Not exactly into hardcore, metal or whatever the screamy kids are calling it these days, but want to understand or at least be able to discuss one of the best albums of the meta-genre? This may help.
Want instant credibility with the scary rock / heavy-metal subculture kid in your church /school / neighbourhood? Buy them this album. But don’t assume they will enjoy it.
However scary they look, however noisy and aggressive their music is, this album is as likely to be too heavy for their tastes as any other album is likely to be too light and fluffy. Compared to Norma Jean, Marilyn Manson sounds like ABBA and most traditional metal bands, whether Christian or Black (that is to say, ‘hearting the devil and his leetle weezards’), sound a little effeminate next to NJ’s brand of ‘Hardcore’ (that’s a genre, rather than an adjective, in case you’re unsure).
It is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea/beer/bat-blood/ Mike Patton urine. But in the world of extreme rock, being ‘too heavy’ for someone’s tastes is a ticket to respect rather than rejection. It’s sad, lame and puerile, but true. And while Vs The Anti Mother is actually less intensely aggressive and noisy than Norma Jean’s previous releases, it still packs an enormous punch. And gosh, what a pleasant punch it is, too. It’s like being beaten up by an affectionate but angry Angelina Jolie. Yeah it hurts. But it hurts so goooood.
Norma Jean’s style is a far cry from the self-indulgent guitar-noodling and Harley Davidson chug-alongs some readers may associate with harder forms of rock. This is heavy metal stripped down to its heaviest and most essential core – elemental metal, if you will, emphasising time-signature changes and complex rhythms and screaming over lighter-in-the-air crooning. (If you’re a HC fan you’ve got to find this massively simplistic and patronising. But that’s how I roll. Sorry.)
The Anti Mother features more straight singing and shouting (as opposed to the standard raspy screaming of previous albums) but Norma Jean still deliver intelligent, poetic lyrics and superbly complex music that will either please or impress fans of the heavy stuff. The album opens with Vipers, Snakes and Actors, a wonderful rebuke to the militant and militarist Church, with its powerful cry of: ‘You wear that cross like a crown. You wear that cross like a dagger. Come down from that tower. Nothing will be the outcome.’
A gentler (relatively speaking) interlude comes in the form of Surrender Your Sons…, a brooding relationship epic, reminiscent of secular collaborators Tool and Deftones. This is smoother territory than Norma Jean have traversed before, but rather than feeling like a Metallica-styled sell-out, or the true croony colours shining through (as on the token gentle track of so many heavy albums), this feels more like a band staying true to their creative instincts rather than trying to please anyone.
To be sure, this will please only a relative few, but those it does will be artistically and spiritually blessed by the experience.
Star rating: 9/10
Essential download: Vipers, Snakes and Actors