Hjertelig velkommen til en annen episode om A Scene In Retrospect! I hope I didn’t butcher the Norwegian language too much there, but you’re free to correct me in case I did. Anyhow, this episode will be all about a seminal release in the modern avant-garde metal landscape: Blackjazz by Shining! Discussing it will be our social media manager Valentin, our staff writer Jake and yours truly here, so read on if you want to know what we think about this monolithic, enigmatic album.
It was July 15th, exactly one week ago, when I signed up to write about some Norwegian band called Shining. A band that I (for some reason that I don’t really know) completely ignored over the last few years. A band that released (according to our senior editor/feature organizer Dominik) one of the coolest prog metal albums of the last few years. The cover looked pretty cool and the album title Blackjazz seemed very appealing to me, so I signed up and was eager to dig deeper into the spheres of Shining.
It took about 30 seconds of listening to Blackjazz until I realized that this album would not be easy to digest. I had the feeling that it would be one of these albums that need a lot of time and devotion to make you fully understand the final product. After my third or fourth spin, I slowly began to understand the chaos Shining produced on Blackjazz. I got used to Jørgen’s weird (in a good way!), sometimes unintelligible vocals and slowly began to accept all the rhythmic challenges and relentless grooves Blackjazz has to offer. I fell in love with the fuzzy guitar tone, the organic production and the incredibly cool use of the saxophone (the sax-drum duel in “Healter Skelter” is absolutely outstanding)!
I spun the album about twelve times until now and still have a hard time to understand or describe what is actually going on. If I had to, I probably would probably describe it as an exquisite collection of mind-blowing rhythms, somehow logical chaos mixed with jazzy accents and electronic interludes that might as well be used as soundtracks for a new Netflix horror-series.
It wasn’t easy, but I’m more than happy that I finally gave attention to Blackjazz. I’m sure that it will be stuck in my head for a few more weeks after dealing it with it for the past week. I can only recommend to take on the ‘Shining-challenge’: sit back, take your time, get a cool drink and try to understand what is going on. I did – and wouldn’t want to miss the experience.
I work in the field of human factors research in the transportation field. A method that is often used in this type of research exposes a subject to a routine or feature which they have never had any knowledge of or contact with. By having a naive perspective, it can be ascertained that the feature being tested will get fresh and unbiased feedback. Well, the tables have turned. I was asked to participate in this ASIR about Shining’s Blackjazz, having never given the record a single spin. So here is my uninitiated take.
With a title like Blackjazz, I had a loose idea of what I was in for. In my music listening adventures, I have listened to many jazz-influenced records from Béla Fleck to John Scofield, so I knew just how flexible jazz was. However, I had no idea that it could be body-slammed through the burning tables of industrial and black metal to such great effect. The black metal vocals, flamboyant saxophone, and pounding rhythm section are combined into a potent potion that mystifies and amazes.
For me, this album was a grower. Initial listens were to gain a sense of its the direction, and get to know the songs. It wasn’t until about the fifth time around that I ‘got it’. The frenzied and frenetic fog began to roll back and I could see the outlines of a masterpiece. The nearly eleven-minute opus “Blackjazz Deathtrance” is a great example of why the album works so well. Amazing instrumental passages that feature guitar and saxophone and the vocal performance that effortlessly goes from erratic fervor to whispering all speak for how dynamic this album is.
Many artists enjoy a bit of irony in their music. Upbeat music with somewhat depressing lyrics or vocal performances, or the reverse of this, are popular methods of mixing things up. I didn’t detect a hint of irony on my journey through this album. Every performance of every voice and instrument felt purposeful and cohesive. In a word, deliberate. The track “Omen” is a good example of this: It is just as haunting and unnerving as one would expect. A shrill organ, the sinister hiss of cymbals, and a pulsing bass presence are the foundation of this track. This mixture will have you checking over your shoulder, and closely examining those dark corners.
To casually listen to this album would be doing it and oneself a disservice. It demands your full attention and deserves every second of it. Carve an hour from your day and play this album through your stereo at the highest volume your neighbors will tolerate. Let its power consume you. It did me.
I sincerely hope you’re ready for getting your brain twisted and contorted into shapes unimaginable today, because if you’re going into Shining’s Blackjazz for the first time unprepared, let’s just say you won’t be having an easy experience.
Shining technically started their metamorphosis from being a straight-up acoustic jazz ensemble to whatever the hell they’re supposed to be now (blackened-avant-industrial-groove-jazz-prog would be my grossly inaccurate approximation to it) back in 2005 with In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster (what an amazing title for a record, by the way) and continue it on 2007’s Grindstone, but they really hit their stride on this particular record, Blackjazz. It contains some of their most iconic material, and still hits a sweet spot I never even realized I had before to this day.
My first encounter with this band was a few years back, when Trivium’s Matt Heafy (no, really) posted about them. I forget which platform he did that on, but it’s not conducive to this tale, so I’m sure you’ll forgive me for that omission. Anyway, wide-eyed and naive as I was, I took to Google to find out more about them. Luckily it was specified that this particular Shining was a Norwegian band; that fact spared me another encounter with their Swedish namesakes. And what I did find blew my mind right out the window, into the fourth dimension, and into the mouth of an omnipotent eldritch horror with a knack for jazz saxophone.
“The Madness and the Damage Done”, the album’s opener, could not have been more aptly titled. It’s a borderline catatonic cacophony of disparate features: Jørgen Munkeby’s tortured vocals, the jazzy elements and the groovy industrial metal superstructure make it as diverse an opener as you’re prone to ever encounter in your life; its repetitive, maddening middle portion does its best to confuse and scare the hell out of you. Another instant classic is “Fisheye”. Referencing the hermeneutic technique of Gematria in its lyrics, it has a lot to offer musically as well. A restrained first verses issues into an explosive chorus, upping the intensity in a heartbeat. There’s rhythm- and time-signature changes aplenty, and a stellar sax solo as the cherry on top.
Other highlights include the ten-minute assault of “Blackjazz Deathtrance”, the instrumental “Healter Skelter” and, of course, the chopped-up, twisted and all in all batshit crazy cover of King Crimson’s iconic song “21st Century Schizoid Man”. You won’t find a more fucked-up version of this track anywhere, I promise.
Suffice it to say that I absolutely adore this record. It floored me the first time I heard it, and it still does every time I sit down to indulge in its supreme weirdness.
And that’s a wrap for another installment of A Scene In Retrospect; hopefully you had as much fun reading this as we had spending time with this record! What are your thoughts on Blackjazz? Do you love/hate/don’t even know it? Let us know in the comments!
Come back in 14 days for more of this feature! I promise we still have a ton of awesome releases to discuss, so make sure to stick with us on this journey. You can also suggest some records you’d like to see receive the classic review treatment if you’re so inclined. Until next time, stay safe, and as always…
…thanks for reading!