Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and Venom’s Black Metal provided subgenres with nametags and made indelible imprints on future music makers. Shining’s Blackjazz attempts the same kind of codification, but rarely rings true. The Norwegian group’s high-energy concoction takes the theater of black metal as a jumping-off point for a finely tuned battery of music that moves beyond the barriers of tradition and “purity” that hamper truly progressive moves in metal.
Shining began, oddly enough, as an acoustic jazz quartet, but save for a saxophone that’s often lost in the mix, there’s not much evident jazz influence on Blackjazz. More palpable is the mechanical aggression of industrial music and the groove-based riffage of recent Satyricon. The proggy compositions and impressive musicianship aren’t as prevalent as one might think, and for every flurry of acrobatic fretwork, there’s a segment of chunky, gritty melodicism that sounds more radio-friendly alternative rock than cult black metal.
When Shining go technical, they do so with a flourish, but often seem too eager to return to the simpler crowd-pleasing verses and choruses that make up the meat of the album. Bandleader Jørgen Munkeby remarked that the band was looking for “commercial catchiness” on this album, and they seem to have found it in healthy doses, allowing it to lord over the more interesting bits of the disc. An abundance of synthesizer doesn’t help things in that regard, used too often as an accompaniment that is capable of making even the band’s most twisted jaunts sound remixed for club consumption. Luckily, this isn’t always the case: “Omen” is an unhinged nine minutes that, even with cheesy keyboards, marks the album’s most apparent nod to the melodic sense of Ornette Coleman and the jazz that’s in the album’s title.
Shining’s push towards a new transmutation of metal endeavors to reach the future via the past. The cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” tips their collective cap in an obvious way to classic prog, and the guitar work, especially, sounds more like a variation on mid-1990s Nine Inch Nails or Rob Zombie than a bracingly innovative sound.