus on Kvarforth’s performance. As the leading man, who was in charge of guitars, keyboards and vocals at this stage of the bands career, his outlet is pivotal to the outcome of the record. His demonic being is poured into this record like a deadly alcoholic spirit into a shot glass which you’re about to shoot. Feel the burn coursing through your throat, down to the empty pit of your soul and you won’t even come close to the excruciating pain that has gone into manifesting this sound onto disc.
The same goes for acts like Forgotten Tomb, who’s ‘Negative Megalomania’ sent shockwaves through black metal audiences due to its unique methods and clean vocals. Bands like Holland’s Urfaust have truly innovated the scene with clean vocals, and now Forgotten Tomb are piling on the pressure, attempting to rejuvenate the scene with a facelift, of sorts, by integrating clean vocals into the chaotic black metal sideshow. Shining themselves have altered the style of vocals. Its unbelievable when you consider that the epitome of Shining, Kvarforth (whom is responsible for the nonchalant antics that have gone on behind the scenes), was only 14 when the band recorded and released its first EP. Reading up about information like this makes me feel almost lazy. Whilst I sit here and write about the music I listen to, people like Kvarforth are practising for the future of the music I adore. I feel as if I should get up, walk over to my dusty guitar, pick it up and actually learn how to play the damn thing! However, motivation has never been my strong point. Thankfully, for me at least, Kvarforth is a motivated man who likes shower his adoring fans with gifts in the form of consistent records. Its surreal when I consider that this debut, ‘Within Deep Dark Chambers’ is the product of, essentially, a 16 year old boy. Not a man, but a boy. His vocals are the epitome of a generation of black metal vocalists, some of which are probably twice his age. His performance reminds me of the Enslaved boys, who also produced their first record in their teenage years. One almost feels that it is essential that this record, perhaps the bleakest of the bunch, was recorded during the troublesome teenage years.
Why? Simply because its in those years that we humans tend to suffer the most and the cliché of teenage angst really comes across as realistic in his vocal display. Those tortured screams, coupled with his demonic laughs are essential to the records display of anarchy and misanthropy. What is even more astonishing if the fact that since the dawn of creation, Kvarforth has been Shining’s star. He has, at one time or another, controlled the bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals of the band. Simply amazing. His performance here, although not as mature or musically gifted as his performance on the last effort, ‘Halmstad’, is deeply moving and ground breaking. This is where it all began, ladies and gentlemen. Although this sound hasn’t lasted the distance, the band still manage to sound fresh, several years after its creation. The guitars are, for the most part, to thank for this. The iconic title for this record turns out to be ironic too. Why? Well, Shining’s sound is one that conjures up imagery of dark themes, forgotten landscapes where no one dare venture unless they had a death wish, or even that of the band playing this style of music, in the form of a gig or show, in a deep dark chamber, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, during a freezing winter’s night in Sweden. The record has true meaning behind it. This isn’t just some form of killing time, or creating a bunch of songs that will save you from perpetual boredom. This is an emotive piece that allows the audience to see into the destructive mind of Kvarforth. The depth and eerie presence of this record cannot go unnoticed any longer.
Within Deep Dark Chambers is cold, depressing relentlessness of a debut LP by Sweden’s Shining. If you are listening to this album, I am sure you are already aware to be taking in some “depressive” black metal by this third wave band. This record certainly has got that territory more than well covered. This is better than average previous mentioned black metal but if you are just getting into Shining, this probably isn’t the best album to start with from them because it doesn’t set the band apart enough among so many other black bands like this that you probably will give a chance to as well. I might also add that you won’t confuse this with Leviathan either. In that respect, you have balance in your options whether to buy this.
I don’t know exactly where my expectations laid when I first bought Within Deep Dark Chambers. I was hardly a Shining enthusiast but Kvarforth was pretty young when he wrote this album and I was curious to hear how proficient the album is for such a young band. I was impressed. The vocals sound very hateful and sick. Kvarforth’s guitar work is sharp and fast. Same with the drumming. But I can’t report that the songs aren’t derivative. The pace at a whole is slow and static-y. I lost count how many times I have noted about marginalization of bass guitar in many black metal albums. With that said, I think you know where I am going with the point here too. The music moves at an almost industrial-like rhythm. It doesn’t really have the ambiance that is heard from other bands with these themes of utter darkness and depression or suicide. Dark Chambers pretty much ingrains that aura into the main mix with the bitter aggression striking along.
You should also know that this album is very monotonous even by standards that are typical of this kind of black metal. If you look at it as one whole song persisting to bring you down to the pits of evil nihilism, this might very well work for you or give another variant on depressive/suicidal sounding black metal than what you heard about. Within Deep Dark Chambers is not a Shining example of their best work but it is very well done for what is expected.