Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shining - Livets Ändhållplats (2001)

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.

This band is a good example of what one can accomplish with the right hype and image. The brainchild of Niklas Kvarforth is rather popular within certain parts of the Black Metal underground, despite not having so much to do with it. While the band's debut album, Within Deep Dark Chambers, contained all of the generic prerequisites of the sub-genre, the follow-up is something a bit different. Though the 2001 album, Livets Ändhållplats, bears the image and some of the trappings of Black Metal, it would better be described as Dark Metal, in the vein of early Bethlehem, though not nearly as effective.

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). Sometimes, he attempts tormented shrieks reminiscent of Landfermann's work on Dictius Te Necare, but not as extreme. The guitar tone is distant and fuzzy, but non-threatening. 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.

The songwriting for this album is deceptively simplistic. While possessing some more extreme aesthetics and musical elements, at its core this is very easily digestible music for a mass audience. This, in itself, goes against what Black Metal had become by this point. There are still the harsh and tormented vocals and moody tremolo melodies, here and there; however, the main rhythms are rather Rock-oriented and take more influence from the likes of The Cure or mid-period Katatonia than from Darkthrone or Mayhem. Listening to "Ännu Ett Steg Närmare Total Utfrysning", one is first drawn to the throbbing bass lines and the very boring drumwork, as well as the soft keyboards in the background. While this may seem shocking to those uninitiated into Black Metal, anyone with even a rudimentary experience will be able to sense how soft and tame this is. That said, the atmosphere is dark at times and it will certainly drag one's mood down if already somewhat melancholy. However, the successor to the likes of Strid this is not. One might even suggest that, substituting the harsh vocals for some melodic female singing, and this would not even be considered remotely Black Metal.

The production is pretty clear, more than not, especially when compared to the band's so-called peers in the underground. The main guitars are distorted but not so much as to really create a raw feeling. The bass and drums come through, very well, almost too much. That is, if they were not so key to the overall compositions. The acoustic bits are loud and kind of high in the mix, never getting lost or forgotten. The vocals are painfully clear, when perhaps they would benefit from a slight bit more obscurity. The whole album would sound a little better if the sound was dirtier and more pure, but then again the songwriting does not really warrant such an approach.

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. This is safe and kid-friendly stuff for beginners or girls that are sad because their favourite brand of eyeliner was discontinued. There is no true darkness here.