Sweden's black metal edgelords Shining have always been their own beast. Whether it was faking their own singer's death in 2006 or Niklas Kvarforth's insistence that he wants to "force-feed" listeners "self-destructive and suicidal imagery," it is clear Shining are aiming for a spot on the Disney channel.
Given that, it may come as a surprise just how listenable X – Varg Utan Flock is. The band's tenth album, presented almost entirely in Swedish (the title translates as "wolf without a pack"), is unmistakably black metal, but of an earlier time, when bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory reigned supreme and the genre had not become as standardized as it is today.
Kvarforth still howls and choke-whispers like a tormented ghost, but the music continuously goes to unexpected places, particularly a clean interlude in "Svart Ostoppbar Eld" that sounds more like Rammstein then anything black metal. There's even an acoustic guitar solo in "Gyllene Portarnas Bro." The mix reaches its zenith on "Mot Aokigahara," a nine-minute epic containing everything from shoegaze to spoken word to old-school black metal.
X – Varag Utan Flock is a rare album that can appeal to black metal's infamous fan base and new listeners alike. It remains true to the black metal creed, with songs over seven minutes long, and mixes just enough new and old ideas to sound fresh without being derivative. Between Enslaved's E and X – Varg Utan Flock, it is clear black metal is in good (evil?) hands as we enter 2018. (Season of Mist)