Norma Jean
Polar Similar


4.0
excellent

Review

by ramon. CONTRIBUTOR (45 Reviews)
September 10th, 2016 | 596 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I am the lamb that has become the wolf.

Norma Jean is a rare animal. It isn't every day we get to witness a band at the top of their game seven albums into their careers, and especially when said band doesn't hold a single original member to their name. To quote one Ryan Corcoran, "how does a band's 7th album end up being their best? doesnt make any sense but whatever". With as expansive and divisive a discography as Norma Jean's, this seemed like just another throwaway comment in a sea of hype and blind adoration. Fortunately, this is undoubtedly their strongest release yet, pairing the all-killer-no-filler attitude of Wrongdoers with the conceptual energy of earlier releases. While the ongoing narrative throughout the album seems a little contrived at times, this is some of the most addictive and heavy stuff the band has ever written.

My expectations for this album were dropped significantly upon viewing the accompanying documentary, LUMINÆRIES; a documentary loaded with convoluted monologue and timid promotion. Any doubts were sufficiently shattered upon hearing opening track "I. The Planet", however, which features one of the heaviest breakdowns the band has ever written. It isn't nearly as complex as the opener for the last record, "Hive Minds", but it is arguably just as impacting due to its flawless execution. Boasting some aggressively dark lyrics (any song that opens with "I hope you burn" is certain to turn some heads), the track is a perfect introduction to "Everyone Talking over Everyone Else", the strongest track on the first half of Polar Similar. Loaded with rampant riffery and a destructive vocal performance, the song showcases Norma Jean as a band at their collective peak. Pushing technicality into the forefront, the brief follow-up track "Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda" puts a stronger emphasis on the band's hardcore sounds from their earlier discography. The book-ending riffs are rapid and heavy, making for a perfect pit track. This aggression is matched later on in "Death Is a Living Partner", which houses one of the most frenetic drum performances on the record.

It isn't explicitly clear whether or not the songs contained within the four narrative tracks on the album, "I. The Planet", "II. The People", "III. The Nebula", and "IV. The Nexus", are meant to share specific themes, but from a sonic perspective, there are some definitive tonal shifts happening throughout. The three songs contained within "I. The Planet" pair sheer weight with addictive melody, while "II. The People" consists of more aggressive extremes. While "Death Is a Living Partner" is a rapid explosion of technical performance, "Synthetic Sun" is a mid-paced banger focused more on creating an atmosphere than adhering to addictive attributes seen during the first tracks of the album. "Reaction" pushes the band into progressive territory, sounding more like a sludge-fueled Tool tribute than a typical Norma Jean track. It is definitely the most complex collection of songs on the album which is unfortunate because the lyrics are without a doubt the most blatant. For a band who has prided themselves on writing thought-provoking lyrics with their last two releases, it is frustrating to see them leave so little to the imagination when discussing such expansive topics.

While Norma Jean have never been shy of experimentation with their sound, "III. The Nebula" marks a turning point in Polar Similar in that every track following could have been written by a different band. Hardcore, metalcore, sludge, stoner metal, southern influence, it is all here. While that might just sound like a description of the band's sound in general, each individual style is given time to shine. It is undoubtedly the most entertaining segment of the record, with the band refusing to sit in one place for too long. What is most impressive is the fact that it works. Each of the four closing songs are fantastic in their own rights, with the last two standing out as highlights on the record. "A Thousand Years a Minute" is a strong contender as the strongest track on Polar Similar, with closer "IV. The Nexus" serving as a closing epic surpassing the 10-minute mark. While the progression isn't quite as enticing or explosive as the closer for Wrongdoers, it does a good job tying any loose ends. Ending with only 30 seconds of noise rather than 7 minutes is a big plus, too.

Where previous releases from the band focused more on a central sound, with all experimentation linking to one or two themes, Polar Similar constantly evolves. Thus, the band have a considerable amount more room to not only develop a story, but push their personal limits as songwriters and musicians. It is absurd to think this is Norma Jean's seventh release; nothing here is indicative of a band who are running out of ideas. Riffs don't feel recycled. The drumming isn't stale or repetitive. Cory's refinement as a vocalist hasn't compromised raw release. With all these facets included, there is no denying this is a Norma Jean record. It isn't an expected progression for the band, and that is fantastic. The dip in quality towards the middle of the record might just be an unfortunate by-product of having to compete with over a decade's worth of material. Nonetheless, when Polar Similar is firing from all sides, it is a force to be reckoned with. A pinnacle of a career, and one of the most exciting releases of 2016.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
ramon.
Contributing Reviewer
September 10th 2016


2398 Comments


Was trying to think of how to tackle this one. I know track-by-track is a deathwish here, but due to the way the album progresses, it seemed the most fitting way to write on it. Really digging this one. I'll say this is stronger than Wrongdoers, but I have a higher score for Wrongdoers for personal reasons.

Hope y'all are having a nice day! Curious to know what the general consensus amongst active users here is regarding the rankings of the band's output.

ramon.
Contributing Reviewer
September 10th 2016


2398 Comments


Agree with basically everything you typed. The only things holding me back from a 4.5 right now (probably around 4.2 atm) is time, and "its more reflective and dense". Not because I need more time to reflect on it, but rather because the lyrics on the most part aren't quite as complex as they were on Meridional or Wrongdoers. Though yes, from a musical standpoint there is a heck of a lot more to digest. Thanks for the pos mate

Regarding my favourites, Wrongdoers is still at the top, and is the closest I'd get to a 5.0. Then this, Meridional, OGtA, Bless, Redeemer, and The Anti Mother.

BeerKhan
September 10th 2016


78 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I wish they would stop with the interludes. They didn't work on Meridional and they don't work on this.

Snake.
September 10th 2016


20789 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

pos



there's an NWS radio sample of a tornado warning at the end of a thousand years a minute and my heart fucking melted

Digging: Mitski - Be the Cowboy

FullOfSounds
September 10th 2016


15764 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This looks sick.

ramon.
Contributing Reviewer
September 10th 2016


2398 Comments


aye, thanks!

"I wish they would stop with the interludes. They didn't work on Meridional and they don't work on this."

I think they work pretty well here.

Yea, that's essentially what the documentary was getting at. Not as big a fan of introspective and jammy within this context as some, but it is what it is.

Toondude10
September 10th 2016


12988 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

didn't expect to love this as much as I did. Far superior to Wrongdoers imo. Great review too

Digging: ERRA - Neon

ramon.
Contributing Reviewer
September 10th 2016


2398 Comments


Thanks for the kind words! I can see myself bumping up the rating further down the line, but I want to give it a few months for good measure.

jesterhead92
September 10th 2016


4933 Comments


Throwing out my review now. Nice work, album is killer

ramon.
Contributing Reviewer
September 10th 2016


2398 Comments


I'll look forward to reading it! Thanks mate.

jesterhead92
September 10th 2016


4933 Comments


Oh I meant I was trashing it lol, I wrote a little bit but was lacking inspiration.

Dunno how exactly I'd rank the band's discography. All I know is that Anti Mother is my least favorite.

Suli
September 10th 2016


76 Comments


Nice review. Redeemer is my favorite by these guys but I enjoyed this one.

elliootsmeuth
September 10th 2016


3526 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

So pumped to hear this. Never been the biggest Norma Jean fan, but I liked Wrongdoers and this seems to be getting an even better reception.

torts
September 10th 2016


4300 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

not really heavy enough to justify more listens. might even bump this down idk

ramon.
Contributing Reviewer
September 10th 2016


2398 Comments


k den

jesterhead92
September 10th 2016


4933 Comments


Norma Jean has rad guest spots

TooManyFriends
September 10th 2016


2883 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

had this at a 4 and was hestitant to bump because i wasn't sure if this was as good as wrongdoers but it just keeps growing on me. have a new favorite track hourly it seems.

MusicinaBox
September 10th 2016


648 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is definitely gonna grow on me. Strong 4 right now. And agreed on the filler atmospheric track shenanigans. Could of done without.

jesterhead92
September 10th 2016


4933 Comments


Where the fuck is my preorder

calmrose
September 10th 2016


3543 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Where did you preorder from? I preordered mine from MerchNow and they sent out an email saying there was a delay with the vinyl pressing and won't be mailed out until Oct/Nov (MerchNow says Nov but Norma Jean says it's a mistake, should arrive in Oct)



Definitely sucks, but I don't mind waiting. Album is killer and right on par with Wrongdoers

Digging: Every Time I Die - Low Teens



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