Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No Longer A Secret Society: Shining's International Blackjazz Society Stretches A Bit Closer to the Mainstream

Seven albums deep into their career (5 since they started incorporating hard rock and metal elements), Shining shows no signs of relenting.  At least, they show no signs of returning to the free jazz of their early days.  Indeed, the Norwegian extreme metalers seem to be making strides towards a more mainstream sound on International Blackjazz Society.  If 2010’s Blackjazz was the benchmark for extreme music, 2013’s One One One took the heaviness and brutality from its predecessor, and trimmed them down into more bite-sized servings.   Blackjazz had songs ranging from 5 to 11 minutes in length, whereas One One One’s longest was barely four and a half. 
On the hilariously-acronym’d IBS, their ideas are even more distilled.  The vocals are a bit cleaner and more understandable.  “House of Control” even includes some of the only clean-sung vocals in Shining’s entire output.  “The Last Stand” has a dancey backbeat reminiscent of mid-2000s Nine Inch Nails.  “Last Day”, with is screamed chorus and ample use of sonic dissonance, is still surprisingly catchy.  And let’s not forget vocalist/guitarist Jørgen Munkeby’s sax interludes and solos, which have long-since been a staple of what has become an otherwise pretty straight-forward extreme metal band.

Unfortunately, IBS is a bit top-heavy.  The band opted to pack the best songs into the first half of the album, the latter half suffering some from overly lengthy tracks or unimportant interludes.  There’s a fantastic drum solo on “Thousand Eyes”, though.

Sure, the record might be a bit dated sonically.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  If anything, it ensures that many fans of early-2000s metal will be willing to give the band a try.  And sure, Shining has their niche.  But for a metal band, they always find some way to be new on every record, which can’t be said for a lot of bands in the genre. And their music video for “Last Day”, filmed live atop a mountain in Norway, is proof enough that it’s worth keeping an eye on Shining, if only to see what they attempt next.

7.5 out of 10

Monday, October 26, 2015

Killing Joke Builds Pylon. Electricity Courses Through All Who Listen.

Above the door to the Western World hangs a sign that reads: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here. –at least, that’s the impression one gets when listening to the latest Killing Joke effort, Pylon.

30 years after their brief flirtations with fame and mass acceptance, and 35 years since the release of their debut, Killing Joke proves they are unyielding in their attack.

And Killing Joke is not a band to pull punches.  Gone is the lush, introspective, synth-laden band of the mid-to-late 80s, penning songs contemplating the search for truth and fulfilling one’s spiritual potential.  Replaced instead by sharp, steely guitars, cavernous war drums, a heaviness so thick you could get stuck.

Pylon, the final installment in a trilogy of records that began with Absolute Dissent in 2010, and continued with MMXII in 2012, is the perfect end to a trio of records that could easily be the soundtrack to the impending apocalypse.  

Corporations and banks rule the economy, western religion is quickly becoming a mockery of itself, and the civilian cattle youth have lost their way, wandering aimless, hopelessly glued to their mobile devices, with a glazed look of cynical, jaded ennui.  “I am the fury/the spirit of outrage” growls vocalist Jaz Coleman in “I Am the Virus”.  One generation created the problems of the modern world, and the generation tasked with solving those problems has already given up.  Killing Jokes screams its message over the deafening droning hum of millions of blank minds: Everything is not alright in the world.  

Like much of their output, Killing Joke’s powerful sense of revelry and raw abandon comes from the repetition of one or two riffs.  Which, when combined with bellowed lyrics concerning anything considered a social faux-pas to discuss (Oil, corporatism, capitalism, religion, war-mongering, the pitfalls of a technology-based living), is what creates the frenetic exorcism of Killing Joke’s music.  To balance the repetition of the guitar, Drummer Paul Ferguson bashes out some of the most danceable, driving beats.  Songs like “New Cold War” with its disco-metal beat and the bluesy swing of “New Jerusalem” are never the focus of the song, but the feeling of catharsis is impossible to ignore.  Sure the world's going to hell.  Might as well enjoy it.

In truth, no one instrument stands out above the rest in the mix.  Killing Joke has taken great care to make sure that no single part is more important than the whole.  There are no guitar solos, only guitar breaks.  The drum work isn’t showy, opting instead for tribal drum breaks and samples in the middle of a song, like in album opener “Autonomous Zone” and the aforementioned “I Am the Virus”.  The music’s job is only to trap the listener and beat them into zombie-like trance, unable to disregard Jaz Coleman's call to arms against our corporate overlords.

As on the previous two albums, Killing Joke has embraced writing songs of more substantial length, giving themselves room to stretch and explore various motifs.  The shortest song on Pylon is still over 4 minutes long, with most tracks lying somewhere in the 5-7 minute range, giving the song space to build into a mighty juggernaut of intensity. 

It is clear what the band wants to say.  The Joke have a message to bring the world, and it will not be handed to us on a gilded piece of parchment, wax sealed and delivered by courier.  It will be shouted from the rooftops, bludgeoned into our souls.  It is unrelenting in its pursuit.  The mission is the Truth, the harbinger is Killing Joke.  They will not stop their assault until everyone is clear on their intention: the world must change, or face imminent destruction.  By the end of the record, the listener deduces that this is not, in fact, the soundtrack to the impending apocalypse, but the final bastion of reason standing between humanity’s vapid existence and its inevitable and fast-approaching doom.

Generally speaking, this kind of prolonged onslaught of the senses is probably not for everyone.  But Killing Joke doesn't care; they're going to make you listen, anyways.

9 out of 10