Shining (Nor) + Alithia
The Underworld, London
5th November 2018
Review & Photography: Thomas James Henry Saunders
Having been producing a dynamic approach to jazz-influenced music for nearly two decades now, Shining (Nor) have never settled on a specific sound for very long. From starting out as an instrumental jazz act, to becoming enthralled by rock music, leading slowly toward a harsher black metal inspired metal sound, which by their 5th studio album “BlackJazz” in 2010 had earned them critical acclaim and a cult following.
Following this with 2013’s “One One One”, the band had partially settled into this dynamic of an avant-garde metal sound combined with a black metal playing approach, the saxophone and Jørgen Munkeby’s gravelled vocal styling.
With 2017’s single “Everything Dies” and the Subsequent album “Animals” released earlier this year however, that sound has adjusted noticeably since those times. Focusing more on anthemic rock tracks and a sound more in tune with “Biffy Clyro than Burzum!” – to quote a passage from their official biography page online. Even their image has reflected this shift: gone are the stark, colourless band photos and bleak artwork, replaced instead with bright neon lettering, vibrant and energetic artwork and band photos that are reminiscent of 1980’s rock star portraits, complete with motorbikes and mountain ranges.
This shift in approach has undoubtedly split their fan base, with some enjoying the new direction and catchy riffs, yet leaving others feeling ill at ease over this swing of direction. This being their first major tour since the album’s release will surely give a good indicator of how the new sound fits in with their rawer, aggressive sounds in a live setting.
Entering The Underworld on a grey and damp evening, the venue was rather sparse of people, as the crowd that had gathered were waiting for the main support act of the night, Alithia. What was interesting as I stood awaiting the band, albeit safely away by the bar, was the number of audience members wearing black metal tees and clearly belonging to the extreme metal circuits. It seems that Shining (Nor) are still considered relevant among the extreme metal scene.
Accompanying Shining (Nor) throughout this European tour are the Australian “progressive psychedelic tribal rock” act Alithia, who burst out upon the stage in a great wave of highly energetic presence, making up for the lack-lustre reception they’re given by the crowd.
Their core sound can be described as pop-rock infused nu-metal, yet they are much more varied than that in practice, with a strong infusion of tribal sounds & instrumentation and a heavy leaning toward a groove sound that really flows well from this 7-piece act.
Frontman & guitarist John Rousvanis is a fascinating character to behold on stage, especially given the band’s unknown status. His vocal snare is a mix of soft-spoken lyricism and harsh screaming tones that bellow out from the overall mix impressively.
But it’s John’s stage presence that makes him worth the mentioning, as his levels of charisma and charged energy are of the extreme. He jumps from speakers, dances manically between vocal sections, rolls upon the stage floor and at one point even screams directly into the floorboards as the song around him comes to a frenzied crescendo.
Otherwise, the band are a similar mix of talent and strong personalities that individually all shine equally yet as a unit do come across a little disarrayed and messy.
Most enjoyable among them is Jeffrey Ortiz Raul Castro as one of two keyboardists and backing vocals/percussion. Being partially hidden behind his double stacked keyboards, his infectious smile and bold sense of charisma bring many a smile to the audience as he plays up to the attention, posing for photos and laughing along with the thumping music that plays out.
Closing in a flurry of deafening cacophony, John screams his last for the evening’s show, and the small yet enthusiastic crowd cheer in enjoyment at this unexpected gem of a performance.
During the break between bands, the small crowd gather at the bar and merchandise stands as the stage is reset and the banners of Shining (Nor) are raised. The crowd still does not bulge out as much as expected to me, but those that are here are all fans and are excited for the coming aural assault.
The lights dim and static rings out to announce the oncoming of the Norwegian jazz infused metal headliners Shining, with frontman Jørgen Munkeby pouncing out into the spotlight, hands raised, to a great cheer from his fans gathered along the stage.
They waste no time in beginning the set, going straight into the title track of the new album “Animal”, which signals clearly their commitment to the new material. Surprisingly, although sounding much lighter and less heavy than previous material on record, on stage the sound is mixed more in favour of their “black jazz”, which leads to the song grating in an enjoyable & intense manner.
This trend is continued with second track, “My Church”, from the same album; as enjoyable it was, it was felt that the crowd were eager to hear that raw aggression that Shining (Nor) have come to be known for.
With the next track, this was indeed granted with “Last Day”, taken from 2015’s “International Blackjazz Society”, which highlighted Munkeby’s impressive talents as a front man, with him yelling across the stage, already sweat-drenched and full of fire.
His vocal style is best suited to the deathened snarls and roars of his more aggressive works, yet on stage especially, the varied style of Shining’s sound does do well for Munkeby, who jolts enthusiastically between screams and melodious choruses with ease and no small sense of obvious joy.
As stage presence goes Jørgen Munkeby is so very deft, controlling the stage with ease and genuinely warming to the crowd during each and every track. He jokes and taunts the crowd at times too, although what I found most interesting here was his sense of humour, yet also how polite he was with introducing his tracks, commenting on the audience or simply reminiscing.
After this blast of heavy riffing, it’s back to “Animal” with the slow, lighter swinging inducing chords of “When the Lights Go Out”, followed by 2017’s single “Everything Dies”, which sounds surprisingly good here at The Underworld, with fans soaking up the atmosphere and passionate performance from the entire band, and with Munkeby, of course, being the stand-out figure, bathing in spotlight for much of the performance.
The varied musical styles that Shining now has under its collective belt blend together near seamlessly onstage with the intensity, conviction and raw musical energy being delivered equally to every track tonight.
That said, next track “Healter Skelter” from 2010’s “BlackJazz” set the venue ablaze. With the instrumental song’s progressive, heavily jazz fused, discordant, shrill tones, this is what the crowd really want to hear of the band; Jørgen Munkeby strolls out, saxophone in hands, and quite literally shreds with it in an explosive & impressive manner.
The lighting tonight is a strange yet compelling mix, relying mostly on intense strobe effects, high amounts of smoke and bright flashes throughout the set. And these three all go into a hyperactive state at every point that Jørgen Munkeby brings out his saxophone in an attempt to keep up with his furious playing.
The rest of the set is a steady mix of similar proportions, although overall the set does lean heavily toward newer material with no less than 5 tracks taken from “Animal”, and the contrast of this is that the prominent “Blackjazz” only receives 2 tracks throughout the night. Although what is played is done to maximum effect, with fans headbanging along and shouting with Jørgen Munkeby to many of the lyrics.
Ending the main set with “I Won’t Forget” from 2013’s “One One One”, the famed saxophone section of this great track sends chills down many a spine, with Munkeby ripping into the art of it with a crazed conviction that sends the front row into hysteria. The crowd roar loudly in reception as Jørgen Munkeby and co. salute them enthusiastically.
They bounce back on stage with the aggressively indulgent “The One Inside”, with its upbeat tempo and thumping pacing that has the entire crowd pumping their fists and headbanging along with the band, as the spotlights blast out in time with the beat.
The main highlight of the entire night has to be final track of the night, “The Madness and the Damage Done” though, as the guitars emit those shrill, echoed riffs and extreme pacing. This is one of the songs that earned Shining (Nor) the subtitle of “black jazz”, and the effect tonight is impressive, with Jørgen Munkeby giving his all in this finale, screaming to powerful effect.
As the band take their final leave of the stage after a heartfelt bow by Jørgen Munkeby and his assembled bandmates, Munkeby does an unexpected act of then running, still drenched in sweat, to the back of the venue, where he stood behind the merchandise stand, choosing to sell the shirts/CD’s etc himself whilst also being able to chat with his fans directly. This was a wholly unexpected move, I thought, and one I now wish all bands would do.
Whereever Jørgen Munkeby takes this band from now, no one except the man himself can say, yet it appears that whatever the case is of his recorded material, the live show will likely never dull.
Shining (Nor) setlist:
2. My Church
3. Last Day
4.When the Lights Go Out
5. Everything Dies
6. Helter Skelter
7.My Dying Drive
8.Hole In The Sky
9. I Won’t Forget
10. The One Inside
11. The Madness and the Damage Done