The other day I was jamming Norma Jean’s first record, Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child, when I realized something: this album is over a decade old. It’s crazy to put something like that in perspective – and in reality, it makes me feel old. I’m sure Norma Jean feels the same way. They’ve been through several lineup changes in their past 11 years as a band, with guitarist Chris John Day being their only remaining original member; typically when this happens, bands become fearful about their future. Their brand new effort, Wrongdoers, is only 2/5ths of the band that created 2010’s Meridional, and you’d think that such drastic changes would hurt the band’s direction and expose a bit of weakness in terms of collaboration. But thanks to nearly three years of work, the excellent chemistry of both the old and new members, and growth in both the musical and lyrical departments, Wrongdoers is by far the best effort of the bunch – and it proves that Norma Jean is only getting better as they grow older.
Meridional was a strong effort, but it was missing something. It seemed like the band was seeking progression, but the progression hadn’t quite found them. Tracks like “Deathbed Atheist” and “Falling From the Sky: Day Seven” stand out as some of the best material they had ever created. But now, reflecting upon the release as I listen to Wrongdoers, it is apparent that this was a stepping stone in fully evolving as a band. The newest effort from the metalcore pioneers not only hits harder, but it sticks too. While there were songs on O God the Aftermath, Redeemer, and heck, even the somewhat weaker Anti-Mother that stuck out here and there, no release from the band was completely captivating from start to finish. Luckily, Wrongdoers is that album.
“Hive Minds” is a fantastic opener, and it’s the perfect introduction to the sound that Norma Jean has been perfecting over the last decade. The track clocks in at over six minutes, but it executes exactly what the band has been known to offer on a platter: chunky, chaotic metalcore with a side of long, drawn-out instrumentation. This time, though, the group is offering their most filling dish. It’s sweet, it’s spicy, and at times, it’s just downright nasty – but nasty in the best way possible.
Okay, maybe food metaphors just don’t work in this situation. But you know the “filling” descriptor I used earlier? That’s the rest of the album. Every single song sticks out, and every single song provides some sort of interesting flavor that’s either been heard from the band before, or provides evidence that Norma Jean has taken the giant step towards full idealization. Hard-hitter “If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty” is one of the staunchest, most powerful songs the band has ever written, and the title track is full of the most heart.
“Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes” is probably the best example of the power and beauty that the band so effortlessly brings forth through their heavy riffage and honest lyrics. As far as songwriting goes, the themes of love and change really seem to bleed through in tracks like “Sword,” where the vocalist Cory Brandan speaks of attempting to improve his own imperfections. Wrongdoers is a very unifying record, as it tries to bring people together as they relate to each other’s struggles with judgment and sin. Where it has become a habit in metal to call people out for being wrong or stupid, vocalist Cory Brandan uses such poetic songwriting to put the blame on himself, showcasing the vulnerability in his words and the passion in his voice. It’s an emotional, honest and effective approach.
While on many metal albums, the first half tends to be full of the most memorable cuts, Norma Jean demolishes this typicality. “The Lash Whistled Like a Singing Wind” mirrors the second track as a hardcore slaughterfest, while “Triffids” and “Funeral Singer” both stand out for their instrumental prowess and catchy vocals. Closer “Sun Dies, Blood Moon” is another example of the band’s tendency to jam on their instruments; the guitars end the album with feedback after a long section of melodic intensity. The song’s harmonic cleans and screams, which help drive home the choruses of many of the songs (most notably “Wrongdoers”), are the final demonstration of the band’s accomplished compositional abilities. Throughout the entire record, there no longer seems to be a need to add or subtract elements; everything fits, everything clicks, and as a result, these songs are thought-provoking, memorable, and extraordinarily powerful.
Norma Jean has risen up and released an album that far surpasses their previous works. Oh, Sleeper did so with Children of Fire, The Chariot did so with One Wing, Every Time I Die did so with Ex Lives, and now the Georgian metal giants have done so with Wrongdoers. The quintet has found the perfect combination of youthful, energetic jamming and mature lyricism with their most potent effort to date. This is no longer a band that is churning out albums every two years. This is a band that creates art when the time is right, when their creative visions are telling them that it is meant to be. That makes Wrongdoers one of 2013’s best albums, and a metalcore release that will stand out amongst Norma Jean’s already-influential repertoire as their magnum opus.
Metalcore/Hardcore | Razor & Tie