on 28 May 2005
Since their name change from Luti-Kriss, and the release of their staggeringly good Bless The Martyr, Kiss The Child (Solid Sate, 2002), Norma Jean have taken the underground world by storm. Now, 2 years on, they return with one of the most hotly anticipated metallic hardcore albums in aeons.
Bless The Martyr was special because it was firstly original, and secondly combed new ground in heaviness that a lot of bands seemed to have bypassed for a long time. Huge, chugging riffs, nightmarish symbolism, and relentless growls for vocals were Norma Jean's offerings. Math-core seemed to be flavour of the day before Bless The Martyr was released, with groups like The Dillinger Escape Plan, As The Sun Sets and Drowningman setting the precedent, and their brand of technical hardcore seemed like the new way. But then Bless The Martyr was released, and some people seemed to return to their long greasy hair, head-banging and playing air guitar at shows. Out of nowhere, this sincerely disturbingly packaged monster of a metal-core outfit upped the ante on heaviness, and everyone seemed to listen.
A lot has happened to Norma Jean since then and up until the release of O' God, The Aftermath. They toured with Ozzfest, they've been unfortunate enough to have changed vocalists twice (the singer who toured with them for Bless the Martyr wasn't even Joshua Scogin, who sang on the record), and they've completed a couple unusually good music videos, which have got them coverage on late night MTV. So, does O' God live up to the anticipation of the sometimes unforgiving hardcore scene? Let's see...
First track, Murderotica: An Avalanche in D Minor (all the songs on here have double-barrelled names), throws you right back in where Bless The Martyr left off - kicking and screaming as if you're being drowned in the river Mississippi. The feeling of the music is so 'Deep South' that you may be horrified at first for thinking that you're listening to Superjoint Ritual, but don't worry, because it wares off after a few minutes and a few cold showers. With track one swiftly slung aside, we're brought into Vertebraille: Choke That Thief Called Dependence. The tracks may be named a little bit long-windedly, but at least this is one band that is off the silly song-name bandwagon! Same thing with this track, really; shouting, sporadic rifss, and pounding drums. Lovely.
Tracks like Bayonetwork : Vultures in Vivid Color are a new turn for the band, because as well as their familiar punches of aggression, singer Cory Brandan also decides to sing on the chorus here. It's not 'singy' singing by any means, more like tuneful shouting, and so Phil Anselmo similarities are more than noticeable. In actual fact, the singing seems to remove something from the music, rather than enhance it, really. In many bands, it makes a welcome change to have a brief lapse in the screaming, but with Norma Jean they've done it so well over the years that anything else seems a bit odd. Still, it's not bad, just not befitting.
As with Bless The Martyr, there are plenty of full-on, violent songs on this album, but there also moments of slow, epic metal as well. Disconnecktie: The Faithful Vampire is akin to Pretty Soon, I don't Know What, But Something Is Going To Happen - a long-winded, chugging, powerhouse track that proves how heavy and more importantly how downright amazing a band can sound just with a few ringing-out guitar riffs, simplistic drumming and lots of reverb. Cave In used to be the masters of this kind of thing - now it's Norma Jean.
Scientifiction: A Clot of Tragedy / A Swarm of Dedication ends this album in good fashion, with a discordant, unyielding assault on the listener, never letting you forget who you're listening to. Not having the lyrics handy, this reviewer is left wondering if 'Scientifiction' is a sectarian dismissal of science in favour of Creationism. The band are, after all, a very devout Christian band. Bless The Martyr is renowned for it's highly religious overtones, so I daresay that O' God will be the same.
But, whatever the driving force behind the lyrics (and even the music as a whole) Norma Jean are a band with a mission, and will continue to impress fans of alternative music for a long time to come.