Shining play darkly emotional black metal, replete with a variety of other influences peppered around here and there, such as progressive rock, post-metal, and jazz. These additional elements in Shining’s sound mean that this isn’t a typical black metal release, as it has a wider reach and ambition than most.
The songs are well-written and are essentially comprised of a hybrid form of black metal that takes from the aforementioned non-black metal styles, as well as from many of the black metal sub-genres. Atmospheric, depressive, second-wave, progressive, and post-black metal elements can all be heard in Shining’s rich and textured sound, and there’s even touches of thrash and crust in some of the riffs here and there.
I like a good guitar solo, and X – Varg Utan Flock is awash with them. As a natural extension of this, there’s also an abundance of leads, riffs, grooves, and blackened swagger that all have their places, and all sound really pretty damn good, all things considered.
The music is frequently more than one thing at any given point, regularly being broken up by an atmospheric piece of music, or a furious blast beat section, or an acoustic interlude, or a thick, grooving riff, or a progressive exploration of some sort…basically, Shining don’t usually stay doing one thing for too long, and although this could have potentially made for an unfocused, disjointed album, in the hands of the mastermind behind Shining, this is firmly not the case here. X – Varg Utan Flock is well-constructed, well-executed, and well-delivered. It’s also hideously enjoyable and compelling.
There’s a varied vocal delivery on this album, with everything from anguished screams, to spoken word, to soft crooning finding a home amidst the blackened music at one point or another. The singer’s performance and personality is a definite focal point of the songs, despite how attention-grabbing the music itself actually is too, which says something about his strength of presence.
The production is well-judged and appropriate to the music; it’s not overproduced or shining, (ahem), but neither is it overly raw or weak. X – Varg Utan Flock hits the correct balance between sonic might and blackened aesthetics, allowing the music to do its thing unhindered and unrestricted.
X – Varg Utan Flock is a ridiculously strong album, and definitely among the best that this veteran band have produced.