The intersection of jazz and metal is a fairly well-documented phenomenon by now, and more and more bands seem to be pulling from their jazz influences to take their own sound to the next level — and often to great acclaim, at that. A surprising number of similarities do indeed exist between the two [as we’ve examined in the past] — perhaps more so in the more progressive spheres of metal music, but with jazz being as vast and varied as it is, one could argue there is always room for more innovation in that regard.
Enter Norway’s Shining, who decided on their breakthrough 2010 record Blackjazz to channel their musical origins into a more avant-garde and industrial sound. The record’s name is apt; abrasive, heavily distorted riffs run amok amongst electronic beats while blistering sax solos dance across when one least expects them to. Their new sound, helmed by frontman and multitasker extraordinaire Jørgen Munkeby, was appropriately very well-received, though the landmark album’s excellent followup One One One kicked back on the experimentation a tad. Now, the mavericks are back and so is blackjazz; International Blackjazz Society, in turn, follows suit in some ways — but only some.
The record starts off in explosive fashion; opening track “Admittance” is a monstrous, sax-driven cascade, introducing a progression that later makes some clever reappearances along the album’s runtime. The jazz does take a bit of a backseat over the next few tracks akin to the sound on One One One, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering several of them — particularly lead single “The Last Stand” — are instant anthems unto themselves, and practically begging to be performed in massive arenas. In that regard, it appears that Shining have very likely been listening to an awful lot of industrial metal lately; particularly the works of Nine Inch Nails, to the extent where Munkeby sounds closer to Trent Reznor vocally on the 7-minute epic “House of Control” than he ever has before.
Yet the album shines most outside of the more anthemic songs — “Thousand Eyes” is a massive-sounding experimental rock romp wherein former Leprous drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen delivers a stellar drum solo, while the deliciously jazz-infused instrumental “House of Warship” takes the sax progressions from opening track “Admittance” to a whole new level. In a welcome change in direction for Shining, the aforementioned “House of Control” almost evokes the more progressive side of The Dillinger Escape Plan in its structuring, and is easily an album highlight. That’s not to say the rest is particularly lacking, but the band’s jazz background means that the more nonstandard songs have that much of an extra punch to them.
One thing is abundantly clear: this is no longer the heavily avant-garde Shining of Blackjazz, and the experimentation to be found on International Blackjazz Society hardly reaches the boldness of that of the 2010 record. That being said, it feels like the band are finally settling on an overall sound instead of letting their ambition run wild, and thus essentially perfecting what they ventured towards with One One One, making Society an absolutely solid record in itself. Did I mention there are sax solos?