Artist: Norma Jean
Label: Razor & Tie / Sony
Price: £9.99 from Amazon
This album is so awesome it should have three-headed elephants, man-sized foetuses, cerberan wolves and flying electric jelly-fish on its cover. Oh, wait! It does! Good. Because that’s what this album is: skull-splittingly, throat-laceratingly good. Norma Jean’s fourth studio album is their best to date, but that’s not to say it will be to everyone’s taste. It is, after all, spectacularly heavy.
Norma Jean have never been a ‘Gospel’ outfit, but they’ve also never been shy about their spirituality. Bastardizer, for instance, features the line: ‘Our hands were on the same spear that drove into His side, and we’re the ones that wound up paralysed, paralysed and loved,’ while one suspects the later refrain of ‘I’ve found a better way,’ is not a million miles from a simple ‘beggar leading another to food’ kind of explanation of faith for a suspicious and often nihilistic subculture.
There is more stylistic variety here than on any previous Norma Jean album. Many of the tracks, like the insane exercise in heaviness that is Blood Burner, unleash such a chaos of stop-start rhythms and wild guitar flailings that you wonder if they will be able to pull back from the abyss to make rhythmic and musical sense at all. But they do. Often bursting surprisingly into grooves that Rage Against the Machine might be proud of or epic, glacially-huge riffs that should make any fan of hard music drop to his or her knees and praise God for the invention of the electric guitar. The pleasingly ironically titled A Media Friendly Turn For The Worse certainly made me do just that. If this heaviness is organic, these are dense nerve-clusters of complexity, rather than muscular walls of sound.
All of this is overlayed with Cory’s trademark gutteral scream (in my opinion the best in the Metalcore/Hardcore genre) and quite a lot of the atonal strangled-cry rabble-chanting we heard on their previous album, The Anti-Mother.
There’s even a sensitive, emotional track in Falling From the Sky: Day Seven, whose classic rock chord structure provides a melancholy beauty that never descends into the frankly syrupy nonsense that rock’s hard men seem so partial to when they let the tattooed facade drop for just a moment.
Fans of any form of heavy music will find this album compelling, even if the genre is not one they are familiar with, and Christians who want to find out what secularly popular Christian music that manages to remain distinctive without preaching sounds like could do a lot worse than starting here. This is one of the most exciting albums I’ve heard in a very long time and I am very pleased it has been released by a secular label so that people in Britain might actually get a chance to hear and buy it.
Essential downloads: A Media Friendly Turn For The Worse for representative brilliance, or Falling From the Sky for prettiness.