Shining Grindstone

[Rune Grammofon; 2007]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: prog-rock, heavy metal, film soundtracks
Others: Danny Elfman, Naked City, Fantomas, Goblin

If their 2005 Rune Grammofon debut, In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster, left anyone thinking that Shining would have to streamline their process in order to evolve, Grindstone has proven those intuitions wrong. Quite the opposite is true, to the point that they’ve adopted the name of their first album as something of a mission statement, cramming every nook and cranny with indirect references to other musics. But how much is too much? While busy thinking of new ways to outdo themselves, they either lost sight of whether Grindstone would make sense to anyone but themselves, or they just don’t care (and we’ll get to that in a moment).

Often compared to The Mars Volta, Shining’s approach is completely different, although the result is similarly satisfying. As opposed to being guilty of extended solos, Shining cannot sit comfortably inside anything, utilizing abrupt stylistic shifts at the drop of a hat. The way both bands maneuver through their music is impressive, but too often their excess doesn’t benefit the greater purpose of their songs. Fellow TMT writer Grant Purdum and I talked about this following [his review->] of Amputecture (I argued in The Mars Volta’s defense), and I think we agreed that difficulty should be applauded, and that though showiness, ego, and complication for the sake of complication are an inherent part of prog rock, these notions can be entertained to a point where the music becomes meaningless. It’s a tight rope to walk, and as a listener, which side you fall on may depend on how much you dig King Crimson as well as subscriptions to Musician’s Friend and Guitar Player.

Maybe it comes as a compliment to this Norway quartet, who have gone as far as to name the first song on Grindstone after Kingdom Of Kitsch, but it’s things like the oddly placed, roaring ’20s sax breakdowns and baroque piano solos that get in the way of an otherwise admirably ambitious prog/metal album. As they straddle between Mr. Bungle and Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice theme, there’s little repetition, which means little to grasp onto, and it often seems like there’s not going to be a light at the end of their tunnel. It’s all part of a control method that never allows us to fully hand our trust over to Shining, and it’s a structure they clearly prefer.

Although completely unapparent at first, Grindstone does actually have a sense of direction and somehow feels like a complete album by its end. After the first few songs, which are reminiscent of a keyboard on its demo setting, Shining manage to settle into something more consistent within each track. And finally, after most of the album’s uncompromised push and pull, they give themselves fully over to the hands of incidental music (which they are really good at). “Psalm,” the song that finally gives the album some shape, builds upon a slow crescendo of synths, vocoder, and Yma Sumac-ian wails. Suddenly the obnoxious child screaming, “Mommy look what I can do!” has become more like an imaginary soundtrack to a creepy, late-’70s horror flick. They haven’t lost their distorted guitars, and ultimately everything still gets wiped out in a schizophrenic blitzkrieg, but it’s at this point that Shining have done something more than channel one influence after another.

It would seem unfortunate that it takes two thirds of the album before Shining’s creative impulses begin to work together rather than against each other; however, Grindstone’s flow (or lack thereof) is undoubtedly intentional in its design. Again, it’s either a snide gesture in control and dominance or the result of some geeky musicians who don’t get out enough (I’m more inclined to believe the former). And while I’m usually more supportive of challenging music, conceptualism, and even downright pretentiousness, it’s difficult to get behind Grindstone when all its obstacles never lead to any greater purpose. As impressive as their imaginations and technical abilities are, Shining clearly enjoy basking in alienating narcissism, and with that said, they’ve made exactly the album they set out to make. Whether or not you’ll want to listen to it, perhaps the best thing to say is: Job well done.

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