For a group that started out as a jazz quartet, Shining are as metal as it gets. Beginning their career with a debut album full of acoustic free-jazz musings, they soon turned their attention towards jazz fusion and progressive rock, before settling on extreme metal on the excellent Blackjazz. Although many line-up changes have occurred, the band’s ever-distinctive style has been mostly maintained by the constant presence of Jørgen Munkeby - saxophonist and later vocalist for the group. His tenure in forward-thinking Norwegian collective Jaga Jazzist helped establish the band’s sound and attitude towards songwriting. Now, the band have expanded their back catalogue further, with the addition of the recently released International Blackjazz Society. The album is noteworthy in that it combines the approaches of the band’s two previous releases – Blackjazz and One One One. It incorporates the jazz-oriented, complex and progressive nature of the former LP with the more direct, riff-based style the group explored on the latter.
The album opens with the swirling Admittance, its sprawling sax leads and chaotic discord demanding as much attention as possible. This track does a good job of instantly dispelling any myths that the group had abandoned their jazz origins lately, and leads into first song The Last Stand, whose whirring synths and grinding guitar add to the track’s industrial feel. A steady hard rock beat spans most of the song, before this is abandoned in favour of a saxophone-oriented breakdown. Undoubtedly, one of the most important elements of this album is the saxophone. Munkeby’s virtuosity and preferred harsh timbre help maintain both the jazz and metal styles, which are central to the album’s aesthetic. This is nowhere more evident than on House Of Warship. Despite Shining’s obvious transgression from their pure jazz roots, this track is just as akin to free jazz as anything on the band’s debut, if not more so.
In spite of Munkeby’s extraordinary use of the saxophone, one may get the sense that he does not put a great deal of effort into his singing – perhaps due to his previous focus on extreme vocals. Whilst there is certainly a great deal of emotion and expression in his voice, I expect few would claim his vocal talents to be anything beyond adequate. However, album highlight House Of Control is an exception to this. The track begins with the same unsettling instrumentation and melody which permeates many of the songs on the album, before building to a powerful chorus. The final sections of the track are truly phenomenal, with Munkeby’s soaring vocals complemented by lush, orchestral arrangements. He laments, “I sold all the things I love for a place in this house of control”, giving a poignant end to a track otherwise mired in sounds of aggression and eeriness.
After the harrowing interlude of Church Of Endurance, the album finishes with Need, a frantic riff-fest which is perhaps the most energetic, heavy track on the entire album. It appears that Shining decided to give a little extra something to their metal-head fans, and what’s more metal than cowbell? As it turns out, nothing (at least in Shining’s case). After seven albums, it seems the band have finally found a sound they want to stick with, and have grown from changing it with every album to honing it – and that’s no bad thing. Whilst the LP doesn’t quite reach the heights of their phenomenal, 2010 magnum opus Blackjazz, it certainly is a worthy successor both in style and in name. This is a brilliant album amongst a superb back catalogue of music. The society’s “mission statement” ends with “For Excellence”. I couldn’t agree more.