Polar Similar review by Norma Jean

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  • Released: Sep 9, 2016
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.8 (12 votes)
Norma Jean: Polar Similar
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Sound — 8
Making their first mark a significant one, Norma Jean turned heads with their aggressive, Adam Dutkiewicz-produced mathcore debut album, "Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child," which still maintains its seminal value in 21st-century metal today. With that being nearly 15 years ago, Norma Jean have since navigated through a sizable discography by taking a timely turn into emocore in 2006's "Redeemer" and 2008's "The Anti Mother" (around the time when frontman Cory Brandan's vocal style began to shadow that of Thrice's Dustin Kensrue), and after signing to Razor & Tie Records to release their fifth album, 2010's "Meridional," the band hit a new level, fusing the new melodic post-hardcore style they were tending to with the techier nature of their early material, as well as adding in some new post-rock interludes to increase the dynamic value.

Following that up with the more headstrong hardcore effort of their sixth album, 2013's "Wrongdoers," Norma Jean return to their original label home of Solid State Records for their seventh album, "Polar Similar." While that upfront aggression is still doled out with aplomb in the no-frills metalcore of "I. The Planet," and the chaotic energy of "Death Is a Living Partner," Norma Jean venture back to the full-bodied formula heard in "Meridional," and the album provides more melodies in "Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda," "1,000,000 Watts" and "A Thousand Years a Minute" (reminiscent of their emocore days) as well as more tricky technical riffing in "Everyone Talking Over Everyone Else" and "An Ocean of War" (reminiscent of the early days).

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And per this appeal to the compositional recipe of "Meridional," plenty of moments in "Polar Similar" fan out in different styles. Some of these moments are par-for-the-course formula for Norma Jean, like the eerie ambient interlude of "II. The People," the 10 Years-brand alt-metal cut of "Reaction" (which kicks into a nice grind later on), or the lengthy post-hardcore/post-metal ender "IV. The Nexus." But with plenty of new songwriting characteristics thrown in - whether it's the increase of murmuring vocals similar to that used in Gojira's newest album, the hint of doom metal injected into "1,000,000 Watts," the classic metal vibe of the main riff in "The Close and the Discontent," or the pure dose of blues soloing in the interlude of "III. The World" - "Polar Similar" shows the band flaunting even more tricks in their repertoire.

Lyrics — 8
Similarly revolving around Brandan's lyrical theme of the frailty of human existence that has appeared in previous Norma Jean albums, his lyrics in "Polar Similar" oscillate between finality by way of shallow pride and a changing of doomed fate by reshaping one's outlook and approach to life. Regarding the former, Brandan welcomes obliteration in whatever sense all in the sake of being vindicated in "I. The World" ("I hope you burn / I'll be the king of the ashes") and "1,000,000 Watts" ("But you're broken, I'm the answer baby / And I will never have the final say / They will never have the final say").

But with Brandan showing more admonishment than anger in the frustration towards selfishness in "Reaction" ("Be careful of what you leave behind"), this bridges over into Brandan's other lyrical half of the album, acting more like the canary in the mine chirping about the impending destruction the world is headed towards, urging to take the reins and change that course as soon as possible, heard in "Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda" ("When you're trying to save it / Then you will have to try harder") and "IV. The Nexus" ("I don't wanna be inside / While the walls are closing in / If you wanna make this all work / Then you're gonna have to try"). And though he still articulates this with biting criticism ("You're not thinking it through at all / Like you never saw this coming" in "An Ocean of War"), Brandan shows himself turning the other cheek regarding the previously mentioned interest of violent vindication in "A Thousand Years a Minute" ("I should really go backwards like you do / If I wanted to stone you, but again / I don't want to be like you").

Overall Impression — 8
Having nailed a successful amalgam of their catalog's varied hardcore styles on their fifth record, it's no surprise that Norma Jean reapply that recipe in "Polar Similar" for another multi-faceted offering. But though the base of the new album molds itself similarly to "Meridional," Norma Jean make "Polar Similar" more than an echo of previous success by bringing forth new ideas from their songwriting toolkit, proving that they've got more ways to refine and grow upon that golden formula of theirs.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    dingotron
    I love these guys. You can hear them carving out their own niche more and more in every album. Probably has something to do with constant member change. Meridional is a flawless album. My opinion, of course. What I've heard of this one so far is pretty damn good. Easy 8/10. Good review.
    vppark2
    I've only given this album a few listens so far, but it's definitely up there as one of my favorite albums of the year. I still think no one can beat Silent Planet tho lol. Maybe, just maybe Dance Gavin Dance will, but I doubt it. Also, I never thought of Cory sounding li Dustin, but I can sort of hear it.
    Panasonic3
    This is way more altmetal than their early emo screamo days. I honestly haven't heard any of their shit since bless the martyr and kiss the bride (almost 15 years ago man I'm old) but I dig this for sure.
    TomT86
    I've been following Norma Jean since Anti-Mother (2008) and I think this album is awesome ! I'll go for a 9/10
    AnthonyWabo
    Dude, i love this album. It's more melodic and less chaotic which is a plus in my book and it never gets boring. My expectations were 100% fulfilled. 9/10
    dingotron
    Kinda a double edge sword between the chaos and melodic. Seems like the more chaotic music gives more room to let the lyrics shine through, but can be a little harder for it to be a casual listen.
    AnthonyWabo
    Depends imo. I like to enjoy music as a whole. Some of their earlier stuff really give me a headache
    dingotron
    I feel that. I think Poison the Well was one of the best at blending the chaos and melody.
    vppark2
    I could never get into their early stuff either man. I got into them on Meridional, and I agree that this is quite possibly their best album yet.
    winterXsolstice
    In my opinion, oh, God was just an awful rip off of botch. Kinda lost interest in them because of it. I'll give this a listen tho, after all it's been been 15 years...
    dingotron
    In their defense, weren't they like eighteen then? All of my highschool and right outta highschool bands sounded like shitty covers of our influences. They definitely matured musically.
    vppark2
    Haha jeez, were you seriously that skeptical of them after that? Nowadays, you have bands like Code Orange clearly worshipping those bands. Anyways, I'd definitely check out the last 3 albums. I think they found their sound on those. I could never get into them before tbh.
    irotinmyskin
    these guys cant seem to do anything wrong. i was so surprised by how good wrongdoers was...
    BwareDWare94
    I actually don't like the debut album much, but O God, the Aftermath was great. I'm sad to say everything since then has failed to garner my attention.
    vppark2
    Strange... As I said below, I really think the last 3 albums caught my interest a lot more. I'm not sure what it is, but I share basically the same opinion for Every Time I Die. I never liked Josh's style either so that's probably why I couldn't get into the debut album.
    Agent 00Awesome
    Every single Every Time I Die album besides maybe their first is a masterpiece, if just for the lyrics alone. On topic though, I think Wrongdoers might be better than this, but still a good offering from Norma Jean.