Norma Jean

All Hail

Written by: KW on 30/10/2019 22:52:39

It’s hard to find a more consistently fantastic metalcore band like the giants of Norma Jean. They’ve been a testament to the fact that the genre can be so much more than the bad rep it usually gets in the heavy music circles and have been so ever since their debut all the way back in 2002. Many regard their 2006 effort ”Redeemer” as the pinnacle of their career but I am one of the individuals that thoroughly believe that their newer output has been just as good if not even better in recent years, culminating in what I regarded as one of the most creative and well written records of the year it was released, ”Polar Similar”. How in the world would they ever top this I thought to myself, while the tumultuous lineup changes also started to worry me, seeing as no original member actually resides in the constellation anymore, with frontman Cory Brandan being the last core member standing in a long running list of former colleagues. Was this the start of the end of one of my most beloved bands in the world?

Then I threw on “All Hail” and any doubt I had was bludgeoned fiercely into an unrecognisable pulp as soon as Brandan’s godlike, raspy vocals and the overwhelmingly sludgy production of the guitars quite literally made me laugh out loud in disbelief of how ridiculously good this album sounds. The short but savage outburst of “Orphan Twin” serves as the perfect opener to one hell of a ride, showcasing a band bursting at the seams with confidence which continues into one of the heaviest grooves of the year with “[Mind over Mind]”, utilizing octave pitch shifting on the guitars to land a sound weirdly somewhere in between the downtuned breakdowns of deathcore and the fuzzy, organic amps of sludge metal. I think I’ve gushed over producer Will Putney perhaps one too many times in my reviews, but right out of the gate he once again cements his status as quite possibly the best heavy producer of our generation and this album is without a doubt his current crown jewel. Together they’ve achieved a crystal clear vision of creativity between band and mix while never sacrificing any brutality which just elevates all the jaw dropping moments on this record to mind-blowing levels of heaviness. I mean, come on, they actually pulled out a kitchen knife in studio to create those absurd pick scrapes heard on “Landslider Defeater”.

Not only hasn’t Norma Jean’s Southern-infused riffs ever sounded as ignited as this before, it’s filled to the brim with so many memorable vocal hooks and a career defining performance from Brandan who effortlessly switches up his ferocity with soaring choruses and vulnerable croonings. Whether he’s screaming ”I’ll burn every bridge in the world!” over pounding blast beats on “Safety Last”, seemingly on the verge of breaking his vocal chords while howling “There will be hell to pay!” on “Trace Levels of Dystopia” or dramatically proclaiming “Break the world in half, so the ground won't shake so hard,” on the aforementioned “Landslider Defeater”, every lyric and melody is crafted so meticulously that most of the album was already stuck in my head after the first listen. Yet the structure of the album takes an unexpected turn on the last half of the album where the sound at times reaches post-rock levels of airiness with reverb-drenched lead guitars and generally lower tempo, prioritizing a more gloomy vibe in favour of the extremely high intensity found earlier. It flows incredibly well and results in two gorgeous last moments in “Careen” and “Anna”, incidentally also the longest tracks on the record. “Careen” follows a more crescendo focused song structure and showcases an almost depressive vibe with its clean guitars before the bassy fuzz returns in the chills-inducing climax. The band have always been exceedingly great at creating enormous album closers and I couldn’t have asked for a better one than “Anna”. If “Orphan Twin” served as the intense taste of what’s to come, this one wraps up all the sounds of the album in one anthem of a track, that even sees a fantastic guest performance from Silent Planet’s own Garett Russell before Brandan lets out one of the most feral screams I’ve ever heard in my life as everything slows down to mastodonic chugging, letting out one last ”All hail!”. It’s rare that an album this heavy touches me so deeply, seeing as it’s the more emotional genres that usually succeed in tugging at my heartstrings. Nevertheless I end up with watery eyes at just how monumental this album turned out to be. There might not be any original members left, but the soul of the band has clearly never left. Please never leave.

Norma Jean have done what I initially thought impossible with “All Hail”. They have topped a masterpiece just 3 years after the inception of “Polar Similar”. It’s their catchiest, sharpest, most melodic, most unrelenting, most gargantuan release thus far and frankly one of the best metalcore records of all time. And I don’t even think I’m being hyperbolic or disingenuous in saying that, seeing as I’ve been rinsing this album constantly since release and still stand firmly by these words. This truly feels like a love letter to all the fans that have stuck around through all these years. I adore this album to bits and can’t find any notable flaws with it. It encompasses everything I love within heavy music into one beautifully effective piece. And what grade do flawless albums deserve? My first perfect album score as a writer for Rockfreaks of course. As Cory Brandan confidently exclaims himself in “Full Circle in Under a Minute”:

“THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE!”

10

Download: Mind over Mind, Landslide Defeater, Trace Levels of Dystopia, Anna
For the fans of: Every Time I Die, Underoath, Silent Planet, Architects
Listen: Facebook

Release date 25.10.2019
Solid State Records

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