Reviewed: December, 2018
Released: 2018, Spinefarm Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Well, so much for “blackjazz.” But I guess that was inevitable. Norway’s Shining have never been a band to stay in one place for long, as their sound has evolved from acoustic jazz to avant-pop and art rock before they created one of metal’s truly unique offshoots with 2010’s Blackjazz. Its mashup of extreme metal bombast, careening free-jazz and industrial clangor was truly one-of-a-kind, especially with frontman Jørgen Munkeby’s blaring sax and caterwauling vocals.
And though Shining kept things in roughly the same sonic ballpark, relatively speaking, with the One One One and International Blackjazz Society albums that followed, it was just a matter of time before the band – or at least Munkeby, as their creative director and lone original member – grew restless and eager to try something different. Well, Animal certainly is “different,” though not necessarily in a good way.
The album trades the band’s signature spasmodics and free-spiritedness for something surprisingly mainstream – and disappointingly ordinary. At its best, Animal channels the arena-sized electronic pomp of Muse – as on “Take Me” or “End” – and crackles with anthemic hard rock swells, as on the title track or “Smash It Up!” At its worst, it peddles in lame balladry (“When I’m Gone”), bland radio fodder (“My Church” or “Fight Song”) or Disturbed-like butt-rock (“When The Lights Go Out”).
Shining’s music has always been unique, vibrant and daring. But here it seems contrived and at times half-assed, as Munkeby wrote the most accessible, conventional songs he could muster or strung together whatever clichés he could find. Along the way, he opted to completely abandon the trademark sax wails – a glaring and rather puzzling omission – and much of the vocal gymnastics that helped give the band’s sound its character and resonance. And that’s a damn shame indeed.
While there’s something to be said for propulsive hard rock, going all-in with that approach for Animal seems beneath a band of Shining’s well-established chops. The genuinely spunky, inspired moments – and there are quite a few here, to be fair – are often overshadowed by the album’s overarching lack of imagination. And that’s not something I ever thought I’d be saying about these guys.