The tide started changing for Norma Jean somewhere between 2010’s ‘Meridional’ and the aftermath of their last release ‘Wrongdoers’. Having spent a decade as whipping boys in metal’s (online) community, their reputation and influence has now been realised as today’s crop of hardcore delegates like Palm Reader and Dead Harts are open about how they made them embrace chaos in music. Norma Jean have become a band worth celebrating and in honour of such, seventh album ‘Polar Similar’ is their darkest and most ambitious effort to date.
Opening strong with ‘The Planet’, a feeling of determination can be heard as soaring guitars intertwine around Clayton Holyoak’s snare-heavy drum groove, culminating with Corey Brandan’s shrieks of ”I hope you burn” as the band erupts into frantic chops of sludgy hardcore. It sets a precedent for the album, brown and grey tainted post-hardcore you cannot escape.
What makes this sound work is that it feels like a culmination of the band’s full back catalogue, with ‘Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda’ exhibiting the angular rhythm sections of ‘Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child’ and Brandan’s more sophisticated vocal melodies that came through grittier on ‘The Anti-Mother’.
Even beyond their sound, this album explores uncharted musical territory. ‘Everyone Talking Over Everyone’ could be the darkest song Thrice never wrote, while ‘The Close and Discontent’ verges into groove-laden stoner metal territory. And ‘Death is a Living Partner’ is the most frantic burst of thrash metal you’ll hear in 2016.
This record sounds like a band in danger, which makes ’Polar Similar’ such a gripping listen. At no point do you feel like you can settle into this record, as Norma Jean keep surprising you exploring a wide dimension of sound in the process. As a band who are now revered throughout the hardcore world, Norma Jean have responded to the legendary status with an album that will solidify them there forever.
‘Polar Similar’ by Norma Jean is released on 9th September on Solid State Records.
Words by Andy Davidson (@AndyrfDavidson)