Music Reviews

Shining Blackjazz

(Indie Recordings/The End) Rating - 8/10

“Blackjazz” may have been the perfect way to describe King Crimson.

Though “progressive” metal bands seem to be running rampant anymore, few carry the free jazz sophistication of Norway quartet, Shining, their double-dutch whirlwind of industrial cacophony and Zappa-esque musical deviation at times blurring the line between rupture and rapture.  Their last album, Grindstone, demonstrated the sort of off-kilter genius you rarely discover because you don’t know where to find it, or what to call it, the album’s calculating eclecticism as chaotic as an arbitrarily conceived mix tape.

With their new album, Blackjazz, Shining keeps their offerings confined to a certain aesthetic, which is basically that of its title.  The album is a spiraling trauma, perfect for obsessive compulsives that hate being slaves to their own "ordered" environment.  For how thick the acid flows throughout Blackjazz, the music is disciplined: allowed to run rampant for periods of time before being reeled back to its former gloriousness of synthesized rage and deadly sonic eruption.  The only time the music really crumbles is during its more than appropriate rendition of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man, whose components seem littered throughout Blackjazz like tiny bits of jagged wisdom.  No song exhibits said inspiration more than Fisheye, whose midway saxophone almost mimics Crimson’s Schizoid breakdown, though Shining’s variation on the theme motors like factory noise:  Steady, consistent, tireless. 

It would be easy to liken Madness and the Damage Done to something along the lines of NIN or Rammstein, but the frantic almost out-of-hand construct is more brutal than either group is known to be.  Trent’s had his moments, but whatever dark corner of his brain bred The Downward Spiral, Blackjazz has upped the ante on the aesthetics of caustic industrial bloodlust, at least from a surface standpoint.  (Just a note: I do find it interesting that Shining found a way to pose the “ININ” of their band name in an almost familiar way to Reznor’s “NIN”… just a thought.)  Aside from the shrieking vocal assault of singer, Jørgen Munkeby, there’s an odd correlation between 90s alt-industrial nostalgia, free jazz liberty and John Carpenter-sized synthetic doom.  One thing about Shining, and this holds true on Grindstone, is that their love of sci-fi apocalyptic synthesizer screams a childhood remembrance of the future sounds of yesteryear.  The sound is quaint, but treated with such a heavy exactness and sinister disposition that it takes on a life of its own.  Exit Sun and Blackjazz Deathtrance both exemplify this point, generating restlessness and dark tension while relying on this electrified mode of conveyance. 

Though time signature plays heavily in Shining’s churn, Blackjazz doesn’t solely owe its jazzy, proggy weirdness to composition alone.  “Black” is obvious; “Jazz” is subjective.  There are obvious points where “jazz” fits perfectly and, were it not for their all-encompassing genre-based title, I’d designate HEALTER SKELTER and Omen as “Ayler Metal,” the latter song theatrical and laced with impending dread, (kind of like an omen). 

“Jazz” fits mostly with Shining’s theme, (either the demonstrative explanation of the album’s title, or the piecemeal extraction of King Crimson’s sound), which is communicated through repeated, reinterpreted movements.  I think of Miles Davis’s On The Corner, whose entire four-song being was based upon one piece of music, which was then repeated over the course of the album.  In the case of Blackjazz, Shining spreads lyrical passages across songs, repeats song titles with different music attached: they basically create an environment that can only be understood as a whole.  Blackjazz, in this way, isn’t so much a collection of songs but a realization of identity, or a perfect explanation of who they are.

So assured of this identity they take on King Crimson’s song and ravage it, realizing the futility of improvement, but still wanting to pay it homage through a calculatedly less than precise approach.  At first listen, I was somewhat offended by Shining’s rendition, mostly unsure as to why this song, whose complicated nature they could easily accommodate as evidenced by the rest of the material therein, was left to fall apart under the weight of static and noise.   

Then, I thought about it, and I came up with this:

Basically, 21st Century Schizoid Man already exists as the perfect result of a band’s vision, as does the other material on Shining’s opus.  As the song could easily have led to the inspiration and development of Shining's album, with all its aforementioned tiny bits of jagged wisdom, what do you have left once you’ve removed all you require?  I’m embellishing and coming up with my own conclusions but, if you consider the results, it makes sense that the album’s final act, a very sloppy and loud cover of a very well known and seminal piece of progressive music, being less than itself, picked apart in order to create something new, is the ultimate flattery.  After all, art is derivative of everything, but acknowledgement of the past is essential in order to move forward.