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  • Review by Faye Coulman



As a famously troubled personality who’s long been famed for grisly acts of self-mutilation, violence and inflammatory behaviour, few musicians could be better equipped to shed some exploratory light on black metal’s self-destructive tendencies than infamous Shining frontman Niklas Kvarforth. From his life-altering exposure to the genre at the tender age of twelve to the emotionally draining making of forthcoming opus ‘X - Varg Utan Flock’, the ever-controversial musician explains the curious and frequently terrifying nature of his creative instincts.

“What was the question, sorry? This really doesn’t interest me,” comes Niklas Kvarforth’s distinctly nonplussed reaction when quizzed about black metal’s habitually dark and self-destructive tendencies. His voice audibly rough with sleep deprivation, the weary and somewhat jaded form in which Dark Matter finds the Shining frontman this evening marks a striking departure from the notoriously volatile public persona that has dominated stages and headlines for the better part of the past two decades. But alongside this detached indifference fast emerges the unmistakable passion of a musician profoundly invested in his craft.

“I started this when I was about twelve and back then black metal was a completely different thing from what it is now,” he resumes. “I tried to find the darkest thing possible and that wasn’t easy because the internet wasn’t around and every record you got you had to buy or steal or whatever because there wasn’t 200 or 300 new releases called black metal, maybe just two. Then the whole movement kind of exploded and all went too far and I’m just glad I came into it at a point when it was possible to see it upfront for what it truly was, you know? Then again, back then the only self-destructive aspect of it was Dead from Mayhem cutting himself up on stage, so I don’t know really. It’s a subculture that attracts persons with low self-esteem that equally breeds into the whole self-destructive way of living.”

Despite having initially entered a movement then still in its raw and embryonic infancy, the vocalist equally seems quick to acknowledge the darkness inherent in this unique culture of extremities and the curious magnetism attached to it. Born into a life blighted by the dual horrors of severe mental illness and childhood trauma, a then-adolescent Kvarforth found himself instinctively gravitating to black metal’s cold, lawless embrace as an existence forged in chaos and criminality began to unfold. As highlighted in his unflinchingly frank and open account of these formative struggles in Claudio Marino’s recently released documentary, ‘Cold Void’, Niklas has himself admitted to an oftentimes “unbearable” state of being. But as damaging as this tortured psychology may have proved in every conceivable aspect of the musician’s life, it is this very same existential pain that paradoxically fuels and sustains his thus-far prolific creative output. An indisputable and unavoidable truth that was most particularly underlined by the creative block Kvarforth suffered after taking a course of therapeutic medication for his manic depression and schizophrenia.

“Obviously, yes,” he assents after a moment’s hesitation. “When you’re referring to what I said about medicine, particularly heavy medication, you tend to lose every connection with your emotional self but, of course my expression is lately like a magnifying glass for everything that I’m feeling. That is just like an ordinary expression of me and it’s almost like a fucking diary from one album and the next. You take these harsh realities and push them in the face of people and they get…” he pauses in contemplation for a moment. “Impressed is the wrong word. No, seduced by self-destruction and by darkness and eventually it comes to swallow them too. It’s a hard question to answer but lately I’ve come to realise that the positive sides are there too, and they have to be there in Shining as well, otherwise it would be unbearable. No person would be able to live through such extremes of negativity. I do this for the love of trying to abuse other people, to hurt other people with my art and if it wasn’t for the genuine love of it I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, so that is one of the positives, but at the end of the day it’s hard to explain. The feeling that I can cause distress through my art is a beautiful thing, a genuine passionate love.”

Indeed it would appear that these simultaneously inspiring and debilitating energies have only deepened and intensified with the completion and now-imminent release of ‘X - Varg Utan Flock’. With its trademark polarities of visceral, nerve-shredding aggression and crushing melancholia having been amplified to fresh heights of raw feeling, this latest album was conceived during a period of intense anger and isolation that saw the alienation of fellow bandmates and family alike.

Niklas elaborates, “I left Sweden basically in exile and I was carrying around this immense fucking anger in my personal life that I took with me to various different places in Europe and I just started to write things, I’ve never done that before. It was weird and for once it kind of worked in some kind of therapeutic sense, which is odd but the fucking baggage needed to come out, like getting a bit of weight off my shoulders. A lot of times in the past when I’ve done something it’s cost me a lot on a personal level, basically beating myself up or reshaping my so-called future and I have no family left at the end of it all, but that’s the cost. So it was kind of a violent period and there was a lot of anger that came out this time around which was possibly lacking in Shining in the past couple of albums. Shining’s like a fungus, growing out of all this negativity.”

But for all this crushing negativity and the resulting emotional fallout incurred, there’s no mistaking the raw authenticity of feeling that underlines this release. And the cost of surrendering oneself to such uncompromisingly dark creative energies is one that Niklas is all too familiar with. On the indisputable role suffering plays in spawning great and notorious works of art, he concludes,“You have to take every art form and you have to take it from yourself and harness yourself in order to create something truly frightening or something that could have the power to stick with the listener and if you don’t sacrifice your whole self, you’re never going to reach those kind of heights.”

X - Varg Utan Flock’ is out 5th January on Season of Mist For more on Shining, visit:

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