'VI: Klagopsalmer' - Shining (9/10)
2007's 'V: Halmstad' was a landmark album for the Swedish 'suicidal black metal' act Shining. To date, it was their boldest departure from the raw black metal sound the band first played. As many bands do when following up a defining record, Shining builds upon the ideas and sound of 'Halmstad' with their sixth album, 'VI: Klagopsalmer'. Although not quite as warmly received as the modern classic 'Halmstad' by many, 'Klagopsalmer' further refines the sound of Shining, tuning out some of the excesses that their fifth album was rife with. 'Klagopsalmer' is not as much of a jump for Shining, but musically speaking, it may be their most underrated and tasteful record to date.
Without a doubt, 'Klagopsomer' seems to suffer from the younger child syndrome. In retrospect, it is seen as something of an extension of what Shining struck home with on 'Halmstad'. To a degree, this is true, but 'Klagopsalmer' takes the Opethian light/heavy dynamic they were working with and makes it more melodic, and more subdued, rather than the progressive onslaught that largely defined its predecessor. Several listens into 'VI', I was surprised that I was actually enjoying it more than 'V', seeing as Shining's classic had long been one of my favourite black metal records. On its own, 'VI: Klagopsalmer' is a beautiful work that sparks comparisons of some of my other favourite metal artists, including Opeth, Katatonia, and Blut Aus Nord.
For those who have not heard the band before, Shining has a unique sound of their own; one that is rooted in black metal, but strikes with a beefier guitar tone and vocal delivery. At this point in Shining's musical development, they have become very good at incorporating beautiful melodies into the guitars. Shining is also distinct for their use of some incredibly soft and tender passages. Contrary to the acoustic worship that Opeth employs, Shining will more often take to the piano and cello, as is best demonstrated on the album's epic final track, 'Total Utfrysning'. Anyone who can read Swedish will know by this point that while Shining's music can be sweet and soft at times, their lyrical themes rarely stray out of the darkness. In short, Shining are not called a suicidal black metal band for nothing, and even sparing the band's twisted and controversial history, the music here can feel incredibly dark.
Shining's grasp of atmosphere on 'VI: Klagopsalmer' is impeccable. They are able to pull off soft and heavy sections incredibly here, while on 'Halmstad,' I felt that their strength lay largely in the lighter passages. One of the most noticeable improvements here is the vocal performance of Niklas 'Kvarforth' Olsson. On the previous album, it was clear that he had a hell of a voice when it came to screams, but his distinctive delivery was often taken far overboard, often to the point where I would show friends the band, and they would smirk whenever it came time for Kvarforth to belt out. Kvarforth has a slightly more black metal approach to his vocals here, while maintaining his unique vocal style. The compromise has led to a more listenable performance.
'VI: Klagopsalmer' may be doomed to slumber underneath the shadow of 'V: Halmstad', but for me, this may be the best thing to ever come out of Kvarforth's head. The music is intense, but not so much that it becomes a mockery of itself. The overwhelming negativity of past releases gives way- albeit only slightly- to more conventionally melancholic sounds. Make no mistake though, this is still a very dark, disturbing brand of metal that should only be experienced and appreciated by those mature enough to handle the emotions, and don't be surprised if the sky outside looks a little grayer than usual.