Review: Shining “Animal” [Spinefarm Records]

Review: Shining “Animal” [Spinefarm Records]

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Trying to define the kind of music played by Shining is about as easy as pushing toothpaste back in the tube. Many have tried before with some kind of blackjazz metal mix-up normally finding its way into the conversation.

Well, the presence of the Norwegians’ saxophone largely accounts for that particular tag. In many ways this sells this distinctive collective short. Shining really are exceptional and on new album Animal little short of exceptionally brilliant.

Shining are no strangers to the metal community of course having been around for 20 years or so during which frontman Jørgen Munkeby has at times developed a reputation as something of a challenging character. Well speak as you find and all that. And having spent some time in his company at Bloodstock a few years ago he came across superbly, friendly and articulate and keen to chat.

More important than that, on the Sophie Stage at Catton Park in the UK countryside his band turned in one of the standout sets of that year’s BOA, a set that was built around International Blackjazz Society. That was an absolute blast, as was its predecessor One, One, One but Animal is infinitely more engaging, edging dare we say it almost towards populist at times.

In discussing this album Munkeby has referenced Scandinavian brethren Ghost and he’s not wide of the mark in doing so. The big sound, passion and mesmerizing melodies that are in evidence from the grandeur of opening song “Take Me” are indeed reminiscent at times of Papa and the Ghouls.

The Norwegians’ have a new bass player in Ole Vistnes who also took a key role in the writing of the album, the timing of which unfortunately coincided with some very serious health issues for Munkeby’s father. While some of that darkness may have touched elements of the album the vast majority of the threads are joyous, with grooves alive with energy and spirit.

The album’s title track is immense surging forward in waves, each turn adding more flavour with some instinctive pauses merely adding to the sense of excitement. By the time “My Church” launches itself into a pounding intro it becomes clear Shining really have struck gold with this release as Munkeby belts out ‘Welcome to My Church’ as the tempo spirals invitingly ever higher. Although the tempo throughout is livelier than a new born foal, the melancholic “When the Lights Go Out” has a haunting emptiness to it, at times pulsing with emotion.

Undoubtedly the suggestion that Animals is bordering a party album may force some of those who usually prefer to walk down darker avenues to shift uneasily in their seats. That would be a shame. The likes of “When I’m Gone” and “End” have a richness in sound previously untouched by Shining while the closing track “Hole in the Sky” is an absolute heartbreaker given even greater resonance by the shimmering presence of Linnea Dale who shares vocals with Munkeby.

Under Munkeby’s stewardship Shining have always been innovators, leaders rather than followers. Taking a risk, even at the expense of potentially losing some fans, is not one to be taken lightly. Munkeby has the confidence to swim against the tide and on Animals he’s unleashed an outstanding album that it’s hard to believe anyone will ever tire of hearing.

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