Sound — 7
Norma Jean is truly an anomaly of sorts. When you listen to the Atlanta natives' music, which goes heavy on the distortion and growls, you're probably not expecting to learn that Normal Jean is a fervent Christian band. It's exactly that paradox that makes the band a bit more intriguing. The quintet's latest CD Redeemer will probably not appeal to the masses, primarily for the abrasive vocals provided by Cory Brandan, but it is a fascinating addition to the Christian music genre. The entire record is very raw in its approach, and one of the main reasons is Norma Jean's (vocalist Brandan, guitarists Scottie Henry and Chris Day, bassist Jake Schultz, and drummer Daniel Davison) approach to songwriting. With many songs on Redeemer, there is a tendency to let vocalist Brandan repeat lines over and over again until you might just be ready to skip to the next song. This repetitious approach make work in some cases, but a band like Norma Jean needs some let up from the screaming at times. There is nothing wrong with a good screamer who can convey the emotional content of the lyrics, but it's easy to be worn out by the first song A Grand Scene For A Color Film when Brandan incessantly asks, Just what are you trying to say? A Temperamental Widower has a bumpy start as well. Once again, you're immediately draw to Brandan's raucous vocals until an underlying guitar line enters in the picture and leads the song in a different, melody-driven direction. The line plays while Brandan is holding out one of his screams, but it manages to work because it offers such a nice contrast between the melodic riff and the hell-sent roars. Cemetery Like A Stage is one of the better tunes on the album, primarily because attention is averted away from Brandan and geared a bit more toward the bass work of Schultz. With the bass line leading much of the song, the track sounds vaguely like the beginning days of Tool -- the angrier days, of course. The bass is allowed to take control over the melody a few times in the song, and Brandan likewise eases up on his screams for a moment. It's at those times where you actually can hear the construction of the song a bit better, not to mention that it provides a little intermission from the unceasing sound that is usually offered up in other songs.
Lyrics — 7
While Norma Jean is vocal about the band being Christian, the lyrics on Redeemer don't necessarily scream religion. There are vague references here are there, but if you weren't told the band was religious, you probably still wouldn't know. While the songs do project the angry vibe heard in the songs on Redeemer, there are times when lines just get sung too many times. In The End Of All Things Will Be Televised, the lyrics seem to have some religious metaphorical meaning. The writing is done effectively and never feels in-your-face by any means. Brandan sings, Out comes the exit; Captain, this ship is sinking; Have mercy. The strong contrast between the rough delivery and the message of asking for mercy is an intriguing one. With the issue of repeating lyrics, the best example is the last track No Passenger: No Parasite, which coincidentally uses most of the words in the song in the title. The only other words added into the mix are when Brandan sings, Wake up. While the band does add different musical layers underneath the singing to build up the song into a crescendo, the lyrics still just become tedious after a while.
Overall Impression — 7
Norma Jean will likely be disliked by many because of the vocals, plain and simple. Some bands can pull of the screaming, but it's usually because they also have songs that consist of several different segments that make it more of an interesting listen. While Norma Jean do show promise at times, it is still very hard to get all the way through some of the songs. There are plenty of interesting melody lines being played by both the guitarists and the bass player, but unfortunately all too often they are easily shadowed by the overpowering vocals. It should be said that Norma Jean does stand out from the rest of the Christian band pack, and that is fairly refreshing. If the band can strike the right balance between metal and melody, it will soon be known for much more than the religion.