A CROSS TO BEAR

Nik­las Kvar­forth’s on­go­ing bat­tle with men­tal health is­sues has fu­elled one of the most tur­bu­lent yet en­tranc­ing jour­neys in the ex­treme metal scene. Has his 10th al­bum seen him turn a cor­ner?

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Subterrane­a - WORD: DOM LAW­SON

“I GET TIRED OF THE SAME QUES­TION COM­ING UP ALL THE TIME. ‘WHY HAVEN’T YOU KILLED YOUR­SELF?’ EVER SINCE THE BE­GIN­NING. I JUST SAY, ‘OK, IF I KILL MY­SELF, ARE YOU GO­ING TO TAKE OVER? ARE YOU GO­ING TO DO A BET­TER JOB? I HARDLY THINK SO, BITCH.’” “This is the first time i’ve com­bined ex­treme anger with a real sad­ness”

NIK­LAS KVAR­FORTH IM­PROVES UPON HIS WRATHFUL RECIPE

In fair­ness to the large num­bers of in­quis­i­tive hacks who have probed Shin­ing’s Nik­las Kvar­forth over the years, the Swede re­ally has brought this prob­lem upon him­self. For the last 21 years, his band have ad­min­is­tered the metal un­der­ground with reg­u­lar, jolt­ing doses of much-needed danger, volatil­ity and fury, as Nik­las’s own strug­gles with schizophre­nia, bipo­lar dis­or­der and a self-de­struc­tive streak a mile wide have pro­vided an of­ten dis­turb­ing but al­ways be­liev­able back­drop of chaos and cliff’s-edge ten­sion.

In essence, the story of Shin­ing has al­ways been the story of one man’s in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal con­flicts. But de­spite that con­stant bear­ing of his soul, the re­cent re­lease of film­maker Clau­dio Marino’s Cold Void doc­u­men­tary has shone a light into Nik­las’s psy­che like never be­fore. An art­ful but in­sight­ful one­man con­ver­sa­tion about deal­ing with long-term men­tal ill­ness and its im­pact on the cre­ative process, it seems a re­mark­ably per­sonal and, dare it be said, so­cially help­ful thing for some­one so no­to­ri­ously scorn­ful of the hu­man race to do. Co­in­cid­ing with the re­lease of the new Shin­ing al­bum, X: Varg Utan Flock, which is man­i­festly their strong­est al­bum in many years, the doc­u­men­tary sug­gests that a more thought­ful Nik­las Kvar­forth is steadily emerg­ing from the may­hem of the past.

“Well, I was ex­tremely fuck­ing scep­ti­cal about do­ing this in the be­gin­ning, be­cause we’ve been work­ing on our own Shin­ing doc­u­men­tary for the last seven or eight years, so to have some­one else make a doc­u­men­tary right now would be like throw­ing away years of work,” he states.

“But that wasn’t Clau­dio’s in­ten­tion. He was more in­ter­ested in how it is to be an artist and work with these men­tal con­di­tions, how that forms you and the com­pli­ca­tions you have to un­dergo to be able to sur­vive in a world where you have to so­cialise with peo­ple and do things that de­mand a lot, maybe too much, from peo­ple with my di­ag­no­sis.”

If it was any­one else say­ing this, po­lite ap­plause would tra­di­tion­ally fol­low. But Nik­las has of­ten pro­claimed that Shin­ing ex­ists “as a weapon” against mankind, whereby the lis­tener is as­sailed with a bliz­zard of sui­ci­dal thoughts and feel­ings: the end re­sult be­ing that that de­sire to leave this mor­tal realm will be trans­ferred to the au­di­ence. Some­how a poignant doc­u­men­tary about sur­viv­ing a men­tal health con­di­tion seems slightly at odds with his trade­mark mis­an­thropy. Not en­tirely sur­pris­ingly, Nik­las has thought the whole thing through.

“I just thought that be­cause of the way the con­tem­po­rary world is, where peo­ple are ba­si­cally sit­ting on the in­ter­net and hav­ing opin­ions about ev­ery­thing and, in some dis­gust­ing way, hav­ing the ten­dency to spread those opin­ions, it would be good to tell the truth. Maybe if we did it in a way where I talked about child­hood and dis­eases and the sys­tem, how it works with pa­tients like me, I thought that would be a pretty good thing. I hon­estly don’t give a fuck if peo­ple doubt what Shin­ing is all about, but at the end of the day this might ex­plain a few things and hope­fully get peo­ple to delve deeper into the sub­ject…” He pauses for a full five sec­onds.

“…and hope­fully fuck them­selves up in the end, too.”

You won’t find many ma­jor fig­ures in the metal un­der­ground re­peat­edly avow­ing that their main cre­ative aim is to bully other peo­ple into the grave, but then at least Nik­las has been the­mat­i­cally con­sis­tent over the years. Mu­si­cally, too, Shin­ing have ploughed a sin­gu­lar fur­row, osten­si­bly rooted in black metal but by no means lim­ited by it, but X: Varg Utan Flock emits a pal­pa­bly dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere than any pre­vi­ous al­bum. From the ex­plo­sive open­ing mo­ments of Svart Ostopp­bar Eld, it’s a re­mark­ably fo­cused and weirdly ac­ces­si­ble col­lec­tion of pitch­black di­a­tribes and mourn­ful ele­gies, all de­liv­ered – one no­table line aside, of which more later – in the Swede’s na­tive tongue and with vit­riol and de­spair drip­ping from ev­ery syl­la­ble. Wildly, un­nerv­ingly at­mo­spheric, it’s more a sub­tle evo­lu­tion­ary step than a rad­i­cal de­par­ture, but Nik­las ac­knowl­edges that some­thing feels very dif­fer­ent this time round.

“It’s some­thing oth­er­worldly. It’s an anger that hasn’t been there, to­gether with a sor­row,” he ex­plains. “The con­trast is there in what­ever kind of mu­sic I write and the dy­nam­ics are al­ways there in my mu­sic, but this is the first time I’ve com­bined ex­treme anger with a real sad­ness…” He catches his breath. “It makes me emo­tional just think­ing about it. That should be a good thing, I guess.”

The cir­cum­stances un­der which Nik­las wrote the songs on the new al­bum clearly played a huge part in at­tain­ing that tricky-to-de­fine switch of at­mos­phere.

“I left Swe­den and went on a search for a new home, trav­el­ling to dif­fer­ent coun­tries in Europe. I took my gui­tar and I just started to write mu­sic here and there. It’s some­thing I’ve never done be­fore, just sit­ting and cre­at­ing some­thing out of noth­ing. It was a re­ally weird ex­pe­ri­ence and I hope to never do it again. While I was trav­el­ling I was go­ing through some pretty fuck­ing harsh per­sonal is­sues. I had this im­mense anger in­side of me. I’ve al­ways been a pretty an­gry guy but this was over-the-top, com­pletely ir­ra­tional. But some­thing good came out of it. It gave Shin­ing an edge that it hasn’t had for a long time. This al­bum was mostly driven by anger and a very, very se­vere mood for ret­ri­bu­tion.”

On an al­bum full of un­set­tling vi­gnettes, clos­ing track Mot Aoki­ga­hara takes the de­spon­dent bis­cuit. Mid­way through, Nik­las calmly re­peats the fol­low­ing phrase: ‘I was born De­cem­ber 1983 and I died De­cem­ber 2017.’ It’s a jaw-drop­ping mo­ment that con­jures men­ace, mys­tery and mis­chief in equal mea­sure. It also, all knee-jerk re­ac­tions aside, seems to be a pro­found state­ment about how Nik­las and Shin­ing have changed and be­come some­thing else, some­thing other, again. But as Nik­las states with some amuse­ment, the whole thing would have had a lot more im­pact had X: Varg Utan Flock stuck with its orig­i­nal planned re­lease date.

“We were sup­posed to re­lease the al­bum in De­cem­ber, but with pol­i­tics and record la­bels, some­times things don’t work out and now it’s been moved to Jan­uary 2018. Very smart… the same day as the new Watain al­bum! Ha ha ha! Maybe some­one will get fired for that. It’s pretty fuck­ing funny. But you’re on the right track, that quote is about re­birth. It starts with the first track, Svart Ostopp­bar Eld, roughly trans­lated to ‘black un­stop­pable fire’. It’s ba­si­cally about me grab­bing an axe, cut­ting down my fam­ily tree, de­nounc­ing my fam­ily and be­ing re­born through fire.”

For a man whose rep­u­ta­tion hinges on his self-de­struc­tive im­pulses and ca­pac­ity for chaos, Nik­las seems to have his shit to­gether right now. Armed with his strong­est al­bum in years and with sev­eral other projects in the pipe­line – in­clud­ing two books and a new band, Lice, also fea­tur­ing mem­bers of cult he­roes Tei­tan­blood – his race to to­tal oblit­er­a­tion seems to have slowed a lit­tle, even if it re­mains a mug’s game to ex­pect any­thing other than the un­ex­pected from this most trou­bled of black­ened souls.

“I’m not the kind of guy who plans things. To quote the Joker, I just do things,” he growls. “I try to con­sume my­self with the work and the busi­ness side of things, but some­times it’s hard when you wake up and you can’t do the job prop­erly. Liv­ing with these dis­eases can be fuck­ing un­bear­able. But things look quite bright in the fu­ture if I can just get con­trol of my­self.”

X: VARG UTAN FLOCK IS RE­LEASED ON JAN­UARY 5 VIA SEA­SON OF MIST

“These dis­eases can be fuck­ing un­bear­able”

NIK­LAS KVAR­FORTH TRIES TO OUT­RUN HIS DEMONS

are things fi­nally look­ing up for Nik­las’s metal state?

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