Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Blackjazz (The End, 02.2010)

For: Orthrelm, Slayer, Ornette Coleman

Byline: The Jazz-Metal pioneers return with a record that’s much more metal than jazz. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com. Used by permission from In Your Speakers, LLC.

Blackjazz. A fitting, if not obvious title for Shining’s latest release, as nearly all critical and analytical thought concerning the band has focused on the group’s unique fusion of jazz and black metal. Their first record for the Rune Grammafon label, In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be Monster, might be their magnum opus. Epically massive, technically bewildering and precise, the album is also introspective at times, dotted with surprisingly delicate balladry and post-bop leanings. If the jazz-association came from anywhere, it was tracks like “Romani” or “Aleister Explains Everything,” sporting pained, improvised saxophone wails recalling Ornette Coleman circa The Shape of Jazz to Come, and angular, syncopated drumming amidst a maelstrom of largely guitar and bass-dominated music. Musically composed by former Jaga Jazzist saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, the band found a way to harness the wildly fast and melodic meanderings of Jaga’s eloquent guitars and synths, pump them full of that green stuff from “Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze,” and unleash a hideously powerful beast of buzz-saw textures, hurricane riffs, and pile-driving drum beats onto the world.

“Blackjazz Deathtrance” is perhaps the album’s most daunting listen. The track opens with a repeated, math-prog pattern that’s accented and developed immediately by pummeling drums, and follows quickly into an extended, stuttering synth line that is out of control, dancing and prancing like a schizophrenic dinosaur doing ballet in a straight jacket. The track’s complete with nervously unsettling trills that sound like swarms of locusts in the vein of Orthrelm. What’s most impressive is that each note sounds planned, performed - quite perfectly - in concert with the drums’ timed accents. Successive listens will draw you in ever more as it becomes increasingly easy to latch onto these crazy patterns like they’re real hooks. Lunacy aside, the frenetic patterns become gradually recognizable and invite the listener to study them, memorize them, and wonder how in the world they’re even possible. The song also summons a storm of static-laced noise that comes off hilariously like a stadium’s roar of fans. It’s funny to imagine an arena full of people going wild given that said people - if brave enough to witness such a spectacle - would likely have their nervous systems reduced to liquid.

Fortunately, the band hasn’t forgotten about its early leanings altogether. There are, of course, elements of improvisation to be found, and the band seems unafraid to repeat itself making use of the classic jazz technique that is the quote. “HEALTER SKELTER” is pulled straight off a Kingdom of Kitsch standout track, “REDRUM,” for example, re-imagining the song in a more live-sounding and, you guessed it, aggressive fashion than before. And if one is to call a prog-oriented approach of any sort inherently “jazzy” then a compelling argument could be made here. Blackjazz finds the band combining its love of syncopation with a more standardized, squared base on songs like “Exit Sun,” which rounds itself out with monolithic half-time grooves amid the complexly constructed riffs.

Given what’s already come from the band in this new jazz-metal format (2007’s Grindstone, being a very similar, if perhaps more polished affair to its predecessor, Kingdom of Kitsch), Shining’s latest step is a decided shift away from the inherently jazzy qualities that first gave the band its edge and intrigue. Perhaps the most telling (and equally interesting) clue comes last on the record - a cover of King Crimson’s classic “21st Century Schizoid Man,” led triumphantly by Munkeby’s soaring lead saxophone melody. Being the technically precise titans that make up Shining’s core (adding Enslaved singer Gurtle Kjellson’s horrifying vocals on this particular cut for good measure), the cover is predictably spot-on: engaging, progressive, and immensely powerful. But it’s King Crimson, man - It’s rock music for crying out loud! Shining may have sacrificed some of its mysterious draw, but it’s been replaced with an entirely confident, headstrong, unapologetic temper. And hell, with this kind of orgiastic excess in raw power, it’s tough to be critical of such a move. Being absolutely plowed never felt so right.

Full review can be found on: www.inyourspeakers.com

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