Overall Score: 8/10 Lyrics: 7/10 Sound: 8/10 Impression: 10/10 Pros: Original | Diverse | No filler Cons: Nothing obviously bad
Although this album only came out last year, it can already in some ways be considered a classic. It got buried or largely forgotten in the end of year lists by many (including myself) as it came out in early January, as not many people were aware of who they were then.
Right from the opening of The Madness and the Damage Done, it is clear that this album is original, and probably unlike anything you’ve heard before. It opens with a disturbing, digitalised scream, followed by an industrial riff that smacks you in the face. When the vocals come in properly, they are distorted, and this compliments the industrial riff very well, as it all sounds very mechanistic.
This is not to say though, that it is mere cold precision, there is certainly a dark edge to it all, and despite the complex rhythms, and the dense layers of industrial synth, the music still has a lot of personality. There is a threat within the music, an impending sense of disaster which puts the listener on edge.
This is particularly evident when the track speeds up with this absolutely manic swirling section, which gets faster and faster, before setting in to the main riff again. When the main riff comes back in, it has a real stomp to it, and the repeated “The madness! And the damage done!” fits the rhythm of the riff perfectly, creating a memorable section in amongst all the chaos. For one track, which is only 5 minutes long to take the listener on such a journey is clearly incredible.
The second track, Fisheye, is certainly more accessible, due to the fact that it has an instantly more memorable hook of “one three seven five”.
Although this series of numbers may not seem memorable, in the context of the song, it certainly is, and despite the fact that the lyrics have no obvious meaning, the fact that Shining can make a series of numbers in to a catchy hook surely, again shows their talent as musicians.
Fisheye also introduces us to the swirling saxophone which features more frequently in the record later on. Although it is only brief, it catches the listener’s attention instantly due to the sudden change in pace, and the analogue sound of the saxophone contrasts so significantly with the other digital instrumentation in the piece, whilst not sounding at all out of place.
Blackjazz continues in a similar fashion to these opening tracks, a stark contrast of memorable riffs and hooks, with swirling keyboards and saxophones, combined with almost schizophrenic changes in mood and pace. One minute, our ears are graced with an almost light, poppy riff, the next, a discordant saxophone playing over a brooding industrial drone. It never gets boring or predictable, which is impressive considering that the album is an hour long, and from personal experience, often when an album is hitting the 1 hour plus mark, it is getting slightly too long.
The album finishes with a strikingly original cover of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man. It is everything that a cover song should be. It in no way ruins the original, because Shining have made it their own song. It is recognisably 21st Century Schizoid Man, and yet, it is also recognisably Shining. It works incredibly well with the rest of the album, as it adds a slight familiarity in amongst the dark uncertainty of the rest of the music.
In brief, everyone should own a copy of Blackjazz, as it is guaranteed to be unlike any other album you own. Although that sounds like a tired cliché, in this case, it is genuinely true. Make no mistake, on first listen it is almost terrifyingly inaccessible, because it is so unlike anything else, but with repeat listens, it will undoubtedly become one of the most rewarding albums you own. It is almost impossible to recommend any similar artists, simply because there aren’t any at the moment. People who complain about a lack of originality in the metal scene today obviously haven’t discovered this gem of an album. If you feel bored or jaded by what you’re currently hearing in metal, and you want something truly fresh, you couldn’t do much better than nabbing a copy of Blackjazz.