November 11, 2006

CD Review: Norma Jean - Redeemer

Where to begin. I might as well get this part out of the way first. Redeemer is my first real experience with the band known as Norma Jean. Sure, I had heard of them, and I think I have even heard a song or two on compilation and soundtrack disks, but not once have I ever stopped and paid attention to Norma Jean. I almost caught them on the Radio Rebellion tour a month or so ago, but missed it due to sickness. So, here we are, Redeemer is playing through the headphones and I am thinking about what I think about the band that is Norma Jean.

The first thing to grab me about the album is the dissonant start to "A Grand Scheme for a Color Film." Once it kicks in, it does not let go until the album has run its course. From the chaotic heaviness of the guitars to the wild drumming to the screaming of "Bring out the shotguns, we're going to town!" it really gets the blood pumping.

Watching me get into this is an interesting thing. You see, just a couple of years ago I probably would have turned a cold shoulder to the chaos that is brewing on this disk. I know, I know, this album wasn't here a few years ago, but I am sure that you get the idea. For some reason or other, that I will never be able to explain, could not get into this style of music. This year has been a bit of an eye-opener, I may not have the most varied tastes, but I am open to discovering something new, and this world of post-hardcore/metalcore and even a bit of screamo is beginning to unfold before me.

Norma Jean is an interesting beast. They seem to be striking that balance between mainstream appeal and fringe extremists. The music is easy to get into, yet isn't exactly the most easily accessible of tunes. They are toeing the line between experimental dissonance and more crushing/melodic metalcore. The barrier is being pressed to the breaking point in a way for a younger generation. While not nearly at the same level, but I could see some similarities between them and what Pantera was doing some 15 years ago, pushing the boundaries of where, in their case, metal ended and noise began. Again, Norma Jean isn't the only band that is playing both sides against the middle, but the inspiration may be able to be traced back to Dimebag (RIP), Phil and the rest for their envelope pressing.

Since their last album, they have seen the exit of their vocalist and bass player. They have since been replaced by Cory Brandon on mic duty and Jake Schultz on bass. Now, I am unprepared to comment on the differences between the lineups, but I will say that Brandon has an energy that really seems to drive the rest of the band forward. Behind him the guitars of Chris Day and Scottie Henry have a focused, laser-like precision to their orchestrated chaos whish is the heart and soul of the band.

Granted, I do not love the album or the band, but the more I listen to it, there is more to listen to. The biggest problem uncovered as those layers are peeled back is the lack of variety. There are definitely songs that stand out, such as "The End of All Things will be Televised" and "A Small Spark vs a Great Forest," but if you listen straight through, there is not a lot of variety from song to song. I am not asking for ballads or straight up hardcore, but the structures are very similar.

Bottomline. This is a good album. There is a lot of inventiveness in the orchestrated insanity, heaviness countered with brief bits of melody, plenty to keep the metalcore fan happy. This is a band to keep an eye on, this could be the start of something much bigger.



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