Norma Jean – “Polar Similar”


norma_jeanpolarx1-wpcf_300x300As metalcore bands come and go, Norma Jean has long stood as one of the pioneers of the genre and with their latest, Polar Similar, they clearly demonstrate why they have had such staying power.

For those who do not know of Norma Jean, the storied Atlanta band actually began in 1997 as Luti-Kriss.  Fun story, somewhere around 2000, I saw Luti-Kriss open for Zao at the Creep Crawl in St. Louis and it was a pretty crazy show in that small venue, which featured a floor-to-ceiling chain link fence to separate people from the bar area.  Seeing them there and then picking up their first album on Solid State, Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child (2002) had me as a fan.   As happens typically with bands that have been around close to 20 years, lineups change, people come and go, and in the current configuration vocalist Corey Brandan is the nearest thing to an original member but he didn’t even join the band until 2004.  Since Bless the Child… the band has been on nearly every large festival bill in the US including, OzzFest, Mayhem Fest, Radio Rebellion,  and Summer Slaughter as well as headlining a number of their own tours to support their six albums before Polar Similar and even picked up a Grammy nomination in 2006 for Best Recording Package for O God, The Aftermath.  For Polar Similar the band returns to Solid State Records and recorded the album at Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota with production by Josh Barber and mixing by Jeremy Griffith.  Pachyderm is where Nirvana recorded In Utero and Barber and Griffith had previously worked with the band on Wrongdoers (2013), so band combined a bit of the legendary with the familiar for the recording.

Perhaps the best way to approach this album is to consider what singer Corey Brandan said about the album in an interview in HM magazine, “Polar Similar is kind of one big song…written intentionally with a first track…and last track in mind.”  To that end, the album does have an underlying flow to it as it deals with a rather dark subject, as Corey writes about abuse from his experiences with some songs taking the viewpoint of the person abused, of outsiders looking in, and even through the eyes of the abuser.  Production and overall feel to the album literally couldn’t be better for my ears.  Instruments are clear as are the vocals and the emotion behind the vocals comes through.

For longtime Norma Jean fans, there is a lot that will sound familiar on this album.  All of the power, chaos, and heavy emotion are in these songs, but there are other moments that may be a bit of a surprise.  Songs like the opening “I. The Planet”,  “1,000,000 Watts” and “Synthetic Sun” will certainly ring true as Norma Jean songs, while a slower song, like “Reaction” with is twists and turns and more ethereal feel to it really seems a bit different for the band.  What really drives this home is shift back into familiar music territory toward the end of the song.  Following “Reaction” with the bluegrass-like instrumental  “III. The Nebula” really drives home the point that the band is willing to stretch things.

As a final demonstration of how far the band is willing to go in terms of stretching their sound, the album concludes with “IV. The Nexus” which is just under 11 minutes long.  The standard heavy, driving Norma Jean song being 11 minutes long simply wouldn’t work, so we have really almost a four-part song woven together seamlessly.  The softer, atmospheric beginning gives way to the heavy, pounding emotional section that shifts artfully into a quieter section, which eventually goes to an ambient, atmospheric quiet to close out the album.

In Polar Similar, Norma Jean have pulled off what is often nearly impossible.  As a band, they have managed to stay true to their sound while at the same time expanded that sound incorporating elements that one could almost consider polar opposite and managing to arrange things such that the album does have the feel of a concept album with a start and finish told in one long track.

Written by John Jackson

Rating: 8.5/10

01. I. The Planet (03:02)
02. Everyone Talking over Everyone Else (03:26)
03. Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda (02:16)
04. 1,000,000 Watts (04:27)
05. II. The People (02:14)
06. Death Is a Living Partner (02:18)
07. Synthetic Sun (03:50)
08. Reaction (05:42)
09. III. The Nebula (03:15)
10. The Close and Discontent (02:33)
11. An Ocean of War (03:28)
12. A Thousand Years a Minute (05:58)
13. IV. The Nexus (10:39)

Band Members:
Cory Brandan – Vocals + Guitar
Jeff Hickey – Guitar
Clayton “Goose” Holyoak – Drums
John Finnegan- Bass
Philip Farris – Guitar

“Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child” (2002)
“O God, the Aftermath” (2005)
“Redeemer” (2006)
“The Anti Mother” (2008)
“Meridional” (2010)
“Wrongdoers” (2013)
“Polar Similar” (2016)

Record Label: Solid State Records, Sept. 2016

Weblinks: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Video below: ‘Everyone Talking over Everyone Else’

Video for ‘I. The Planet’

Video for ‘1,000,000 Watts’



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