Review Summary: A work of surreal mindfuckery of absolutely massive proportions, “Blackjazz” needs to be thoroughly heard over and over in order to be believed and fully understood. A soon-to-be classic album.
To say that Shining have morphed into a whole new different beast with “Blackjazz” might as well be an understatement considering how much of an stylistic shift this release represents compared to their previous work. Whereas earlier albums were mostly jazz fusion oriented prog-rock (specially their little known 2001 debut “Where The Ragged People Go”), 2007’s “Grindstone” marked a definite departure in terms of both sound and focus that managed to overshadow their previous work and, at the same time, to finally put the band among Norway’s greatest musical exports. After listening to “Blackjazz” in healthy, almost daily doses, I can say that “Grindstone” served little purpose as a sign of what was about to come.
Compared to Shining’s past albums, “Blackjazz” seems to be a much more violent, aggressive, modern and “avant-garde” affair, closer to the work of like-minded bands The Dillinger Escape Plan, Fantômas, Ground Zero and Ruins. These songs are performed with a sense of urgency that almost borderlines on lunacy but, after the first couple of listens, it becomes quite clear that this is one of the most chaotically controlled albums of recent times.
Whereas Shining have experimented with electronic elements from the very beginning of their career, they have always been a lot more subdued compared to the dense, layered industrial sound design they went for this time. Synthesizer leads and flourishes abound across the album, which leads me to a major complaint : had they focused on simpler, catchier leads instead of the intricate finger work scattered all over the songs, “Blackjazz” could have been an even stronger set of compositions with an stronger focus on the absolutely stellar rhythmic section of the band. Drummer Torstein Lofthus’ work on this album is nothing short of stunning and easily ranks among the best drum performances I’ve heard in a long, long time.
The guitar work is, without a doubt, the most chaotic performance on “Blackjazz”. Angular riffs and chords, with little to non-existent focus in melody, make up the bulk of the album. The fact that there are no guitar solos might enrage some of the more conservative fans but, yet again, this is not an album for narrow-minded prog rock listeners. There is some heavy feedback experimentation as well as noisy drone elements that might bring to mind the work of Khanate and Gnaw (“Omen”). These sections mix surprisingly well with Shining’s own brand of savage mind***ery.
Singer and band leader Jørgen Munkeby lashes out a bizarre yet intense vocal performance that draws much inspiration from Mike Patton and Yamatsuka Eye, aided by a diverse array of effects and post-production vocal manipulation. Apart from singing and playing guitar, Munkeby (a former member of Jaga Jazzist) took care of the saxophone parts, specially prominent in “Blackjazz Deathtrance”, drone-meets-Naked City sounding “Omen” and the album closer, a ***ed up rendition of King Crimson’s classic “21st Century Schizoid Man”.
“Blackjazz” needs to be thoroughly heard over and over in order to be believed and fully understood. A soon-to-be classic album.