Over the past couple weeks, both political parties gave us their vision for Amerca’s future at their respective conventions, and the difference couldn’t have been starker. At the Republican National Convention, conservatives took to the stage to wax ecstatic about the America that once existed before the evil Obama came along and ruined it all. Jon Stewart said it best, “The message of this convention is that apparently up until about November of 2008, Americans lived in a utopian ideal born of our own gumption and individual hard work.” The Democrats, on the other hand, presented a vision for the future, begging Americans to give Barrack Obama another four years to make it happen. Basically, one party looks to the past while another aims for the future.
In Dan Deacon’s latest opus “America,” this same clash of views can be found in his blend of classic orchestration and in your face futuristic electronic blips and hisses. But this dichotomy of sound goes beyond the political landscape – it forces these two beasts to face off – an audio battle royale where the grand American landscape goes nine rounds with the technological progress that dares to spit into the wind. It’s Cowboys vs. Indians, North vs. South, Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, all wrapped into one ambitiously, epic album.
In the past decade, jazz has been sitting in neutral. There are still talented artists thriving, whether it be in elevators or on The Weather Channel, but the journey within the genre has become sedentary. You can’t blame the musicians. It seems that all avenues have been explored, ranging from bebop, hard bop, blues, big band, free jazz, latin jazz, modal jazz, swing, afrobeat, jazz fusion, and acid jazz. There’s a reason why Ken Burn’s documentary “Jazz” is over 18 hours long. The free-flowing form has come a long way. When “jass music” was conceived in the cultural jambalaya of New Orleans, it was considered to be “the music of the devil” due to its popularity in the black night clubs and whore houses (the self-proclaimed creator of “jass”, Jelly Roll Martin, got his start playing in brothels, improvising based on the action in the bed next to his piano).
These days, jazz is the furthest thing from “music of the devil”. That title would have to go to metal, another music form that has evolved and branched out over the years (heavy metal, death metal, doom metal, black metal, speed metal, gothic metal, thrash metal, glam metal, post-metal, power metal, industrial metal, prog-metal, rap metal, stoner metal, and so on). Although young in comparison to jazz, metal seems in need of a fresh new take on the genre. Step in Shining, the experimental metal band from Norway who got their start as an acoustic jazz band.
On their latest release, “Blackjazz”, the doom-heads decided to try combining the two devilish music forms from the past 100 years, resulting in a black metal album of hellacious proportions. Upon first listen, “Blackjazz” seems to be simply a polished black metal album, but beyond the familiar machine gun drums and crunching guitar riffs, this is more than simply black metal. Shining rely heavily on the synth, but instead of providing simply an ominous cloak, the keyboard is twinkled sporadically like a possessed Duke Ellington, venturing through scales and chord progressions more familiar to jazz night clubs than church burnings. At times the album doesn’t even resemble music, rather a Jackson Pollock of sound, splattering up and down the malicious jazz scale in search of melody.
The jazz meanderings are more obvious when Jørgen Munkeb picks up the saxophone and honks out notes like a line of tumbling dominos, notes rising and falling at will as the horn meshes with the chaos surrounding it. On “Fish Eye”, not only does Jørgen’s sax give the black metal venture fresh blood, but the synths vaguely resemble the four trumpeters of the apocalypse, blaring in the arrival of the Black Masque of Death. Although the sax can only be found on a few tracks, the spirit of the fiery horn section remains a constant within the wall of noise.
“Fish Eye” live from Norwegian TV:
The technical aptitude of these former jazz musicians is audible throughout the album, but it is most evident on “Healter Skelter.” Somehow they are able to provide the chaotic free jazz style of Ornette Coleman while still successfully scaring the shit out of you. It flows between the two musical forms naturally like a tornado in the sky, gaining speed and fury as it moves along.
Much more “Healter Skelter” than anything The Beatles came up with:
Shining also move away from typical lo-fi black metal production, relying on producer Sean Beavan who’s worked with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. Beavan’s sleek production at times makes “Blackjazz” sound more like “IndustrialJazz”, but he also provides stability to the disorder. Singer Jørgen Munkeby’s howls often resemble that of a young Trent Reznor, screaming over the uproar of synth and drum machines. “The Madness and the Damage Done” could easily be mistaken as a b-side on any of Reznor’s multitude of “Halo” albums:
To simply categorize this as a “black jazz” album due simply to the title would be foolish. Shining are as much influenced by free jazz and black metal as they are by industrial metal and progressive rock (the band covers King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” to close the album). Whatever you want to call it, there is no doubt that these Norwegians have exorcised the true, dark spirit of jazz and unleashed itback into the world to wreak havoc. Watch out Weather Channel, there’s an apocalyptic storm on the horizon.