Tag Archives: Norway

Shining – One One One (2013)

Shining - One One One (2013)

For clarification’s sake, this is not the Swedish black metal band (who are not bad in their own respect), but instead the Norwegian avant jazz metal band. I was first alerted to Shining in 2010, when they released one of the best albums I have heard, Blackjazz. Not only did the title describe their music perfectly, but it was almost a perfect mixture of extreme avant metal and jazz. It was a brutal assault to the ears and absolutely fantastic.

Working backwards from Blackjazz shows the progression that they have made from third album, In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster (2005) on which they first added rock elements to their jazz sound, through Grindstone (2007), when the rock elements got heavier and more brutal leading perfectly to Blackjazz.

One One One is the hotly anticipated follow-up to Blackjazz and I would argue that the progression has continued.

A big problem for Shining is that Blackjazz was so good, that any followup album is likely to draw a comparison for the worse, and that is a shame, but I can’t help it. One One One is not as good as Blackjazz. It isn’t as experimental, it isn’t as jazz-influenced, the metal isn’t as innovative. It sounds a lot more nu-metal/industrial metal influenced. The One Inside has elements of Ministry, as well as the cliched nu-metal breakdowns, while My Dying Drive reminds me of Nine Inch Nails.

To date, Blackjazz still surprises me, even after so many listens, but One One One seems to give you everything it has in one listen.

It’s not a bad album in its own respect; there is a lesser focus on the music and more the words, jazz is not as prevalent on the album, though the excellent How Your Story Ends does a good job of pushing the balance.

So, now I have to seemingly back track on what I have said; it is an enjoyable album, but I challenge you to come at it fresh without the preconceptions of Blackjazz; I didn’t and I regret it (even though I knew it would be impossible to do, even if I did have forewarning).

Favourite tracks: Off The Hook, How Your Story Ends, The Hurting Game

Spotify link: Shining – One One One
Sneak peak: 

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Kvelertak – Meir (2013)

Kvelertak - Meir (2013)

Kvelertak are a Norwegian band who are part hardcore punk, part alt-rock, part black metal and 100% awesome. Kvelertak (Norwegian for “strangle hold”) formed in 2007, releasing their eponymous debut in 2010.

It is really hard to pin down a definitive sound to Meir (Norwegian for “More”), but while retaining a brutal heavy metal sound, they maintain a high energy, punky upbeat attitude. Vocals are more or less screamed in what seems to be a major black metal influence, while hardcore punk informs the music, with some diversions and a knack for a catchy hook, but ultimately heavy.

A fantastic album with a great sense of fun (just watch the video below).

Favourite tracks: Bruane Brenn, Evig Vandrar, Kvelertak

Spotify link: Kvelertak – Meir
Sneak peak: 

The Bell Laboratory & Pantha du Prince – Elements of Light (2013)

Pantha du Prince and The Bell Laboratory - Elements of Light (2012)

I have to admit, I was a little perplexed when I started listening to this. I thought Pantha du Prince would be a dub artist from the Caribbean and I thought The Bell Laboratory referred to Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory, known for its early phonographic experiments and recordings. I must admit, I did look forward to what this unusual combination would bring, but was shocked when I started listening and then read about them.

Pantha du Prince is actually the assumed name of German minimal techno producer Hendrik Weber, and The Bell Laboratory are a Norwegian percussion four-piece. The album also features a 50-bell instrument called the carillon, usually found in the bell tower of a church and played on a keyboard of sorts.

With the ringing cadences of the bells, I am reminded of John Cage’s percussive works for prepared piano (1958-1967), especially on the two tracks which bookend the album, Wave and Quantum. At other times, I am reminded of Pierre Henry’s musique concrète experiments, especially the  well-known Psyché Rock (1967; later reworked as the Futurama title track), or parts of Variations Pour Une Porte Et Un Soupir (1963). However, while Henry was something of a music futurologist, I doubt he envisaged the electronic music revolution that he was a part of creating.

Despite my likening to Cage and Henry, this album sounds like those 60s auditory experiments only in passing, the beats making it more modern sounding. The five-track album is designed to listened as a single piece of five movements. The two main tracks, Particle and Spectral Split are surrounded by an intro, transition and outro. It begins with bells and other percussion, with the beats only coming in around 4 minutes into the second piece; to begin with, the bells create a trance-inducing peaceful drone-like canvas, and Weber’s beats act to break this reverie, subtly at first. Weber has sought to incorporate different sounds into electronic music and has certainly succeeded, and we are talking true incorporation, not some musical découpage; the bells and percussion certainly don’t play second fiddle to Weber’s beats.

I very much liked this album, both for its inventiveness and outcome. There is a lot going for it and, although techno is a get-up-and-go music, designed for dancing, Elements of Light is an album for any time of day or night, the interplay of beats and reverie is fantastic. This could well be a modern classic.

Favourite tracks: Particle, Spectral Split, Quantum.

Spotify link: Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements of Light
Sneak peak: 

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten New York Quartet – Now Is (2012)

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten New York Quartet - Now Is (2012)

Ingebrigt Håker Flaten is a bassist from Norway, and here is working with Americans Joe McPhee, Joe Morris and Nate Wooley in his New York Quartet.

This is an improvised free jazz album and is mostly enjoyable; a rich aural tapestry is woven through these pieces, which are all of a relatively short length, especially for the genre.

Pent is a lovely piece beginning with Flaten on a teetering walking bass line, almost like a tentative walk across a mountainous ridge. Indeed the sense of danger is increased as the horns come in like side winds that could topple him at any moment, and then the safety of the descent, accompanied by guitar as the horns abate, before finally reminding of their danger.

Another outstanding track is As If, which begins with an interplay between the bass and the trumpet, weaving together in a floating dance, increasing in intensity before finding respite in a steady bass rhythm and guitar solo.

In all, I find the album approachable and enjoyable, it may not be a good starting point for someone just discovering Jazz, but it has inventive texture and is constantly on the go, a very dynamic album.

However, I do have some criticism of the album, it all feels a bit loose, raw, and, at times, undirected. Also, there is no drummer; Flaten does do an amazing job in the rhythm section, but I fear that the absence of a drummer leads partly to this occasional lack of direction. It also has the effect that in some tracks (for example in Rangers), someone is tapping out a rhythm, which on the recording, I find highly distracting.

Favourite tracks: As If, Pent, Giants

Spotify link: Ingebrigt Håker Flaten New York Quartet – Now Is

Monoswezi – The Village (2013)

Monoswezi - The Village (2012)

What do you get when you cross musicians from Mozambique, Norway, Sweden and Zimbabwe?

Well, you get Monoswezi, of course!

In its head, Monoswezi is a Scandinavian Jazz band with saxophone, drums and bass, courtesy of the northern hemisphere contingent; but in its heart, Monoswezi is an Eastern Africa traditional folk/dance band.

Voice and mbira are courtesy of the outstanding Hope Masike, whose delivery is at times sweet and soulful, such as on Heya!, and at times, such on the fantastic Ndinewe, displaying her fantastic vocal range, which along with the bass drive this track to a great saxophone finish.

The mbira is a wooden box with different sized metal keys attached, which are plucked to produce notes. It is the national instrument of Zimbabwe and is used in traditional Shona music. On The Village, the mbira is used to create a rhythmic basis for the tracks, a short melody is repeated throughout the entire song laying the foundation for the rest.

While many tracks are uplifting and oftentimes playful, some are more sombre, like Kalahari, which is open and sparse like the titular desert, or the mournful Mapfunde. On Xtimela, Masike is joined by Mozambiquian Calu Tsemane in a beautiful interplay between the two vocalists, with carefully constructed saxophone melody. The album finishes with two predominantly rhythmic pieces, the playful Matue Tue with a simple saxophone melody and the haunting Metal Drum with an ominous buildup like a gathering storm.

The mix of Eastern African rhythms and vocals with European Jazz is sublime. Neither element is fighting for prominence; there is perfect harmony here. The band’s name means “one world” and, if this music is their vision of a global community, it is beautiful. To call Monoswezi a fusion band would imply that these two musical traditions were two separate entities coming together; while that may be the literal truth, it sounds like a pairing that should never have been apart in the first place, so perfect is the melding.

Favourite tracks: Ndinewe, Xtimela, Kalahari

Spotify link: Monoswezi – The Village
Sneak peak: