Released: 2015, Spinefarm Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Norwegian avant gardists Shining have a habit of taking rather dramatic stylistic left turns every couple of albums. Once an acoustic jazz quartet, the band moved into art rock territory in the mid-2000s for their third and fourth albums before creating their self-described “Blackjazz” amalgam of jazz, metal, prog and industrial music with 2010's brilliant album of the same name. 2013's equally fantastic One One One continued in the vein.
As its title would indicate, the new International Blackjazz Society album breaks with tradition and doesn't so much see Shining take another left turn as it does have them sort of zig-zagging back and forth while just managing to stay on the road. The core sound of the band's last two album remains, but with a very prominent electronic/industrial air – which takes full advantage of adventurous new drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen (ex of prog metal alchemists Leprous) and keyboardist Eirik Tovsrud Knutsen - and more linear, less spasmodic songs that should be easier on sensitive ears.
It doesn't really seem like that's going to be the case at the outset, with band leader Jørgen Munkeby's blaring sax and Andersen skittering drums on the intro “Admittance” seeming ready to launch the album with a free-jazz freakout. But “The Last Stand,” “Burn It All” and “Last Day” follow with straight ahead, surging rhythms, dense electronics and arena-sized guitars that recall a rockier Nine Inch Nails or less mechanical Rammstein – only occasionally punctuated by Munkeby's sax squalls.
The cacophonous “Thousand Eyes” is as full-on metal as Shining have ever been, opening with the threat of thrash before settling into a riffy drone. It really does take off, however, about the midway point, when Andersen follows a quick burst of Munkeby's sax – which essentially takes the place of a lead guitar in most cases - with an actual drum solo after which the band erupts around him with almost tech-death vigor.
“House of Warship” delivers on “Admittance's” promise as the band really get their jazz odyssey on for a freewheeling instrumental revolving again around the combo of Munkeby's sax forays and Andersen's cluster-bomb drums. In their first go-round - after the departure of founding drummer Torstein Lofthus - these guys got together like peanut butter and jelly.
The ponderous “House of Control” is the album's odd duck. A Pink Floyd-like bluesy quasi-ballad, it mashes a bunch of ideas together but doesn't really go anywhere - and Munkeby's “Hey, Hey, Hey!” exhortations near the end seem way out of place, especially given his plaintive wailing earlier on. At nearly 7 minutes long, it's a tough one to overlook, but it's really the only time the band stumble here.
And Blackjazz Society finishes strong with the roiling “Need” again recalling Nine Inch Nails with an electrified sheen and pile-driving beat, only with much heavier riffing and, in this case, some actual screechy guitar soloing. And if there's any sax in there, it gets buried in the tumult.
This is perhaps Shining’s least avant garde album, but given the wide-ranging experimenting of the band’s previous works that’s perhaps understandable, even welcome. Blackjazz Society is still an undeniably challenging work, but the experiments here are more confined and controlled and there’s a meaty middle ground in most cases that offers plenty to chew on before things start getting weird. And when they do, it generally feels quirky instead of confounding and is more apt to leave you thinking “what the fuck was that?” than “fuck it, I don’t get it.”