You might find him blowing fire through his sax with ex-Megadeth guitar icon Marty Friedman. You might find him playing mind-blowing sax solos with Danish big band Blood Sweat Drum ‘n’ Bass. You may spot him playing keyboards with legendary Norwegian black metal band Emperor. From early days as composer and flautist with Norse electro-jazz ensemble Jaga Jazzist to his breakthrough as metal’s chief saxophone-wielding renegade, Jørgen Munkeby is a unique figure in modern music, and he’s about to make his most audacious move yet.
Prodigious, prolific and instinctively rebellious, Jørgen Munkeby is the unique creative force behind Norway’s legendary jazz-metal warriors Shining. Active in the amorphous musical underground since 1999, the band began life as an acoustic jazz ensemble before morphing, repeatedly and wilfully, into a wild variety of new shapes and sounds, always driven by their leader’s restless spirit. After releasing four albums of esoteric and enigmatic left-field jazz, Shining edged fully into the world of extreme metal for 2010’s epoch-shattering Blackjazz album. A cacophonous but irresistible blend of wonky riffs, shrieking sax and deeply progressive sonic ideas, it firmly established Munkeby’s crew as a major force in the metal world, while drawing in fans from all manner of obscure and perverse cultural enclaves.
Emboldened by the success of his most far-out experiment to date, Munkeby then grabbed Shining by the scruff of the neck and dragged his band into ever more unexpected areas, harnessing futuristic precision and bite for the streamlined and snotty One One One album in 2013 and then bringing the Blackjazz project to a deafening, explosive climax with 2015’s widely acclaimed International Blackjazz Society. Increasingly feted as an exhilarating live act, Shining’s steady but sneaky assimilation into the rock and metal mainstream was almost complete. And now, in 2018, Shining are about to blow the doors off and reinvent themselves as the most insanely thrilling rock band on the planet.
“This time around, I was tired of doing the same thing,” Munkeby explains. “I was done with Blackjazz and wanted to do something new and exciting. I needed a change. That’s always what I want to do, but it took time to figure it out. We had 360 degrees to play with so we could’ve gone in any direction. I’m finally at the point where I have nothing to lose and everything to win. It’s just like when we made Blackjazz. We’ve done it step by step. We asked ourselves ‘Are we taking this too far away from what we’ve done before?’ but also ‘Are we taking this far enough?’ As time passed, the songs became less weird and more accessible. This new record is more Muse than Meshuggah, more Ghost than Gojira, and more Biffy Clyro than Burzum!”
From its retina-frying artwork to its relentless stream of memorable refrains, Animal is simply the ultimate 21st century party metal carnival. Entirely saxophone-free and yet utterly unmistakable as a Shining record, it’s the Norwegians most startling record yet. Comprising ten short, sharp and fervently melodic bursts of meticulous but mad-eyed rock’n’roll, Munkeby’s rejuvenated vision has led to some of the most euphoric moments in recent rock history. Opener Take Me and the thunderous title track that follows set the scene in a blaze of gleaming hooks and pummelling grooves, while My Church brings some glam-tinged Sabbathian rumble and Queen-like pomp to proceedings. Elsewhere, Fight Song delivers on its title with a pulverising electro-riff assault, the self-explanatory Smash It Up! is a perfectly-pitched call-to-arms with a chorus the size of Jupiter and ultra-dramatic closer Hole In The Sky brings Animal to a close in true, extravagant power ballad fashion, replete with a vocal duet between Munkeby and acclaimed Norwegian pop singer Linnea Dale.
An album of many highs, spine-tingling dynamics and tunes – oh, the tunes! – that will take up residence in your skull for the rest of 2018… Animal is both a massive surprise for Shining fans and an album that promises to send Munkeby’s crew rocketing up the rock’n’roll ladder. Primarily written by Munkeby and new Shining bassist Ole Vistnes, it’s an album that comes direct from the band’s collective beating heart, with lyrics that touch upon their leader’s own personal struggles – not least his father’s recent near-death brush with ill-health – while also offering a hopeful, positive and often inspirational view of the future and its limitless possibilities.
“So the first songs I wrote were about death and grief, or the consequences of death for people left behind. I was thinking about my dad and my son and all that stuff. Then when I thought I’d processed that sufficiently, I needed to write some party songs! So there are some uplifting, party songs too. The song Animal is like that. It’s definitely the sound of a party rock band, but it still has the depth and seriousness in the lyrics, too. It’s great to have both things. I love music that does that.”
When the world goes to hell, you might as well party while it’s going down.
With songs as incisive and irresistible as these, Munkeby knew that every piece of this puzzle had to be in place to maximise Animal’s impact. Although the new record was once again produced by Shining and their long-time associate Sean Beavan the band also brought in esteemed studio guru Kane Churko (Five Finger Death Punch, Halestorm, Papa Roach), son of the legendary Kevin, to complete the new album’s final mix. The results are dazzling, multi-dimensional and almost stupidly exciting. The party starts here. Let’s go!
“Kane has been working with his father his whole life and he’s done a lot of mixing over the years so he’s basically a genius,” Munkeby notes. “He did a mix and we fucking loved it. It took a lot of experimenting to get it to that point, but the whole process has been very organic, with a lot of trial and error. Right now, I’m really sure about this. I fucking love this record and I can’t wait to surprise the shit out of everyone.”