Live Blackjazz

Metal-jazz fusion or jazz-metal fusion? Or is it neither jazz nor metal? Live Blackjazz is a dvd/ cd release recorded at Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo by Shining. A quick history from the metal context has them forming as a jazz quartet in 1998 and releasing several well received albums before getting to perform with Enslaved, with whom they did a commissioned work for Molde international Jazz festival 2008. Guest vocals on “Omen,” and, “21st Century Schizoid Man” off Blackjaz were by Grutle Kjellson, another reason why you may have encountered Shining. Sadly we do not get to hear him perform those songs on the dvd. You may also know saxophone player Jørgen Munkeby by his association with Emperor main man Ihsahn. Munkeby played on his latest solo effort.

Feb 16th 2010 was the day I got Blackjazz. Here I sit Feb 14 2012 reviewing Live Blackjazz. Two year old songs released as a live album? What’s the motivation to get this disk? For one, The older pre 2010 material is reinvented for Shining‘s new persona, and works even better. For another, this is a live album from a band that really shines live.

I first heard Shining back in 2002 stumbling on them through Jaga Jazzist, where Jørgen Munkeby spent seven years. It was there he was exposed to the electronic pop side as well as smooth jazz. Munkeby started out emulating Jan Garbarek then Coltrane. Drummer Torstein Lofthus is the only other founding member. The Norwegian Academy of Music teacher has been on the drum stool throughout Shining’s metamorphosis, and the drumming on display is top notch, worthy of his name in the credits. I can imagine jazz purists hating on his efforts here, unfounded I must say.

So leap forward to 2005 when Shining really established their new direction and take Meshuggah and Emperor and Olivier Messiaen and throw them into the mix. Think Messiaen when you listen to “Healter Skelter” and “Goretex Weather Report”, think Meshuggah when you listen to “Exit Sun.” By 2010 they had a name for their style. “The idea was to set a name on the music we played, and make it the name of our record. Just like the Ornette Coleman record Free Jazz, or Venom´s Black Metal. Up until then everyone asked what music we played, and we could not answer, but now we can. We play Black Jazz.”

Complex arrangements, odd time signatures, frequent time changes, short dissonant phrasing, long wandering linear compositions, intense energy, bombastic solos, all hallmarks used in both jazz and metal, yet for decades I’ve encountered a wall in people’s minds, jazz on one side metal on the other, and never the two shall mix. In Shining you’ve got progressive rock, which was heavily influenced by the likes of Ayler, Coleman, Miles Davis then add back in jazz influences directly, everyone from Basie to Braxton, add to that the progressive black of Enslaved and Emperor, which is itself influenced by progressive rock acts like King Crimson and Yes, and therefore linked back to the jazz greats, so anyone out there that says Shining is not jazz is pretty dense, and probably has a strong distaste for Peter Brotzmann.

I am one that has always said the jazz fusion label should have been changed to rock fusion because all those bands, Weather Report, John McLaughlin, Graham Bond, Tony Williams, etc. all those guys recorded and played with jazz icons yet the music they were putting out was more rock and soul than jazz. So here we have Shining, a self proclaimed metal band that comes out of the jazz scene, and not just by way of fusion and progressive rock, but by way of studying jazz full time at music school. They even signed with Indie Records, a known extreme metal label, an act that would offend jazz purists if they were still paying attention, because signing with them would align them more fully in the metal sphere. So after more than a decade of performing at jazz festivals and having albums named jazz album of the year have they finally turned to the dark side, the correct side, and despite the fact they have performed to 80,000 fans, should we as metal fanatics allow them into our club?

So since this is a live set of their favorite songs from throughout the later half of their career it makes sense to discuss that evolution. Lets get the rest of the ‘sounds like’ list out of the way. Slayer, Dillinger Escape Plan, Sun O))), Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Meshuggah, Nine Inch Nails, Emperor, Bach, Weather Report.

First thing is that programming and arrangements are often complex. The music is always intense and hard driving, but even at its harshest extreme its jazz foundation shows through. To this virtuosity and progressive rock complexities, add in some third stream classicism. Metal fans will find many things to hate. Jazz fans will find many things to hate.

So now we should discuss this DVD. Several of the songs are spot on and a few are streamlined for the live set. The older songs are updated. Some of the intricacy is lost live but not because of a lack of playing ability but from the ramped up intensity of the live set. Add a few more musicians and they could pull off their more intricate compositions as originally written. I count myself a fan of the early releases and would have liked to have heard “Herbert West-Reanimator” and “Small Steps” reimagined for today’s vision. I have been listening to Shining since 2002 and yes I still listen to the first two albums. “Stalemate Longan Runner” is another gem that could stand the re-polishing treatment.

The cd tracklist is “Fisheye” (the single version), “The Madness and the Damage Done” (from Blackjazz), “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster” (from Grindstone), “The Red Room” (from Grindstone), “Goretex Weather Report”(from In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster), “Winterreise” (from Grindstone), “Exit Sun” (from Blackjazz), “HEALTER SKELTER” (from Blackjazz), “21st Century Schizoid Man” (from Blackjazz). The DVD includes “Omen” (from Blackjazz), and “RMGDN” (from the vinyl edition of Blackjazz).

“Goretex Weather Report” combines moody solos with electronic repetition and heavy rhythmic guitars. Linking it all together is a simple engaging riff and the power of Lofthus’ drumming. “In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be a Monster,” is an ungodly heavy, slow punishing number that screams metal. Heavy guitars and punishing drums infused with an undercurrent of notes that pick at your innards and ooze a twisted delight. “Winterreise” is a symphonic frenzy that exudes metal with a third stream classical middle section. Sheer power and a ferocious delivery melds into a beautifully jagged dark classicism. “Fisheye” is heavily built around one huge riff and intense blasts of saxophone shrieks, all of which are held together by the synth. “The Madness and the Damage Done” is opened with a ferocious vocal delivery filled with repetitive riffing that rips through you as much as the incessant screaming. The keyboards really shine. Wait for the final minute. And don’t bother thinking of Neil Young‘s “The Needle and the Damage Done.” The impossibly complex “Healter Skelter” is a straight forward extreme jazz piece with monstrous guitar and frantic saxophone that has Peter Brotzmann’s name all over. This version of King Crimson‘s seminal “21st Century Schizoid Man” comes from a request for a cover song. The guys in the band were asked to cover this song and said they did not really know King Crimson. It is quite obvious they have respect for the band now, this marvelous rendition is sure to infuriate all King Crimson megafans out there, which is what a cover song should do. The original was chaotic, Shining’s version is easily the most penetrable song on the disc. And then there is the amazingly intense and brutal 10 minute long “Exit Sun” and the 20 minute long “RMGDN” that closes out the show in mesmerizing fashion thanks in no small part to the schizophrenic synths that would have extended Weather Report’s career if Zawinul had thought it out. Too bad it is only on the video. Also only on the video do you get the full onslaught of a nearly thirty minute instrumental tear that features seamlessly flowing “The Red Room” into “Omen” into “Goretex Weather Report” into “Winterreise” into “Exit Sun,” where we get some vocals half way through. Along the way Munkeby tears it up on sax, guitar and flute, a true highlight of the show. Do what I did, rip the audio from the dvd.

The DVD clocks in at one hour thirty-eight minutes, about forty minutes more than the cd, and features multiple cameras, tons of close ups and excellent sound quality. And of course the usual light and smoke show. All in all a quality presentation of outstanding music. Blackjazz would have made my 2010 best of list but I was still thinking of them in a jazz context. They signed to Indie Records because of the various black metal bands on the label and because the label would push their name in metal circles. Good enough for me, I put Live Blackjazz on my 2011 best of list. Welcome to the metal world.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Grimulfr
February 16th, 2012


  1. Commented by: Gabaghoul

    Most in-depth review in TOTD history!

  2. Commented by: denial

    this is a terrible band who should stop making music and be sued by the real shining

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