I first became aware of Norma Jean back in 2009 when I saw The Chariot supporting Protest The Hero in Nottingham Rock City's Basement. I had never heard of The Chariot before but they put on one hell of a show and I still remember their bassist stage-diving into the crowd from the front of house monitors, something I found to be pretty awesome. Anyway, following the show my friend mentioned that vocalist, Josh Scogin was once a member of a band called Norma Jean and that I should check them out. Now, this being in the days of Limewire, I didn't bother with any of Norma Jean's albums but had a collection of maybe 7 or 8 songs of which my favourite was "A Grand Scene For A Colour Film", which featured that immortal line "Let's break out the shotguns, we're going to town". Since then those few songs have had very little play time on my Mac and I had all but forgot about the band themselves.
Fast forward to now and I found myself with a gap between albums that I wanted to review; Newsted and Revocation were done and Fleshgod Apocalypse's new record isn't out until this Friday. Scouring the net I found that Norma Jean had just released a new album entitled "Wrongdoers" and so I thought I would give it a listen and see how the band had progressed. Little did I know I was about to listen to the single best album that I have had the pleasure of reviewing so far.
For me, the best way to describe "Wrongdoers" would be a mix of the heaviness, aggression and franticness of The Dillinger Escape Plan with the melodic catchiness of Post-Hardcore bands like Alexisonfire. The record manages to do so much to hold my interest, which is a big deal in a genre that I often find can become very repetitive. I was definitely hooked on this album from the outset.
Anyone who regularly reads my blog (thank you to those few!) will know that I constantly bang on about album pacing and the need to keep things interesting. I can honestly say that Norma Jean have got it absolutely spot on with "Wrongdoers". The tracks on this album fit together seamlessly, varying in pace almost at will and this means that individual elements of the album don't get boring. I can point to the contrast in tracks such as opener "Hive Minds" and "The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind". The former is a very well-developed 6+ minute song, which makes use of longer instrumental sections and a slightly slower tempo whilst the latter lasts little more than a minute and is incredibly fast and aggressive, reminding me of the Dillinger song "Panasonic Youth". It is this use of slower, more developed tracks that makes the faster, shorter tracks feel very fresh, aggressive and exciting and this works incredibly well to hold my interest across the whole record.
Moving on to the lyrics and all I can say is that I think Cory Brandan is an amazing vocalist. I have already considered his delivery but what he actually says is equally satisfying. There isn't a single track with cheesy lyrics and everything feels incredibly well thought out. Take this from "The Hive":
"Pride is a cancer born from the cracks and crawling skyward.
I have been you. The shell on the street corner with change hungry hands.
A sunset car ride with a bottle of meds, or is it the canopy and rooftops?
A burst of soft color and a haze on your limbs?"
The lyrics are both deep and exciting and what also stands out is how Brandan phrases them over the music. His vocal rhythms are complex and this helps to give each song its own identity.
Production-wise the album is absolutely spot on and Producer Josh Barber has succeeded in creating a sound that incredibly immersive. Every instrument has its own place in the mix but maintains a rawness at the same time and this gives the album a character that would have been absent if everything had been too polished. Although it could be argued that the production values don't quite capture the feel of seeing Norma Jean play live I would suggest that, given the mix of raw aggression and melody on the record, the production feels like it should.
My only real gripe with "Wrongdoers", and this is possibly a bit pedantic, is with the length of album closer "Sun Dies, Blood Moon", which is over 14 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised that around 8 minutes of that time was filled up with a brilliant song that is totally different from the rest of the music on show but then I question the need for the other 6 minutes. This time is filled up with what seems like a bit of a jam from the band and this all seems relatively needless. The way the song itself ends is with some incredibly aggressive and well-built-up screams and if the album stopped dead there it would be perfect but for some reason Norma Jean decided to another 6 minutes at the end which does nothing to enhance the record and detracts from the end of it. I find this to be a real shame as it takes a little of the gloss of the brilliance of the album.
To conclude this review I re-iterate that "Wrongdoers" is the best album that I have currently reviewed and is indeed one of the best albums I have heard in a while. Whether your background is Metal, Hardcore or Punk there seems to be something for everyone and I would be surprised if someone listened to this record and didn't enjoy it. Norma Jean have managed to strike the perfect balance between everything with this record, keeping things fresh and exciting, and I see this as a real achievement. If I was still giving albums ratings (which I am not) it would certainly be a 9 and maybe a 9.5, it is simply that good and I urge anyone reading this review to give it a listen, you won't regret it.
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