Shining's Niklas Kvarforth reflects on the making of darkly cathartic 11th album
From the tortured, ornately gothic imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe to Van Gogh’s exquisitely sweeping, malady-stricken brushstrokes, there’s no denying the sizeable debt creative genius owes to such wretched, psychologically tormented states of being. And as a musician whose own notoriously debilitating creative processes have seen him incur immeasurable physical and psychological damage since founding famously disquieting black metal outfit Shining back in 1996, Niklas Kvarforth is a man all too well accustomed to suffering for his art. Fresh from unleashing the intensely visceral yet luxuriantly atmospheric tour de force that is the band’s 11th self-titled opus, its ever-intriguing creator walks us through the various problematic impediments and assorted catastrophes underpinning the making of this latest, wondrously desolate long-player.
“Every time I make an album, it's like I’m just this big cake that someone takes yet another piece out of, and before you know it, all that’s left is just a fucking plate,” explains Shining frontman Niklas Kvarforth of the debilitating, frequently torturous process of bringing his nightmarish creative visions into being. Having served as a rich, intensely cathartic outlet for exorcising the innumerable demons and psychoses he’s been steadily accumulating over the past thirty years, every album cycle and brutally energised live spectacle witnesses a vivid, all-consuming manifestation of these many and varied past traumas. And since founding now-globally renowned black metal band Shining back in 1996, it’s clear that this brilliant but notoriously tortured creator has incurred immeasurable damage both to himself and those closest to him in his continual, unrelenting efforts to sustain this monstrous, endlessly devouring entity of a musical unit. "Shining has completely destroyed my life and shattered every single relationship I have had over the years,” clarified its long-suffering creator back in August 2023. “But still, this sick child of mine means everything to me. So yes, I am willing to sacrifice everything for him and have done so on more than one occasion."
Yet, however damaging to Niklas’s ever-precarious sense of sanity and general well-being, there’s equally no doubt that, in surrendering himself utterly to these unspeakably harrowing, ink-black energies, he’s also been capable of forging some of the finest dark art the extreme metal world has ever witnessed. And with its genre-obliterating wealth of intensely visceral, knife-edged tremolo, ghoulishly malevolent atmospheres and sumptuous array of elegantly flourishing instrumentation, 2018 masterwork ‘Varg Utan Flock - X’ formed a jaw-dropping testament to Kvarforth’s staggeringly brilliant compositional powers. But with the years that followed bringing with them a string of unprecedented events numbering the devastating arrival of COVID-19 and a harrowing bout of homelessness endured in the deepest throes of Finnish midwinter, it’s hardly surprising to note that any subsequent creative activity would grind rapidly to a sudden and brutally abrupt halt.
“It took a long time since the last album,” the frontman recalls of this life-altering, exceptionally traumatic period. “But there were circumstances and it was really weird actually, because the last show I did before the epidemic was… we started first in Ukraine, then I played with Behemoth on their tour with Slipknot, so I performed with them and then two days after that show they [the Finnish government] did a complete close-down of everything. This whole thing lasted almost two years, no bars, no nothing. They took it very seriously, and can you imagine a whole nation of fucking alcoholics being left to handle that? I think they definitely needed to count up the suicide statistics after that!”
“And of course, around the same time, I became homeless within that first part of the year, shortly after everything closed down. There was snow everywhere and obviously no hotels and, as you know, I'm a very angry young man who can’t really make friends, but I had a guy that I work with who is also now a member of Shining and he was the one who basically saved me because they have this…what the fuck do you call it? You find apartments that they rent out for, like, one week here and there. So in this fucking snowstorm, he had to help me move everything from apartment to apartment to apartment to apartment. So at that particular moment in time, it was impossible to create anything because when you finally hit rock bottom, you’re at the fucking bottom, but then I eventually started writing the new album. Funny thing was, I was with this friend who called me and he basically said, ‘Oh, so it's a new Shining album coming?’ and I said ‘I don't know,’ because at that point I had no guitar, no nothing, but then he just gave me an acoustic guitar and said ‘Fuck it. You make an album, then’. And I did.”
With the writing process wrapped up in the space of a mere two and a half days of relentlessly industrious creative activity, the expansive array of vicious, ghoulishly malevolent material that followed was unsurprisingly awash with all the pitch-black malice and existential strife that had figured so prominently in this most recent, intensely turbulent chapter of Niklas’s life. “After that, I was completely drowned by all of those energies,” he affirms of this exceptionally productive yet inevitably exhausting process.
Comprising the first track to be publicly aired ahead of the album’s official release last month, ‘Allt För Döden’ comprised a superb, darkly electrifying introduction to this tremendously anticipated body of work. And with its frantically careening episodes of manic, brutally hammering aggression, frost-stricken fretwork and black-hearted host of atmospheric elements, this morbidly entrancing slab vividly evokes all the primal, undiluted hostility and grave-scented atmosphere we’ve come to expect from this inimitably bleak and brutal musical entity. Paired with a music video whose blood-drenched acts of wanton depravity and violence add a further layer of intensely gratuitous, cinematic horror to this morbidly engrossing epic, it’s hard to imagine a more instantly arresting point of entry into 11th self-titled opus, ‘Shining’.
Niklas elaborates: “With this album, it's basically like introducing a new band, but of course when you listen to the new material alongside the old songs you can definitely hear that it’s Shining, with all the usual bits like the ‘Oos!’ and the ‘Sa-sa-sas’. Anyway, I was sitting with the band and we were discussing what we should release as our first single, and we decided on that song [‘Allt För Döden’] and the opening song, which would then be released as the second single. The two songs that sound more like old Shining than anything else on that entire record. And I wanted those people to say, ‘Oh, they can't even make anything new, everything is just exactly the same’, so that when they hear the other stuff, I’m hoping that they will probably feel very bad about themselves, so it was kind of premeditated that way.”
“Then again, I don't know,” the composer considers. “After 30 years of doing this stuff, it’s kind of hard not to copy yourself to a certain degree. And personally, I think I actually like when I hear people say that ‘Fuck…it sounds like Shining. You can immediately hear like, references to this and that’. Sometimes I wonder why Darkthrone didn’t do the same. I genuinely wanted to hear another ‘Under a Funeral Moon’. I don't want to hear anything else from those guys.”
As well as comprising a strikingly accomplished feat that simultaneously cements and progresses the band’s inimitable blend of searing, second wave aggression and morbidly immersive atmosphere, this vicious yet elegantly nuanced long-player also sees its visionary creator delving into increasingly complex and deeply introspective thematic territories. Centred on Niklas’s lifelong fascination with death together with an innate hatred of humankind that’s only been further solidified by an ever-expanding catalogue of deeply traumatic life experiences, these morbid, intensely misanthropic instincts continue supply its creator with an endlessly inspiring wealth of wondrously desolate inspiration.
“It’s pretty hard to explain, but I've been surrounded by death my whole life,” the frontman explains with a level of coolly detached nonchalance that leaves us in no doubt of the frank and open authenticity of this statement. “And I was a curious little sonofabitch when I was young, so I started to get more and more of an interest in death and that curiosity eventually started growing into a fascination, then admiration and finally worship. But until now, I don’t think that aspect of death as a spiritual medium and everything in that vein has been very well represented by me before. I’ve only really like, touched upon the subject in previous records. And I think it was important to do something new this time around. I mean, I wrote the album in something like two and a half, possibly three, days. The lyrics I actually wrote while I was recording the album and, I don't know how to put this in a politically correct way, but I really don't like people, mostly because whatever I do and the nicer I am to people, the harder is the backlash. I have this habit of getting inspired by visual things, including just observing the human race from a distance, because the closer I get, the more shit it inevitably becomes.”
‘Shining’ is out now via Napalm Records