This shit is heavy. The vocals are just barely on the Al Jourgensen side of a black metal scream. Everything about this album is intended to unnerve. And just when you think you’ve heard the most extreme sound ever, you realize that there’s no limit on how intense music can get.
Combining propulsive electronica, horn parts whose effects and arrangements defy definition, and grinding, caustic metal with a Bunglesque proclivity, this is a major statement of purpose. I am this close to calling it a taking up of the mantle. The one that’s been collecting dust ever since Mr. Bungle dropped it a decade ago.
The first track starts with a howl/growl vocal onslaught, goes straight into a convoluted speed-dirge of guitar, eventually accelerating via synthesizer in a trance-like spiral, somehow just as heavy but with no guitar. It eventually gets so frenzied I assume the circuitboard blew up, then back into a pounding metal coda. It’s like a marriage of Shibuya-kei and progressive black metal, Cornelius meets Krallice. I’m serious.
It continues on in this blistering manner for the entire album. The song “Healter Skelter” is surely a tribute to Paul McCartney, who envisioned his song “Helter Skelter” “…to be the most raucous vocal, the loudest drums, et cetera” ever heard. They’re almost showing off here. Insane saxophonics over a polyrhythmic, bludgeoning patchwork of riffs and screams, it’s like Naked City with too many electronic toys to play with.
By the time I reached what I’ll call the “Madness And The Damage Done” reprise (talk about an I-love-it-when-a-plan-comes-together moment), I remembered: at the end of the album, this band is going to play “21st Century Schizoid Man”. Holy shit, I can hardly wait. I’ve always wanted to hear a HEAVY version of that song. Many have tried and failed to make any gains on the 1969 version.
This King Crimson cover (with Enslaved's Grutle Kjellson helping out on vocals) makes the short list of tributes that rival the originals. Crimson pushed the limits with “Schizoid Man”; it was the craziest thing ever. Shining is a slave to that same compulsion. Lots of people are going to hate it, call it self-indulgent, say it’s weird or shocking in service of a desperate need to be different. I could almost agree with that assessment of the band UNTIL I heard this album. 2007’s Grindstone is pretty discombobulated, patchy…sort of like early Mr. Bungle. Blackjazz is cohesive and devoid of filler, like Bungle’s final statement, 1999’s California.
The only thing lacking is a moment to take a breath. Mike Patton always knew when to turn on the charm, and previous Shining albums had their moments of calm. But the band has now abandoned any semblance of pleasantness. This is a thorough assault on your senses. And in ten years, there will be music that makes this album seem tame. I’m gonna revel in Blackjazz as long as possible; it might take ten years before I unravel all its sonic secrets.