Album Review: Shining Go in a Bold New Direction on Animal… But Does it Work?
Shining mastermind Jørgen Munkeby wanted to do something completely different with his band this time around. After three pioneering records in the “blackjazz” mold — a searing, kinetic concoction of black metal melodic construction, industrial percussion, pop songwriting sensibility and free-form, saxophone-led, jazz freakouts — he felt it was time to change it up. Doing the same thing over and over gets boring for us creative types, you know?
“I was tired of doing the same thing. I was done with ‘Blackjazz’ and wanted to create something new and exciting. I needed a change. I’m finally at the point where I have nothing to lose and everything to win. We had 360 degrees to play with so we could’ve gone in any direction. This new record is more Muse than Meshuggah, more Ghost than Gojira, and more Biffy Clyro than Burzum!”
Well, Munkeby delivered on his stated goal: Animal is most certainly different. But how do those changes sit with us, the fans?
My short answer to that question: sometimes it works wonderfully and sometimes it falls flat.
Here’s the long version:
Shining 2k18 sonically name-check all the bands Munkeby mentioned above, and the result is a quirky hard rock package that takes the pop elements that’ve always been in the band’s sound and pushes them to the forefront. When the band keeps things riffy and punchy, as on the title track, it works very well, sounding very much like Shining just with outsized choruses instead of anything black metal or jazz-inspired. I’ve always maintained that there is a place for well-done, complex hard rock — your anti-Breaking Benjamin — and songs like “Animal” nail that to perfection. “Smash It Up,” “Everything Dies” and album opener “Take Me” deliver in the same fashion: big riffs, big hooks, all around fun times.
Elsewhere, I’m just not feeling it. The egregious overuse of auto-tune on this album’s vocals really grates my ears (even on the tracks I like), in no small part because it’s wholly unnecessary and seems added only as a vocal effect. Munkeby has a fantastic natural singing voice so why cover it up, strip it of all its wonderful grit and make it sound robotic? Beyond that, the band’s attempts at ballads don’t cut it, not because I have anything against slower numbers — I loooove a good ballad! — but because these particular ones just don’t sound Shining-like in the slightest to me. “When I’m Gone” and “When the Lights Go Out” both have their moments but ultimately leave me with more cheese in my belly than I’m comfortable with,a whole lot of bloat. On the mid-tempo groover “My Church” the auto-tuned vocals are over the top… no no no no no! Nails on a chalkboard, cut it out! I understand and respect that it’s any artists right to try new things (see this review’s first paragraph), and indeed, that seems to have been Munkeby’s goal, but these tracks are just not connecting with me.
Animal finishes off strong, though. Its penultimate track, “End,” strikes a nice balance by keeping close to Shining’s core while expanding outside of their usual comfort zone into proggy territory, perhaps portending what direction the band could side-step in the future. Album closer “Hole In The Sky” (with Linnea Dale) is a gorgeous, synth-based song that doesn’t sound like anything Shining’s done before.
Still, the album is a real mixed bag. I’m not doubting Munkeby’s decision to take Shining in a different direction, I just don’t think he’s got the “new and improved” formula of Shining 2.0 (or 3.0?) quite right yet. At least he tried, which is more than most metal artists can say.
Check out “Animal” below. Animal comes out on October 19th through Spinefarm Records and can be pre-ordered here.