Shining’s self-titled eleventh masterpiece unleashed its lethal brilliance on September 15, 2023. Not only has Shining proved the best album of 2023 for me, along with Høstsol’s sublime Länge Leve Döden, but I consider it to be one of the greatest records of all time. Due to its unsurpassed quality, there hasn’t been a day since its release when I haven’t listened to the eleventh. Shining contains so much artistic truth that it has caused me unfathomable pain. This triumph is the perfect “love letter to death.”

This record is a, now former, black metal columnist’s nightmare — it prevented me from doing my work and made almost all else seem weak in comparison. Could I really listen to Niklas Kvarforth, Shining’s lone mastermind, and then claim that the other artists I had been listening to were doing their best? It’s quite a bizarre experience to spend so much time on a single genre and then have one luminary shatter your illusions. The eleventh should furthermore obliterate one’s hopes and dreams. Thank you, Mr. Kvarforth, for killing me with your“purposive brutality and unhealthy dosage of truth.” Your words have awakened me from my cognitive slumber: “It’s about time that you realize that nothing for which you have fought… is anything but equally pointless…”

Shining is a weapon that has the potential to totally destroy lives and also inspire psychopaths. If you just open your heart to its divine gifts, Shining will encourage you to become an even worse person, hopefully adding new accomplishments to your criminal record. The eleventh, in all of its transcendent glory, feels more potent and exhilarating than any drug. Its black magic never loses a gram of its blissfully murderous effect. As his fans are conditioned to expect, Kvarforth brings all of his hatred of the worthless human race to this miraculous offering. The bestial aspects of Shining are complemented by Kvarforth’s great finesse. Yes, this master possesses a natural abundance of grace, refinement, and sophistication. Shining ultimately proves an infuriatingly sexy opus, as devastatingly gorgeous as it is merciless — though it does offer liberation by illuminating the one and only solution, the tranquility attained by electing permanent sleep.

Kvarforth’s level of commitment to his craft and the darkness, which are essentially the same, is second to none. Kvarforth has truly sacrificed everything for his work, making him the noblest of artists. Thus, Shining bears infinitely more meaning and weight than releases by other musicians. The album’s first single, “Allt För Döden,” is clearly emblematic of Kvarforth’s constant struggle. Kvarforth delivers “Allt För Döden” in an especially deep voice. His cadence is remarkable. The Swedish lyrics flow beautifully and affect the listener with the indescribable power of all-consuming flames. Yes, on the eleventh, Kvarforth’s poetry is crushingly honest and utterly phenomenal. Therefore, we recommend securing your copy of the expanded sixth edition of Kvarforth’s book of collected lyrics, When Prozac No Longer Helps.

Even to say that Kvarforth’s vocal performance on the album is godlike, seems a bit of an insult. All words become trite in the face of true genius. Throughout Shining Kvarforth demonstrates incredible versatility and Satan-sent charisma. A man of many voices that rouse a million different overpowering feelings, Kvarforth’s nuanced clean and harsh vocals could put any thespian to shame. In addition, Kvarforth also plays piano on the eleventh. This helps magnify the album’s cinematic allure and summons wistful longing. Kvarforth’s ability to seamlessly blend different styles — classical, blues, jazz, rock, heavy metal, etc. — stems from his total creative freedom and limitlessness. Shining will always be a pioneering black metal outfit, but their music, universally relevant as death itself, cannot be pigeonholed.

On Shining, Kvarforth is joined by a top-notch all-star lineup: the band’s longtime guitarist, Peter Huss; Mayhem’s Charles Hedger, also on guitars; ex-Necrophobic’s Alex Friberg on bass; and Cold Prophet’s ingenious Tuomas Tahvanainen on synths. King Diamond’s Andy La Rocque, furthermore, provides a couple of amazing guest guitar solos. La Rocque brilliantly produced, mixed, and mastered the album. All of the legendary men involved in the eleventh deserve much praise. However, misunderstandings have arisen because Kvarforth can be too generous with his words — he basically composes everything for Shining. He wrote all of the eleventh by himself, except “Åttahundratjugo,” a gripping little Erik Satie cover; La Rocque’s aforementioned leads on the electrifying “Fidelis Ad Mortem”; and Tahvanainen’s unsettling intro for “Avsändare Okänd,” the record’s second single. The eleventh’s six jaw-dropping compositions are wonderfully volatile — each one offers dreadfully captivating surprises. All transitions are seamlessly and artfully executed. Kvarforth strikes the ideal balance between form and chaos.

Due to Kvarforth’s supremacy as a songwriter, the guitars are absolutely magnificent on the eleventh. They explode with paradisal beauty and, of course, intensify the unshakably haunting atmospheres. Although they often soar, they also take listeners to glorious new lows. The dazzling solos are always orgasmic but never seem onanistic, meaning they serve the compositions as a whole. The entrancing acoustic parts contribute to making the eleventh one giant overdose. The bass on Shining is also breathtaking. By contrast, the majority of black metal bands make rather unmemorable use of the bass because they lack Shining’s artistry. On the eleventh, Shining has achieved what seems to me to be the most pleasant extreme metal drum sound. Barker admirably fulfills Kvarforth’s vision with his superb technique.

Although the eleventh is different from any other Shining record, it fully encapsulates the essence of the band’s now decades-long career. My one complaint is that the album ends on what sounds like a last breath. Given my appreciation for Kvarforth, I really don’t find this amusing. “Fidelis Ad Mortem,”with its chanted vocals, likewise always makes me fear for the well-being of the father of suicidal black metal. Unfortunately, Shining has gone through an impossibly difficult period, but Kvarforth has only confirmed that he has the strength of Job. The phoenix will, of course, emerge stronger than ever. Verily, it is the art and the artists that prevail. As always, “Allt För Kvarforth” and woe to those who have tried to block his path.

Rating: 666/5

(Order Shining’s Shining here.)