Being a big fan of SHINING's gloomy brand of soul-crushing depressive Black Metal, my expectations for this release were quite high when it was announced as "darker than anything the band had ever done". That was last spring, but after several delays and a rather silly affair which included frontman Kvarforth's simulated suicide, my respect for the band sunk significantly, and the aforementioned expectations as well. Still, when I first got my hands on the album, I have to admit that I was giddy like a schoolgirl during spring break. Well, maybe not quite like a schoolgirl, but I was still excited to see if they could surpass 2005's dark masterpiece "IV - The Eerie Cold".
My initial thoughts on "V – Halmstad" were very positive, and it undoubtedly contains some of SHINING's best work yet. The album shows a natural progression from the somewhat experimental "IV - The Eerie Cold", and implements even more solos and sombre interludes than its predecessor. The album production is the best I've heard from any depressive Black Metal band to date, and unlike the never-ending stream of inaudible DARKTHRONE-clones, every instrument on Halmstad can be heard distinctively and clear. It also helps that the musicianship here is far better than anything previously heard from SHINING, featuring even the odd piano-piece to bring it all together nicely.
My only real complaint about the album is that the vocals sometimes transcends into what can only be described as angry shouting, which in my opinion doesn't go well with the otherwise mellow music. It's not a prominent enough feature to really ruin the atmosphere though, and grows on you upon each and every listen. The lyrics are all in Swedish as usual, encompassing themes like suicide, hatred, and a whole lot of angst.
Album highlights include the fantastic "Låt Oss Ta Allt Från Varandra" ("Let's Take Everything Apart"), the heart-wrenchingly beautiful introduction of "Längtar Bort Från Mitt Hjärta" ("Longing Away From My Heart") and the album closer "Neka Morgondagen" ("Deny Tomorrow"), which both fits in nicely alongside previous masterpieces like "The Claws Of Perdition" and "Ett Liv Utan Mening". SHINING are one of the few Black Metal bands who manage to create innovating and original music while still refraining from making any compromises, which is what makes them stand out from the host of BURZUM-wannabes and radio-friendly Black Metal ensembles out there. With "V - Halmstad", they not only have created the best album of 2007, but also raised the standard of depressive Black Metal, which is a quickly growing scene they have proven to be in the very lead of.
(Online December 27, 2007)