Monday, August 12, 2013

Norma Jean Does Right As Wrongdoers

Norma Jean is one of those metal bands that feels so much older than its history. Sixteen years is a long time, but it feels like more than 25 years with only Chris Day remaining from the original lineup. And yet, the band is experiencing its renaissance of sorts.

Wrongdoers is the first album to feature the new additions of Jeff Hickey (guitar), John Finnegan (bass), and Clayton "Goose" Holyoak (drums) alongside Day and near decade-long member Cory Brandan. But the change has made a dramatic difference in other ways too.

"We always try to take it to the next level," said Day. "This one is definitely a progression, but it's also fun because it's fast and kind of punk rock."

They accomplished it by going back to square one. Specifically, while Brandan and Day still write the songs, the newer band members made additions and, in some cases, help rewrite the songs to create an entirely new dynamic. Brandan has even said that they (him and Day) would have never thought of these new ideas that now influence the music.

As a summation, the album sounds like a mixture of Norma Jean that most people know but with enough new material to prove that the band has not only survived, but also thrived after several years of setbacks. It's clear that the band is working to usher in an entirely new era, one that separates it from the nostalgia of the first three albums and positions Meridional as a placeholder.

In other words, Wrongdoers is the new Norma Jean. And if the band holds the course, this will be the one that people will remember. The payoff is clearly in the finished product as the production was often described as a nightmare. The new energy and angst wasn't all voluntary. Some of it was forced.

"What we made definitely had its way with us," said Brandan. "We pushed ourselves to keep writing, scrapping songs time and time again; we knew it was not ready but remained hopeful that we'd find a way out."

They did. Through all the headache and heartbreak, Norma Jean has emerged with something better as a result. Sure, there will be people who still look back to the early albums, but it's difficult to deny that Wrongdoers is a badly needed break for the band. If this was a debut, they'd have center stage. The tease.

The track, a small piece from If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty, bridges metal in just two minutes, with some trash and sludge tossed in for good measure. It's hard enough to pack a punch, making anyone who loves metal want to position themselves right in front of the concert speakers.

If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty was also the song that the band opted to put up first as an audio track. You can take that in on YouTube even if I wish they would have broken out with Hive Minds. The deep pounding percussion in the background and guitar work in the foreground is compelling as much as it is foreboding. The onslaught of it is perfectly paced with Brandan at his best.

Other standout tracks that promise to bludgeon the senses include the beating The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind, the chug of The Potter Had No Hands, and the soaring In Mouth, Fire Eyes. While all 11 tracks, including the 50-second stopover in Afterhour Animals, make for a near perfect album, those three best represent the cohesive diversity that that Norma Jean has pulled together.

Wrongdoers By Norma Jean Knocks Out 9.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The two other must hear tracks are Wrongdoers, which is an all together different kind of brilliant that even non-metal fans will want to put on their playlists, and Sun Dies, Blood Moon that moves through a 14-minute masterpiece. It not only anchors the album, but also ties this down as a band with more of a future ahead of it than a past behind it. At the very least, we can hope.

Wrongdoers by Norma Jean is available from Amazon. You can order the album from Barnes & Noble or download it from iTunes. Norma Jean has been touring aggressively this summer with  Dillinger Escape Plan as part of their Summer Slaughter Tour. For tour dates and information, check out their Facebook page.
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