It feels like every time that Norway’s Shining are brought up in conversation, it has to be specified that this isn’t the hyper-controversial Swedish DSBM band of the same name. Yes, it is confusing, but it’s not as if this Shining are devoid of recognisable qualities either, starting out as an instrumental jazz quartet before incorporating Jørgen Munkeby’s saxophone playing in a progressive rock and metal context for their own niche subgenre of blackjazz. It’s not particularly straightforward or wide-reaching in terms of audience, but an interesting angle like that has produced a number of albums of really solid quality. Coupled with Munkeby’s current role as live keyboardist for Emperor and lending his saxophone talents to further projects from Ihsahn and Marty Friedman, it’s not like there’s a dearth of accomplishments under their belt.
So why not forget all of that, just like Shining themselves have, for a hard rock / electro-rock fusion that could’ve come from a completely different band instead? Right from the off, it’s no secret that this is a drastic overhaul in approach, moving away from metal or progressive rock for an incredibly familiar brand of hook-driven hard rock, and even leaving the jazz elements or any saxophone whatsoever behind and replacing them with a thick wall of synths at every turn. It’s definitely gutsy, and a move that Shining don’t seem too confident with themselves yet, given that Animal arguably hits more bum notes than it doesn’t. And that’s not just because they’ve moved from a more unique, interesting sound to this; both on principle and in practice, Animal is unavoidably mediocre pretty much across the board.
Even so, credit to Shining for clearly wanting this to be their “mainstream” album, evidenced by the lyrical and cadence lifts from Nickelback’s Burn It To The Ground on the title track, and also the riff from that same song just one track later. Even more credit to them – this certainly isn’t nearly cynical or shallow enough to usurp Bullet For My Valentine’s top spot for their similar face-turn on Gravity. That’s not a particularly high benchmark though, and Shining still prove themselves mightily capable of botching up the execution of what should be a rather simple endeavour. For starters, layering and modulation seems to be a completely foreign concept here, given how every bit of sound is shoved to the front of the mix for an unceasing din that doesn’t take long at all to grate, especially when the keyboard tone is as piercing and tart as it is on the likes of Fight Song. Granted, Munkeby doesn’t fare much better himself, with layer upon layer of filters piled onto his voice that can genuinely make some lyrics incomprehensible, not help by when he contorts his voice to levels far beyond his natural range on tracks like My Church that just sound awful. And amidst all of this, there’s barely a guitar line that’s not submerged in effects or totally inaudible beneath the torrents of unnecessarily loud, blaring sound; Take Me is one of the sole exceptions with its booming, disco-inspired stomp, but compared to a track like Smash It Up that comes across as one three-and-a-half-minute-long buzz of static, or the sagging electro-ballad Hole In The Sky, it’s a merciful moment of quality that’s all the better to have here.
At least that’s where the majority of Animal’s issues lie, and while the lyrics are still nothing to write home about, they’re more boring or bland than outright bad; uninspired themes and word choices about going wild on the title track or the thrills of playing live on When The Lights Go Out are somewhat easier to overlook than bad ones. Not much, mind, and with an album that’s already as cluttered as this one is, it’d be nice to have something more concrete to gravitate towards that could potential give this album a bit more structure. Probably the closest that Shining come to this is with End and some marginally more engaging imagery surrounding death, but it’s still nothing magnificent, and only really holds steady the idea that this is as broad as possible for the crossover, and that deeper creative impulse has been sidelined.
It’s not a great mindset to go into an album with, but Shining’s efforts don’t exactly invite much different thought. It’s not even that it’s impossible to make an interesting yet mainstream-friendly hard rock album, but between how cluttered, dull and simply badly made this album is, this feels like the complete opposite of that. For as niche as the blackjazz material was, it was progressive with some moments of real intrigue; with Animal, it’s hard to know who Shining are even trying to appeal to. There’s better modern rock out there that’s not as shoddy as this, and actually has some decent writing and production. Shining, meanwhile, are just falling behind in almost every regard.
For fans of: Nickelback, Evanescence, Adelitas Way
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Animal’ by Shining is released on 19th October on Spinefarm Records.