Review Summary: “Silence shows nothing but weakness”
It’s been three years since Norma Jean’s last offering, and despite Meridional
’s generally favorable reception, something was a little askew. The album seemed torn in too many directions; not quite the cohesive experience its concept indicated, but rather an ungainly conglomerate of interesting (but unrelated) ideas and past iterations. Judging by the relatively lengthy span of time separating Meridional
, it appears that perhaps the band had similar feelings. “For us it’s not just about writing a bunch of riffs and throwing them down. We do not cut any corners when we create, and I’m proud of what we made,” claims vocalist Cory Brandon, and Wrongdoers
substantiates his claim 100%. Not since The Anti Mother
has Norma Jean brought such a focused ferocity, and their attention to detail has yielded an album that pulls from an engaging variety of sounds and influences without sacrificing an ounce of coherency or intensity.
Even out of the gate, Norma Jean means business. “Hive Minds” creeps in over crepuscular tones, a slow drum pattern pounding in the foreground with swirling guitar, finally launching into an ensemble onslaught of coursing bass and Brandon’s tortured howl. After several evolving recapitulations of the initial attack (peppered with tastefully varied screams) the song settles easily into an almost post-rock bridge, which swells mightily in conclusion. At nearly seven minutes, the album’s first track runs the gamut of everything that makes Norma Jean awesome, and a better sampler for everything Wrongdoers
has to offer would be tough to choose.
From there, it’s all up. ‘If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty’ roars out at full speed, chomping at the bit, and further in ‘The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind’ absolutely pounds you into submission despite only being a minute long. Therein lies one of the album’s biggest strengths; every track seems to be just as long as it needs to be. Regardless if a track is short or long, every second of it feels purposeful, with no particular parts sticking out as prolonged or contrived. Another welcome component of this particular outing is the careful placement of clean vocals for maximum impact, a feat that is only made possible by the flexibility of Bradon’s scream. It’s not even until the titular third track that he unleashes his punkish croon, and it dominates the fray, soaring over chugging choruses with an unmistakable musicality. Other standout singing can be found on “Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes”, where mournful admonitions resound over trudging guitars that build in complexity before tearing completely loose as the track looms heavier and heavier.
However excellent Wrongdoers
may be as a whole (and it is quite excellent), exceptional praise must be given to its final cut. “Sun Dies, Blood Moon” unfolds over fourteen poignant minutes, flowing effortlessly from echoing distortion to the almost symphonic roil of strings and acoustic guitar, finally dying out in a massive sludgy riff that reverberates long after your headphones clear. It’s a fantastic end to the album, and honestly blows anything the band has done thus far completely out of the water.
Both immensely satisfying and extremely replayable, Norma Jean’s Wrongdoers
is so much more than a return to form; it’s a bold stride into new territory, “some old school classic Norma Jean nastiness”, and honestly one of the coolest things I’ve heard all year.