Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
Written by: PP on 21/12/2016 23:13:21
One of the most challenging listens this year is Norma Jean's seventh album "Polar Similar", which requires immense attention to detail over longer periods of time to absorb fully. It is simultaneously their most experimental, most daunting, and most brooding effort to date, and yes, the latter statement does acknowledge both "O God, The Aftermath" and "Bless The Martyr And Kiss The Child", by the way. "Polar Similar" might not be as inclined to chaotic hardcore and Botch-style tears as those two records, but it's absurd density and omnipresent intensity make it a frightening listen, to say the least, especially when combined with the atmospheric interludes and sampled spoken word segments in between.
The inherent complexity of the material also means it's difficult to properly categorize the record strictly stylistically speaking. There are passages of cacophonic mathcore characterized by start/stop riffs and dissonance ("Death Is A Living Partner"), contrasted in equal measure by hauntingly beautiful melodies inspired by "Meridional" and "Wrongdoers" material, and completed by chilling post-hardcore segments with perfect clean/scream dynamics like those found on "Reaction". To top if off, Cory Brandan's signature style melancholic croons ensure well-placed memorable melodies, such and on "Synthetic Sun", which is equally brazen in complex instrumentation as it is in catchy vocal dynamics. Southern fried hardcore groove ("Redeemer") style makes a triumphant return on "The Close And Discontent", arguably taking the band deeper into a southern hardcore/stoner rock realm than ever before on their career.
But all of that comes at a cost of difficulty. Due to the ambitious mix between technical wizardry, dynamic metalcore, and experimentalist songwriting (see the 10 minute mammoth "A Thousand Years A Minute" as an example), "Polar Similar" isn't a welcoming album for the first time listener. Or the tenth time listener. It demands absolute attention due to its inherent complexity and challenging song structures. It's the rawest record since their early work, and thus far more driven by uncontrollable rage and a visceral vocal performance than the melancholics we've grown used to on the last couple of albums. It's also an incredibly dark album, leaving behind a hopeless, despair-filled mood that's as suffocating as it is ultimately rewarding, provided you give it enough time. The majestic composition of "A Thousand Years A Minute" showcases the latter sentiment in a nutshell.
In the end, after months with the record, I am still left with mixed feelings. Either "Polar Similar" is their magnum opus that we'll look back at in ten years time as a career masterpiece due to its incredible back-and-forth between atmospherics and controlled chaos, or it's their weakest record so far. The argument can certainly be made for both. Either way, "Polar Similar" is as close to art as metalcore gets.
Download: Synthetic Sun, Reaction, 1.000.000 Watts, A Thousand Years A Minute
For the fans of: Every Time I Die, Architects, Botch, Poison The Well
Release date 09.09.2016