Review Summary: Supremely unique, if flawed, mathcore.
Changes in direction are frequent things in the music world. In the year just gone we’ve seen a variety of the heavier bands come out fighting with a distinctly different sound to previous albums. Bands such as Bring Me The Horizon, with their most recent release. It made such a drastic leap from the styles featured on previous albums it could very well have been a different band. Or the popular American metalcore band The Devil Wears Prada. Their most recent EP featured such an improved sound to other material by the band that they decided to base their upcoming fourth album in the same style.
It’s safe to say that changes, whether in lineup, sound, or simply in personality, can make or break a band. It’s a tightrope business. You change your style, you can welcome a wealth of new fans how appreciate your newfound direction, but at the same time it’s possible you’ll have to wave goodbye to a horde of your old fans. Crafting a sound that is both faithful to what people have come to expect, and yet different enough to count as a fresh start is nigh on impossible. However, in my opinion, Norma Jean have pulled it off impeccably.
I have been a fan of Norma Jean ever since their inception, all the way through from their very first album. Don’t misjudge though, I’m not some fanboy who likes every single thing they’ve put out. On the contrary, they’ve had very many lows in their career. Indeed, some songs are deemed as ‘unlistenable’, and it’s not hard to see why. The band’s highly inspired, yet highly experimental, mathcore sound is the root of a lot of debate. Is it original, or just simply a racket? There’s very few who sit on the fence, and many tend to either love it, or hate it. The dissonant guitar riffs, picked up tempos and unusual time signatures, coupled with the yowling of the vocalist mark Norma Jean as something of a rarity. See, I’m not a big fan of the actual type of music. For example, I loathe The Chariot, but there’s something about Norma Jean’s sound that always keeps me coming back for more. I guess it must be the originality. However, when they released Meridional, I was thrilled. I no longer had to listen to the same distorted, mottled howling with its’ pretences of philosophy and its’ delusions of eloquence. Norma Jean had created an album that was just as original, just as heavy, just as packed with abnormalities, but a million times more listenable.
Taking elements from previous albums, most notably The Anti-Mother
and O’ God The Aftermath
is a cleverly penned, exquisitely arranged, and brilliantly produced album, with naught but a few faults. Somehow managing to create a new genre (that most would simply pigeonhole ‘metal’), there is a delicate balance struck between metal, mathcore, and even indie-rock style melody (most notably on emotional anthem ‘Falling From The Sky: Day Seven’), which is oftentimes well-implemented, sometimes not, but regardless, it always feels fresh and totally unique, not just to anything the band has put out before, but rather anything ANYONE has put out before. Of course, it won’t be to all tastes, as there are still traces of the heavier Norma Jean, especially in such songs as ‘Anthem Of The Angry Brides’ and ‘Bastardizer’. Cory Brandan’s voice soars and howls as guitars change tempo every two seconds and the drums feel like they're being played with hailstones. These aren’t necessarily bad things by any means, I’m just highlighting that the album won’t be for everyone. In keeping with the theme of a revolutionized sound, the band incorporated many instruments not yet used before, such as piano, organs, and even steel guitars. Obviously, progress for the sake of progress should be discouraged, but these elements blend in very well with the high calibre writing. Such songs as ‘A Media Friendly Turn For The Worse’, ‘The People That Surround You On A Regular Basis’ and single ‘Deathbed Atheist’, use cleverly woven synth effects to dampen the sound of the mosaic-like structure, which is an interesting move because it makes the actual structure of the songs feel secondary to the effects. Whilst this could be considered a bad thing it’s quite a clever move because it serves to show the juxtaposition between the two elements, making the structure of the songs, not feel inferior, but rather give them a back seat. This makes the production feel crisper, but also makes it feel like an effort on the part of the band to show that there’s more to them than the complex riffing and time signatures. This, however, presents something of a dilemma because it’s by far the best part of the music.
The standout track is definitely the excellent ‘High Noise Low Output’. Comprising something of a puzzle-like sound that fits in perfectly with a unique and originally paced chorus, the song manages to single handedly find a clever middle ground between anthemic and cryptic. The chorus guitar-strumming at the end of each bar is also a wildly original touch, although, as mentioned before, it suffers from the production of having other effects in front of it, which somewhat nullifies the sound. This is, however, a minor niggle, as the song still sounds amazing, despite production issues.
doesn’t really have any kind of market for itself, which could turn people off it. What it does have, though, are wildly imaginative songs, thought-provoking lyrics, and some truly outstanding instrumentation.