Shining (Nor) - Blackjazz
Indie Recordings
Avant-Garde Progressive/Jazz Metal
9 songs (57:19)
Release year: 2010
Shining (Nor), Indie Recordings
Reviewed by Goat
Album of the month

Taking a huge step into the extremist world, proggy Norwegians Shining have decided to embrace their ever-present but often restrained Metal elements, and in doing so have taken their band a good two steps forwards. They've always been a good deal heavier than your average Genesis tribute act, yet never have they come close to the roaring cacophony that is Blackjazz. It's a pummelling Prog Metal burst of intensity that simply seethes with experimentalism, taking the band's Jazz roots and constructing a truly heavy album with them. Interestingly, although Shining have a good deal of underground metal cred. to their name, this isn't quite the mixture of Black Metal and Jazz that the name would suggest, although both genres are well represented. It's rather more like The Dillinger Escape Plan and King Crimson jamming violently together, a meeting of technicality and passion that rewards listeners over and over again.

Of course, after their time touring with Enslaved some influence was bound to rub off on Munkeby and co, and many, many listens to Blackjazz later the sheer impact of Shining's career path is still only just hitting. The band started as a Jazz quartet, after all, gradually introducing rock and non-acoustic elements before hitting the Prog big-time with In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster and 2008's excellent Grindstone. If the astonishingly dark and violent sounds of Blackjazz represent a band's musical evolution, then at this rate Shining will be as Black Metal as their Swedish namesake - if not moreso! Blackjazz is so skilful that it might as well be the latest creation from one of the forward-looking Black Metal bands, the Dødheimsgards and Abigors that take the big leaps forward. I challenge anyone to listen to opening track The Madness And The Damage Done and not to immediately recognise the extreme metal stomp and twist of the music, especially when it launches into a blastbeat-fuelled warp. Sure, it's buried beneath a Jazz-fuelled Prog Rock sense of Avant-Garde adventure, but is still more than recognisable.

Not that you'll be doing any headbanging to this, however. The best, most technical bands take you on such a masterly out-of-control train ride that the default impulse is not to move to the music but to stand slack-jawed in amazement and for at least the first ten listens to Blackjazz you'll be doing that. The first single and arguably the most accessible song from the album, Fisheye, is simply fantastic, complete with nightmarish whispered numbers, electronic melodies that swirl from nowhere and disappear into screams, bass-driven speed gallops and a saxophone breakdown. Incredibly, it's a catchy little number that somehow stays with you as the album progresses through the strange aural terrain of the dual Exit Sun tracks, the first of which is something like Meshuggah jamming with Nine Inch Nails and are absolutely gripping. As with Grindstone, I'm truly astonished at how catchy and entertaining Shining can be once you're over the initial what-the-heck-is-this shock and begin to see the band's cleverness -this is one album that it's pretty much impossible to get tired with, as even when you're used to it the sheer intelligence keeps you listening.

Mr Bungle fans will be delighted with the saxophone-enhanced HEALTER SKELTER (no, that's not a typo), followed by the second The Madness And The Damage Done piece, which is significantly different from the album opener. Even attempting to describe the sheer awesomeness of Blackjazz Deathtrance, with crowd noise cheering the band on as they technically outdo themselves and all their peers at once, is impossible - take it from me, it's pretty spectacular. My fellow Enslaved fans are probably waiting to hear about Grutle Kjellson's contribution; well, it's hard to tell him from Jørgen Munkeby on the suitably uncanny Omen, as both vocalists are similar in their sinister screams. The track is something like the horror soundtracks that my colleague Charles is so fond of, creepy ambience interspersed with fuzzy noise, and it serves as a perfect finale in its strange melancholy.

Grutle also appears on the album's closing track, a cover of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man, and it's from this song's juxtaposition with the others that you really see what the band were doing. As you'd expect, it's even more heavy and chaotic than the original, a studio recording of the live favourite from when Shining were touring with Enslaved. Although the technicality and skill remains, it's almost buried beneath a torrent of vocal roars and screams, and if you go in expecting the fun, wild ride that you're used to you may well end up disappointed. This version is a true cover, taking the original and reworking it in the covering band's own image, and it's similar to the main part of the album in its tumultuous tear-it-down-and-rebuild-it approach to music - similar to King Crimson themselves, actually. In my review of In The Court Of The Crimson King on this site, I made the suggestion that 21st Century Schizoid Man was the first ever Metal song, and it's not hard to think of the two bands linked across over forty years' gap, each recreating the popular music of their day in new and exciting ways. Of course, King Crimson's step forward was much greater a stride, but the mere fact that the comparison comes to naturally shows Shining's superiority and ability to operate in such exalted company.

Blackjazz is, ultimately, an album that demands accolades. Already in 2010 we've seen some truly astonishing pieces of music, but this is far and beyond the best thing I've heard yet this year, beating even Ihsahn's increasingly fantastic After, which featured Jørgen Munkeby on saxophone. Shining have topped my playlist since I discovered them, and wonderfully Grindstone hasn't been lowered in my estimation at all - Blackjazz isn't the latest version of the band's formula, but a spiralling journey off into new pastures, and both albums are sure to get many, many plays as time goes by. Pleasingly, the album has been getting an excellent response from even the mainstream musical world, selling out quickly and proving that the musical public still want good music when it's offered. Few offers are as good as this.

Killing Songs :
The Madness And The Damage Done, Fisheye, Exit Sun, HEALTER SKELTER, Blackjazz Deathtrance, Omen
Goat quoted 95 / 100
Other albums by Shining (Nor) that we have reviewed:
Shining (Nor) - Animal reviewed by Goat and quoted 40 / 100
Shining (Nor) - One One One reviewed by Koeppe and quoted 87 / 100
Shining (Nor) - Grindstone reviewed by Goat and quoted 89 / 100
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