Sound — 8
For a long time, I wasn't sure if Norma Jean was going to be putting out any more music, and if it would even be relevant anymore if they did. I had listened to them since I was 12 after all. Well, the good news is that Cory Brandan and the boys still have plenty of life left in them. When a band goes through major lineup changes and recording delays, the final product is often at polar extremes: horrid or phenomenal. Fortunately, this wasn't the former. Brandan still offers up the same patent vocal rage he is known for. The only original member, guitarist Chris "Derr" Day, offers equal parts finesse and chaos alongside new guitarist, Jeff Hickey. Finally, a formidable rhythm section of new members John Finnegan on bass and Clayton "Goose" Holyoak on drums adds a crushing backbone to the new jams. Let's talk music with a brief play-by-play: 1. "Hive Minds": Atmospheric waves and guitar noise opens up to drums and then a full groove at 1:25. A number of dynamic shifts, with a focus on the vocals. Reminds me of a heavy Thrice tune in places. 2. "If You Got It at Five, You Got It at Fifty": Fast-paced and heavy. Like a mix between old school NJ and the "Meridional" era. Cool high dissonances. Guest spot by Jon "KC Wolf" Kindler on vocals at 1:19. 3. "Wrongdoers": Good mix of melodic and heavy. Great low end mixing makes for a punchy main riff. Swirling guitar combo at 2:26. 4. "The Potter Has No Hands": A harmonic filled main riff gives the song a robotic feeling. One of my favorite riffs is at 1:00. Breakdown at 2:49. 5. "Sword in Mouth, Fire Eyes": Grungy, noisy bass intro. Semi-clean vocals. Good chorus vocals and harmonies. Fairly melodic, but still heavy because of the emotional charge. 6. "Afterhour Animals": Not so much a song as much as a transition. Trippy instrumentals over a "soothing" vocal sound clip. 7. "The Lash Whistled Like a Singing Wind": This manages to pack so much brutality into a single minute that I wish it was even longer. Fast, manic riffing. Awesome riff at:40 and an outstandingly heavy outro. 8. "Neck in the Hemp": Pretty standard chugging and octave work. Still a good song. Cool breakdown at 2:24. 9. "Triffids": Nice bouncy main riff. Melodic chorus. Intense vocals near the end. 10. "Funeral Singer": Thrashy, fast main riffs. Nonstop until 2:55 where it slows. From there the song builds up into an emotional frenzy of headbanging, touching vocal growls, and high guitar work. 11. "Sun Dies, Blood Moon": Starts off with a clean, bluesy jam and a mix of vocals. Gets heavy and slow for a while at 2:24. Moves on to a beautiful mix of synth, strings, and bass. More is added and built up until another full groove at 5:58. Great guitar licks. A pounding, heavy riff at 7:09. The song and album close by eroding into a muddy, lo-fi jam session. A little long-winded, but you still need to listen to these songs to get the gravity. This album is really like a mixture of all of their albums combined with melody, harmony, dissonance, and experimentation all wrapped up into a distinct package. Joshua Barber did a great job of mixing this also, in my opinion. The low end mixing is unique and adds a pounding fury to some of the songs. Altogether, a great addition to the Norma Jean discography.
Lyrics — 8
Cory Brandan's lyrics and singing on this album have a great dynamic on this album that has really only been attempted on other albums. You are given everything from gut-wrenching growls to dreamy cleans. The clean execution is especially sound compared to some other albums. All the while, the vocals seem to carry the same intensity regardless of the singing style. The lyrics seem to be mostly driven by personal experience. Some are dripping with anger, while others hint at the fragility of the human nature and our predisposition to self-destruction. Christian fans of Norma Jean might be disturbed by some of the songs, but there is plenty of commentary on faith in there too, but Brandan opts for the honest approach rather than pretending everything is always "peachy." Songs like "Blood Moon, Sun Dies" have amazing poetic form, while songs like "Neck in the Hemp" are seeping with rage at love gone wrong: "You are the heir of a neck in the hemp. I am the son of a gun that has the rope." The potent one-liners Brandan is known for placing in songs aren't as commonplace, but the lyrics are potent nonetheless and stand proud on their own two feet.
Overall Impression — 9
Overall, this album is an excellent package. It might take a few spins to really sink in, but I think this is some of Norma Jean's best work. Whether you be a longtime fan, a NJ newb, a mediocre metalcore fan, or one of the guys who thinks of them as a Botch clone (which, let's be honest, is hardly an insult), this album is definitely worth a listen. In a market saturated with subpar metalcore acts, Norma Jean is showing that the old ways are still going strong. I loved the variety that this album contains and the immaculate recording job. The only thing that I didn't like was perhaps that it left me longing for a little more. If I lost this, I would get it again in a heartbeat. This would be a contender for one of the top metalcore albums of the year if it was given due credit, so do your part and give it a listen.