Sound — 8
Welcome to the "International Blackjazz Society." This is the seventh album by something-or-others Shining (not the Swedish one), the crazy Norwegians who've had their influence felt in many places throughout their crazy career.
By that, crazy really does not quite do enough justice. Starting as a somewhat typical jazz group way back in the early 2000's, Shining had a very manic and discordant edge even then. Since their 2005 album "In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster," Shining have been on this completely bonkers path of genre blending that very few bands could pull off convincingly. Everything starting getting properly crazy when 2010's "Blackjazz" came about.
Imagine taking the freeform feeling of accomplished jazz filtered through terrifying synthesizers, industrial precision, chromatic textures and riffs topped off with manic saxophone and that's only half the picture. Personal investment aside, no band of recent memory has really made anything like it before or since, not even Shining themselves. That sound's like an odd statement, but "International Blackjazz Society" is a different album, one that builds off of the more streamlined, post-punkish, Muse-infused "One One One" but twists it just a little bit more into The Land of the Completely Barmy.
It's really strange that this album is unbelievably catchy considering that "Blackjazz" had entire soundscapes of dementia in place of songs ("Blackjazz Deathtrance" for instance) but in effect, it makes the craziness much more approachable for this record. Unbelievably really is the word to use because despite the riffs often being very amelodic (and also being subject to midriff key transitions) there's enough sanity to bring you in while it also parallels with the crazy side of Shining's music.
The song that exemplifies this the best is "House of Control": at first a sedate piece that starts of in anxious, twisting manner but brings the hammer down with riff after riff in a cathartic, heavy ballad. Some of that "Blackjazz"/"Omen" atmosphere also seeps into this surprisingly melodic piece (the only instance ever in the last 3 albums where Jorgen Munkeby actually sings).
Speaking of Jorgen, he has to be one of the insane metal musicians on the planet. Not only did he do the sax to Ihsahn's albums "After" and "Eremita," he's also played on Marty Friedman's "Inferno" and recently on the Haunted Shores' "Viscera" EP (the song is "Blast Inc."). He is indeed, a very saxy man and this multi-role he plays as guitarist, saxophonist, vocalist and frontman is ironically integral to how tight and focused this album sounds.
Lyrics — 8
If you've seen a recent picture or video of Jorgen Munkeby, you'll probably note that he might be just be a little bit, er, off his rocker. It's the eyes, man. Actually insane or not, the effect is channelled perfectly through his vocal style which could be akin to a mad prophet in a particularly frenzied state of drug-fueled proclamation.
Although the harsh distortion is turned down a little and the performance is (weirdly enough) less mad than what he had going on in 2010, the unhinged delivery still gels with the sound.
Lyrically, it's hard to get a proper grip of the specific subject presented per song, but overall Shining's themes can often deal with vengeance and reprisal, often portrayed through clinical, cynical deconstructions of a hypothetical receiver. The unhinged vocal style plays along with this lyrical approach in a very strong way, really enhancing the "crazy man on the edge" vibe that Munkeby revels in.
Overall Impression — 9
While it's not quite the apocalyptic odyssey that "Blackjazz" was, "International Blackjazz Society" is still a jumpy trip down Paranoia Lane occasionally interrupted with the odd bout of a homeless man blowing sax in your ear. Like paranoia itself, it's a deathly catchy piece of work but it still manages to be vaguely fun in the process.
Just keep in mind that if you're given a razor blade during a live show, you're probably watching the wrong band.
Songs to look out for: "Last Day," "Thousand Eyes," "House of Control," "Need."