For almost twenty years, Norway’s Shining has made its mark upon the face of experimental music, with frontman and multi-instrumentalist Jørgen Munkeby coining his own genre, “blackjazz”. Shining’s eclectic fusion of jazz and metal has captivated and intrigued me for a while now – from the industrial, wonky take on a King Crimson feel on 2005’s ‘In The Kingdom of Kitch You Will Be A Monster’, to 2015’s ‘International Blackjazz Society’, which had a cleaner and more produced sound without taking away from the grittiness that comes with a Shining record.
‘Animal’ is neither of those albums. And it certainly isn’t blackjazz.
Now, I entirely respect and acknowledge that the band wanted a change in sound, desiring a new direction. I just never would have expected keyboards to completely replace saxophone, simplistic drums that are tight but well below the level of someone like Tobias Ørnes Andersen, and most especially, the change in vocals. While I can appreciate a deviation of style, Munkeby’s distorted, pained vocals have abruptly become what I can only describe as a cross between Marilyn Manson and Maroon 5. I am blaming this on an over-produced sound, which is unnecessary when you actually have talent. It takes away from the music itself, the writing, the performance… all I can hear is a computer and that is the opposite of what jazz is about. That being said, I recognize that it is unfair to say that this is a bad album based on a comparison to previous material or what fans would expect.
‘Animal’ opens with “Take Me”, which, to use the words of the band’s website, is a “party metal carnival”. As is the following track, the single “Animal”, which features sections that do reflect the ghost of Shining’s older self. I must admit that a major aspect of generally-palatable music is catchiness, and the first three tracks on this album definitely possess that. For as much as I don’t like the verses of “My Church”, I do enjoy the way it comes out of the chorus, and the line “welcome to my church” has been stuck in my head. A couple of tracks later (surpassing certain songs that I really do not like the style of), you have “Smash It Up”, which initially sounds like a soccer anthem, but has an almost technical and heavy bridge. “Everything Dies” and “End” make a great finale to the album, but then “Hole In The Sky”, a duet with Norwegian pop singer Linnea Dale, rounds everything off on a sombre yet optimistic note.
If this is what clubbing in Norway is like, I guess I’m up for it, but sitting at home with a beer, flannel pjs and a new Shining record… it’s just not the right album for that. Which is fine, depending on your expectation. Therefore, with an unbiased perspective, I can safely say that the band has successfully changed its sound, going from experimental blackjazz to… whatever uplifting, party atmosphere with overproduced aspects and a somewhat early 2000s twist that ‘Animal’ is. I really wish that I could love this album as much as any other Shining release, but a change in style and a change in production are very different, and the latter has left me with a sour taste in my ears that I just can’t shake. The kick drum, for some reason, has a wet quality to it, and the cymbals are quite muted. The vocals are predominant throughout, and as I have mentioned, the auto-tuned characteristic is distracting and disappointing. I’m not sure if this is the band’s goal for the album, or if it’s due to partial mixing being done by a producer of Papa Roach and Five Finger Death Punch… regardless, neither the overall sound nor the territory of the songwriting are what I had anticipated when I delved into ‘Animal’.
As a huge fan of all other Shining records, I feel like this doesn’t really count as one, since every part of what defined the band is different. If the target was a new group of listeners, then I’m sure this album will be very successful, but I think I’ll be a snob and stick with my copy of ‘Blackjazz’.