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Instrumental-clean - 87%

Verd, November 8th, 2012

Clean vocals and instrumental parts: the two main characteristics I saw on Shining's eighth full-length, Redefining Darkness. Following founder Niklas Kvarforth's personal evolution as a musician and a composer, this album is another step along the road started by Shining's fifth masterpiece, V - Halmstad, moving more and more away from their standard and, to me, quite uninspired suicidal/depressive black metal of the first releases (in which Kvarforth was only a teenager, let's keep this in mind) in order to reach a new, personal and always-changing black metal/rock sound with many influences, mainly atmospherical, melodical, slow and acoustic ones.

The best song of Redefining Darkness, "The Ghastly Silence", confirms what I have just said: it contains two truly amazing saxophone solos by Andreas Huss, the first one coming after a fast black metal part under Kvarforth's harsh vocals and giving to the song a strange, calm atmosphere. Christian Larsson's bass section is great as always, but Huss' saxophone is quite a surprising and enjoyable feature. So, we have a slow, clean, spoken part followed by another rather innovative feature in Shining's discography, that is a recurring, catchy refrain sung with clean vocals. And we are fortunately allowed to hear the second saxophone solo!

Coming to the other five songs, we have to acknowledge that Shining keep on following their own trademark choice started in 2002 even here: every album contains six songs, of which five are electric and one always acoustic. The bad thing is that, in my opinion, the acoustic one, in every Shining record, is pretty much irrelevant, something like a filler out of place. "Det stora grå" is no exception: a rather short, fully acoustic and definitely useless track played by the 63-years-old Finnish pianist Olli Ahvenlahti.

Another feature that I didn't like that much is that, unlike many previous albums which were sung entirely in Swedish, Redefining Darkness features no less than three songs in English out of five, and I prefer much more Kvarforth to sing in his native Swedish, even because in this record there are many parts sung with clean vocals. Anyways, of the two Swedish tracks the opener "Du, mitt konstverk" is the most predictable one, recalling the style Shining showed on the two previous albums: it starts with a fast black metal instrumental part, then Kvarforth's harsh vocals kick in. As always, Kvarforth manages to give an astonishing performance since his vocals change according to the various situations and tempos of the tracks, shifting from "angry" screams to "soft" vocals until the usual clean vocal part over an acoustic guitar pattern soon joined by the drums (a quite recurrent late Shining scheme!), preceded by a great guitar solo.

The other Swedish song recalls another time the heavy guitar riffs that can be heard in older songs like the 2011 single "Förtvivlan, min arvedel", although even here we have another astonishing guitar solo at the beginning and one at the end, after the usual acoustic break. Kvarforth's vocal interpretation is always great, and so is the instrumental section, even if these two Swedish songs sounds a little bit repetitious if one is accustomed to the last two Shining albums, VI - Klagopsalmer and VII: Född förlorare, in which one will find tracks quite similar to these two.

Fortunately on the sixth track, "For the God Below", which happens to be the longest of the album, we can hear some new elements in Shining's proposal. Kvarforth's vocal interpretation follows the lyrics, dealing with dark and evil themes in an imaginary dialogue with some kind of god. An acoustic intro is followed by an electric, heavy part and Kvarforth's clean vocals in a rather new "melodical" way. Shining keeps on playing with breaks between slow acoustic and electric parts, and we can also hear a long guitar solo over a double bass drum pattern, which takes us to the end of the track after another long, acoustic passage.

The only track I left behind is the fourth one, "Hail Darkness Hail", and it's another time a fast black metal track - this time featuring background keyboards that give a symphonic touch to the song - but only since the point in which it gets acoustic, also featuring a strange Spanish spoken part; the second half of the song is, in fact, a rather catchy and melodical track dominated by Kvarforth's clean vocals and a solo acoustic guitar.

The new Shining's strength is, to me, represented mainly by two things. The first one is the great importance given to the instrumental aspects of the tracks: Shining has some truly awesome musicians, above all Peter Huss, one of my favourite guitar players of the last decade (go and see him play live!), and also employs many guest musicians: guitarists (on this album we have Andy LaRocque from King Diamond and Rob Caggiano from Anthrax), pianists, saxophonists, other singers and so on, and Kvarforth, being a brilliant composer, manages to put them in the right places, letting them play in many minutes in every single song. And the second thing is, indeed, Kvarforth's astonishing evolution as a composer and a musicians, being able to incorporate in his personal style (and with the help of the other Shining musicians while writing the actual tracks) elements of many different genres, thus evolving the sound of the band album after album. And this is a characteristic that is quite difficult to find, not only when it comes to black metal. It is not, of course, always a good thing to continuously evolve your own band's sound, but in this case I could safely say that Shining is on the right way in order not to become monotonous and repetitive like hundreds of other "historical" bands. In other words, we can be sure that every new Shining album will be some kind of surprise.

The lyrics are good as ever, and on Refining Darkness we can read themes related to darkness and negativity. I saw on the first track a subtle Lifelover influence (the Shining line "allt som är vackert blir nu fult", meaning "everything which is beautiful is now becoming ugly", reminded to me Lifelover's "Stockholm" line: "är det vackert eller avskyvärt?", that is "is it beautiful or destestable?"); I see in this track some kind of praise to inspiration and creativity, in a sadistic (and Lifelovery) way. "The Ghastly Silence" deals with phobias and psychological fears, another touching and well-written lyrics. Even the other songs speak about darkness, sadism and violence, evil and, on the other hand of hatred towards humanity, hatred towards oneself - everything in a quite personal way: I truly enjoyed reading them as I listened to the related songs.

Shining's Redefining Darkness is without any doubt a complex record, greatly written and greatly played, catchy and "repetitive", soft and heavy at the same time. It's full of contrasts and variety, and it will surely make suicidal/depressive black metal purists angry and probably disappointed, but Redefining Darkness (and the whole Shining world of the latest albums) is by no means (only) suicidal/depressive black metal, since it has included many influences and many different genres, thus stepping definitely out of rigid definitions. To fully enjoy this album one will need to open his mind to musical contaminations, and I can swear that when it comes to Shining it's always the best thing to do.