Norma Jean


Written by: PP on 15/09/2006 16:23:10

"Let's break out the shotguns, we're going to town" screams Cory Brandager, the acclaimed frontman of the Christian hardcore act Norma Jean on "A Grand Scene For A Color Film", a statement which is likely to become one of those classic lines within the genre. Aside from the lyrical mastery, "Redeemer" is the bands masterpiece, their best work today by far where they demonstrate versatility and spacey song structures that leave their earlier work completely shadowed by their brilliance. It's understandable that some may prefer the previous two albums' senseless pounding, indecipherable monotoneous screams and the more unconventional song structures to "Redeemers" variety and occasional strokes of melody, but artistically, their previous works, while being genre-defining moments, do not stand a chance against the quantum leap forward the band has taken on the new effort.

All the way from the obscure "The Longest Last Statement", the closest reminiscent of the earlier work with its forceful feedback, unmelodic distortion-filled murder of instruments and "Murderotica"-style harsh breakdowns, to the last masterpiece "A Small Spark Vs A Great Forest", every song has their place well-defined on the course of the album, fitting perfectly into the overall structure, which has been divided into three parts: Old-style unmelodic Norma Jean, a melancholic transition, and a strangely melodic exploration of soundscapes and the outer limits of where Norma Jean's sound can expand to. The first three songs are dedicated to refresh our minds of the old Norma Jean, though "Amnesty Please" is already a huge departure from their sound with its vast soundscapes and clearly identifiable lyrics, instantly showcasing Cory's much improved range and ability to actually incorporate next to clean vocals into songs. Other than being one of the highlight tracks on the album (each of the three sections has one song above all others), it serves as a softer induction to the harsh screams of "we're not going backwards, we're just going onwards... to DIE!" in "A Temperamental Widower". This is simply quintessential Norma Jean murdering their instruments in order to create that all-assaulting rough hardcore we're used to from the past.

The fourth song "Like Swimming Circles" transitions the album to the melancholic mood, filled with rough melody and clearly recognizable vocals, especially highlighted on the almost clean-sung chorus "Don't you dare insinuate me". And although the next track "Cemetery Like Stage" shows some signs of the melancholic melody to come, its furiousness is never replaced. The breakdowns still give you the chills and the screams are in place, even if Cory resorts to cleaner (though still rough) singing on the chorus. But it's the intriguing masterpiece "Songs Sound Much Sadder" that finalizes the melancholic sound with its long, extended choruses sung clean with a tone straight from a nostalgic funeral, while its verses enclose on Since By Man's superb track "Match On Action" with the riff playfulness. Its contrast of chaotic, senseless screaming with pure melody is beautiful to say the least, and can be considered the best track Norma Jean has written to date, baring in mind we haven't even reached the end of the album yet.

As if to act as an intermediary between the three-song length movements on the album, "No Passanger, No Parasite" should catch everyone by surprise. The slow-paced, quiet (in Norma Jean terms) song is like straight from Deftones' classic "Around The Fur", with its prolonged, almost whiny clean vocals and the lengthy primal screams in the end. If only the band hadn't chosen such a progressive structure (quiet to harsh) and instead kept it all-harsh like in the end, this would be the best song on the album. Now it seems like a rip-off from Deftones, and at the same time my sole criticism of the otherwise perfect album.

The last and final part of the album is coincidentally also the best. The curiously titled "The End Of All Things Will Be Televised" both brings the band back to its harsh roots as well as explores the newly created melodies, all in the midst of the heavy breakdowns straight from hardcore ABC. But once again, the new movement needs that one song to transition itself, and "A Grand Scene For Color Film" explores the absolute edge of possibilities of the band with its Motörhead style rock n roll verse riff supplementing the backing guitar's breakdown-style hammering and the soon infamous "LETS BREAK OUT THE SHOTGUNS, WE'RE GOING TO TOWN!" line. However, the magnificence isn't to stop here. "Blue Prints For Future Homes" is the song taking most advantage of the new soar, nearly-clean vocals, and it's immediately catchy chorus "YEAH? WELL THAT'S WHAT I SAID" makes you wanna jump around the room shaking your fist while in memoir of events gone wrong like you predicted but nobody listened to you before. Yet the song doesn't sacrifice any bit of the aggression trademarked by the band, and the subtle inclusion of melody is a daring and successful step by the band. Some fans might prefer the harsh breakdowns more, and will therefore find the final song "A Small Spark Vs. A Great Forest" their favorite track with its rapid pace-shifts and brutal breakdowns, though even this song spends time exploring a more instrumental side of the band.

All of this makes "Redeemer" one of the most complete hardcore albums I've heard to date. Most hardcore albums repeat themselves after the first three songs, but "Redeemer" evolves throughout the album, and with each listen even after two months of listening, you are able to discover new favorite aspects on the album. There's no question whether the album is a grower, and giving up too soon on it would be a mistake too big to make. Don't be scared off the departure from "O God The Aftermath", because the end reward is more than worth it: There is potential on "Redeemer" to become one of those genre-defining, classic hardcore albums of all time, and at least at the moment, I don't see anything hindering it doing so.


Download: Blue Prints For Future Homes, Songs Sound Much Sadder
For the fans of: The Chariot, Since By Man, Evergreen Terrace

Release date 12.09.2006
Tooth & Nail Records

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