Norway’s Shining began as an acoustic jazz group. After two albums, they drastically changed their sound for 2005’s In The Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster, their breakthrough record and debut for the iconoclastic Rune Grammofon label. That album lived up to the descriptor “unclassifiable”; it is a startling amalgamation of free jazz, metal and progressive rock percolating through a dense, constantly shifting soundscape. Five years on, the group have parted ways with Rune Grammofon and released their most accessible record to date. The results are mixed.
Blackjazz is a portmanteau of black metal and free jazz that the members of Shining have invented to describe their sound. It’s not far off the mark, although the jazz element of Shining’s sound has been toned down to make way for a more straightforward metal edge. The more traditionally structured rock songs, like opener “The Madness and the Damage Done,” sound like the bastard child of post-hardcore heroes The Blood Brothers in a head on collision with dated ’90s industrial (Marilyn Manson, etc.) Such a combination doesn’t jibe with Shining’s progressive tendencies.
“Healter Skelter” opens the album’s strong middle section with aggressive horns punctuated by punishing percussion work. A reprisal of “The Madness and the Damage Done” follows, with vocals an afterthought on this dissonant and atmospheric version of the opening track. Finally, “Blackjazz Deathtrance” wraps up this strong middle act, the epic-length tune functioning as a recapitulation of Shining’s primary strengths. Although vocals are featured, they are seamlessly incorporated into the sonic palette, rather than dominating the mix. Careening from jazz-inflected instrumentals to dense guitar rock and then an overdriven industrial finale, “Blackjazz Deathtrance” is Shining’s defining statement to date.
Unfortunately, Blackjazz ends with a whimper. The aimless horror-soundtrack denouement of “Omen” doesn’t suit the typically hyperactive group, and the final track is a cover of King Crimson‘s “21st Century Schizoid Man” with Enslaved‘s Grutle Kjellson on vocals. They don’t butcher the song, but their take feels perfunctory. When Shining concentrate on their strengths, they offer a potent antidote to the hazy cloud of mellowness that has settled over indie rock of late. However, for every bold and adventurous triumph they manage to pull off, there’s a tedious misfire. Adventurous listeners ignore Blackjazz at their peril, but be warned that there’s quite a bite of filler to go with the killer.