'One One One' - Shining (6/10)
A couple of months ago, I read an essay written by Shining frontman Jørgen Munkeby, the essence of which argued that the human ear is in constant search for a greater degree of dissonance and extremity, and that popular musical trends are built around this notion. While it's one thing to take dissonance to heart in a relatively 'high culture' environment (like a certain Parisian theatre in 1913), there's a different sort of challenge in trying to marry an inherently challenging device in popular music. Shining's "One One One" is not so groundbreaking in this regard as a work by Stravinsky or Penderecki, but I'm sensing the same sort of adventurous intent here. Atop a tight foundation of dance-able rock energy, Shining add an unfamiliar distortion and atmospheric weirdness that sounds surprisingly unsettling, even to a seasoned progger's ears. "One One One" may not be grim or jazzy enough to warrant the band's self-professed 'blackjazz' label, but the band have crafted an interesting musical experience here somewhere in between the respective and highly dissimilar madnesses of Motorhead, Strapping Young Lad and John Zorn. It's a shame that the band's songwriting isn't as vibrant here as it was on their last two records, because "One One One" has many of the makings of a potentially great album.
"One One One" is a more rock-oriented offering than Shining have done in the past, and has been the case with many bands after they release their quintessential, self-defining masterwork, Shining have scaled their sound back a bit in order to focus on the core of their music. In Shining's case, that 'masterwork' was "Blackjazz", an album that wore its quirky blend of styles on its sleeve in the literal sense. While I don't think their self-invented genre tag fits their sound anymore, Shining's palette of sound remains familiar. Schizoid keyboard leads, electronic interference, and fuzzy guitars remain staples of Shining's style, and Munkeby's vocals retain their often harsh and occasionally melodic flair.
Ultimately, Shining's change of pace is felt most profusely in the album's composition. I have fond memories of first hearing nine minute bouts of progressive mastery on "Blackjazz"; Shining would pull out all of the stops and I would often be left in suspense, wondering what tricks the band had in store right around the bend. While "One One One" sounds like Shining's more ambitious work on a superficial level, there is none of the same catharsis I felt upon hearing the band for the first time. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that Shining has focused entirely on concise songwriting. Were it not for the overzealous distortion and noisy atmosphere, many of these songs could easily be adapted for a commercial format. "I Won't Forget" is a particular favourite of mine, pairing a Motorhead-esque energy and vocal style with experimental jazz breaks and an ample dose of production noise. "My Dying Drive" is another standout piece, taking the album a step away from the chorus-centric catchiness towards darker territories. Sometimes, I get the impression with the band's adherence to such tried-and-true song structures that they're being self-aware with it, as if they're trying to see how much madness they can stir within a typical four minute song. If that's true, "One One One" stands at a half success. Shining have been able to successfully transpose their weird style onto a basic songwriting format, but in doing so, the potential of some of these ideas has been lost. Somewhere towards the halfway point of the album, I start to yearn for a change of pace; an instrumental surprise or jazz break to keep things interesting. Alas, for all of the benefits "One One One" enjoys for its concise writing mechanic, it loses some of its sense of danger and daring as a result.
Shining's style may no longer so aptly reflect their blackjazz vision, but their style remains balanced between two conflicting ideas. Moreso than the combination of metal and jazz, or any other sort of genre fusion, "One One One" feels defined by Shining's ability to two conflicting ideas at once; one comprising the album's concise, catchy songwriting, the other representing its avant-garde weirdness. I've heard that this ability to process conflicting information simultaneously can be indicative of genius. While that may be true, I do not get the impression on "One One One" that the band is playing to the extent of their potential. It was a bold move for the band to try to infuse their avant-garde sensibility with the more commercial end of rock music, but it's underwhelming in comparison to some of the band's past achievements.