04 January 2010

Blackjazz


So I was sent the new Shining album last night, and I listened to it on the way home today. Well, most of it. It was a lovely experience: increasingly rarely as I age do I get the chance to indulge in that exciting first listen to a album for which I've waited. And I have waited for this one for three years. I first heard their last one, Grindstone (2007), back when I was a big downloader, in January '07. (As it was such an early album for that year, I have to admit it suffered when it came to the end-of-year festivities. Recency innit! Not sure where it should have been, mind. Higher) And so I hear this new one in January of this year. Obviously. Shining are a cool band. They're probably the coolest rock band going, and they probably have been for a few years now. This new one is a hell of a lot more metal than their past couple of efforts, which straddled jazz and massive, soundtracky, rock rather smartly. It's nice to see them nail their colours to one flagpole, if that's the right metaphor.

The main difference is the vocals, of which there are loads on this new one. They tend to be of the growly, effects-drenched variety, and seem effective. I have rather a bad habit of making loads of comparisons in my reviews, so I'm gonna attempt to get that out of my system somewhat in this post. So: the singing is a bit reminiscent of Steve Austin's (not that one) late 1990s work in Today Is The Day. Austin used to pretty much stuff a microphone in his mouth when singing, which made it sound really noisy and high-pitched as load of feedback happened. Nick Terry, then-editor of Terrorizer, compared the sound he made to a giant, buzzing insect. And that's bang on the money. Rather less on the money was Terry's assertion that TITD's Temple of the Morning Star (1997) was as though Neurosis' Through Silver in Blood had been chopped into bite-sized chunks, when that most definitely was not the case. TITD's record was a more calculated attempt to shock than the Oakland sextet's force-of-nature delivery. I think he was just trying so see the best in their record, as he made similar comparisons when reviewing Bloodlet's The Seraphim Fall*, the next year. I don't blame him: we all wanted something as good as TSiB to emerge. It just never actually did. Plus, I kind of have to let him off because he was a bloody fantastic reviewer. Anyway, the combination of rasping, effected vocals and epic music reminds me also of Samael, but I have less to say about them, so let's move on.

There is a definite awareness here. I don't want to accuse primary composer and main man Jørgen Munkeby of being a copyist with these comparisons, as that is clearly not the case. However, Munkeby is a very intelligent writer and evidently a student of the heavy metal game. So it comes as little surprise to spot various Scandinavian metal reference points. The mix of throaty roar and brutal music is a tad reminiscent of the awesome early Haunted stuff, albeit slowed from the Swedish band's uptempo thrash and with added charisma. The crisp production and off-kilter riffing put me in mind, in places, of Meshuggah's often mesmerising polyrhythmic assault, only a heck of a lot more varied. I think there were some more, but I'm being a bit silly. I'm not sure many other people would think the album sounds at all like The Haunted, Samael or Meshuggah, any more than it would Misery Loves Co. or Entombed. But I think there is a loose unifying thread running through the dark, often monstrously powerful, brand of Scandinavian metal. Are Samael even Scandinavian? *looks* Nope, Swiss. Well there you are.

So Shining are a lot more metal than they were. There were hints of it on their older records, in the atmsphere, the wild dynamic swings, the sense of revelling in how they harnessed musical power, even the font. But it's not in a retro, kitsch, sense, like Mastodon, Kylesa, Melvins, even sunnO))). Though they're hoary old rockers with a doomy background, I don't include Harvey Milk, as you can tell a lot of method lies in their ostensibly redneck madness. Which is in stark contrast to the Melvins, whose last two albums (2006, 2008) sound not dissimilar to their 1993 and 1994 efforts. Shining, like the 'Milk, learn from metal's past rather than merely repeating it. But they are way more modern in their approach, and not just aesthetically. It's in the crisp production as compared to the sludge of Harvey Milk (which admittedly does work for them). And, yes, the jazz influence does help in that, as it does Dillinger Escape Plan, who are as technically impressive, aesthetically sussed and genuinely exciting. Except the advantage Shining enjoy over DEP is that Munkeby is comfortably more charming than DEP's sometimes overbearingly jockish Greg Puciato. I am super-looking forward to their new album too, though, due in March.

Pretend I said something about sunnO))) being really great, but not so great that I stop thinking they're being just a tiny bit cynical in their super-super-metal aesthetic. And about Genghis Tron being beloved by me, but their combination of electronica and heavy metal not sitting as well with each other as they do on Shining's record. But that's kinda the point with GT; the juxtaposition of Plone/AFX-ish electronica melodies with the all-out cybergrind onslaught, with no half-measures. And, I must admit, it did work incredibly well on the obscenely exciting Dead Mountain Mouth (2006). (Believe me, if I did an 'albums in the year 2006' post, like I should have done, DMM would have been top 5. Easy.) Follow-up, Board Up the House, was very satisfying in its own right, but felt somewhat like a halfway - err - house between the binary metal of DMM and the all-out eclecticism you feel they eventually want to achieve.** Anyway, I'm off to bed, so I'll just say Blackjazz rocks. Some people might be disappointed that it's not superficially as eclectic as the last couple of records, but I think it might really reveal itself to be after a few listens. But I'm just guessing here. What it certainly does have is a bunch of great, brutal riffs. And it's damn cool. There, random stream of thoughts out of the way. I guess it's as good a way to introduce 2010 as any...


* I think it was he who reviewed that one, though I might very well be mistaken.
** And I think they're due another album sometime soon, now their surfeit of remix EPs has concluded.

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