Artist: Norma Jean
Like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds, the artwork on Redeemer’s album cover is jarring, frightening and, maddeningly unexplained. A little girl is attacked by a crow in warm watercolours and silently screams: This remarkable album is not for everyone.
If ‘Easy-Listening’ is a legitimate musical genre, then Norma Jean’s style should undoubtedly be filed on the other side of the record shop, in a dark corner on some dangerous, unstable flooring, next to a door marked ‘Emergency’. This is Difficult Listening, and perhaps the disturbing artwork was commissioned as a kindness, a sort of warning to the unwary, like bright colours on a dangerous snake.
Not that this album is dangerous – it is, in my opinion, truly wonderful art: well made, challenging and enjoyable while remaining spiritually positive; but it is frankly going to frighten the pants off some people. For most Baptist Times readers, this will be the heaviest, harshest, loudest, noisiest music you have ever heard. Ever.
The genre here is called Hardcore. And on first listening, it seems to be just a wall of guitar, bass and drum cacophony, punctuated with guttural, growling screams. But there is more to this than noise.
To the uninitiated, a movement from a great symphony from a less populist composer might sound like so much orchestral noise, a nebulous confusion of strings and brass that seems to go nowhere. A trained ear has patience to hear themes develop and appreciates subtleties of tone and tempo. In Norma Jean’s music, a trained ear will hear an impressive complexity of time-changes, instrumental virtuosity, driving riffs, and explosive rhythms behind the noise. And then there’s the voice.
Lead vocalist Cory Putman screams beautifully, frighteningly, wonderfully. A strong, brutal voice that avoids sounding as if this is merely a matter of form. Cory’s screaming is, like the whole of Norma Jean’s music, drenched in genuine emotion.
Lyrically, Redeemer avoids cliché yet is unapologetically earnest. Wonderful lines like this meditation on a family funeral abound: ‘There are strangers in my house tripping over themselves to white-wash this disaster. I am young, but I’m not blind.’ And in every song there is a phrase that catches your ear, like a piece of conversation, stripped of context and given almost transcendent, mantra-like meaning: ‘Fight fair! Fight fair!’ or ‘Just what are you trying to say?’
Middle of the road listeners are going to find this album a bit much, but musical extremophiles, from Metal fans to devotees of Shoenberg, Stockhausen and Webern should find something to love.
Rating: 9 out of 10