For Fans Of
The sole piece of criticism I can level at ‘All Hail,’ it’s that it’s definitely a Norma Jean record in the vein of 2013’s killer ‘Wrongdoers‘ and 2016’s sublime ‘Polar Similar.’ If you’ve loved their last couple albums, then you’ll more than likely love this; you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. It’s nothing that new, filled with smatterings of what the band has explored over the last ten years. So much so that ‘All Hail‘ definitely feels like the third and final act in a grand trilogy that started six years ago. Yet there’s so much power and weight to every thick movement that ‘All Hail‘ surges through that it almost doesn’t matter. If you thought they were angry and heavy on the 2018 B-side, ‘Children of the Dead,’ you ain’t seen shit yet. They somehow sound bigger and heavier with each subsequent album.
This LP doesn’t change what we expect from Norma Jean, but that’s fine. As for me, Norma Jean are like The Menzingers: a rare exception who could release similar albums every few years and I’d happily lap it up. Because if there ever was a band releasing records too good for themselves, too good for their genre, then it’s absolutely Norma Jean. Since ‘Wrongdoers‘, they’ve had a raging fire lit under their collective bellies, with the exceptional song-writing from guitarist Jeff Hickey and the fiery, resonating screams of Cory Brandan, honing their sound into a chaotic, polished machine. Each track here feels like a journey that isn’t a copy-and-paste songwriting job after the first chorus. You feel like these songs actually go somewhere meaningful, something I can barely say for the genre now.
‘All Hail‘ isn’t just a powerful musical statement but a dire insight into the world today via some very well-spoken lyricism. It tackles an array of topics in the classic Norma Jean fashion of metaphors and subtly. From flawed conversations, beginnings and ends, truths and lies, people, society, matters of the heart, family – the band weave political and personal ideas into one. Yet like all Norma Jean records, there’s an air of mystery hanging around the words uttered, so what I may take away from ‘Safety Last‘ or ‘with_errors‘ may be completely different to your own reading of the same songs. Something that’s always been a real selling point for this band’s music.
Breaking up these 14 songs are creepy little interludes with samples that divide the track-listing up nicely; parts that never feel too out-of-place or forced. But of course, it’s the full songs that we’re all here for! The short bi-polar opener, ‘Orphan Twin,’ shifts from droning distortion and big tom hits into the techy, explosive metalcore sound that Norma Jean excels at, with brief moments of dynamic and melodic respite. The groovy, djenty quality of ‘[Mind Over Mind]‘ comes jam-packed with plenty of fuzz and heavily loaded rock riffs. Then there’s the ‘Meridoninal‘ inspired melodic moments and Architects-esque bridge heard on ‘Landslide Defeater‘, with some wicked shredding near the end; showing the band has learned what’s worked the best from their other records released within the past decade. (This is the song with the “knife guitar slide” seen in that studio video with producer/engineer, Will Putney; watch out for that “pulverizing” breakdown.)
‘with_errors‘ sees the band’s signature blending of wicked breakdowns and sick pinch harmonics set over Cory’s powerfully pitched-vocals that’s made for their finest moments over the years, making for something more catchy. It’s lighter and melodic precisely when it needs to be, and the right amount of heavy when required. In fact, Norma Jean’s threading of the needle between these different tones and moods is as great as ever on ‘All Hail.’ The pummeling grooves of ‘Trace Levels Of Dystopia‘ are matched with serious vocal intensity, as Cory screams “there will be Hell to pay” – an instant album highlight and is utterly infectious in its monstrous bounce as well. The hair-raising riffs and sheer urgency of the traditional-sounding, ‘Redeemer‘-like ‘Safety Last‘ could instill a heart attack in the unprepared, as Cory decries that he’ll “burn every bridge in the world cause I never want to cross them again.”
When the band slows things down, like on the riffy, Souther-flavoured heavy rock of ‘Full Circle In Under A Minute,’ Norma Jean steam-roll over you with impassioned vocals and crushing grooves. “This is how it’s done” belts out the frontman, and I’m inclined to agree. And I swear that its freaky, noisy outro is what metalcore would sound like if horror-movie composers ever had their way with it. The same can be said of the riff-driven ‘If [Loss] Then [Leader],’ coming added with melodic depth and the heaviest grumbling bass lines of the entire record. This track is also a brilliant example of how Norma Jean creates their hooks and iron-out their song structures; they often sound more complicated than they actually are. Even with the band’s adept technicality, there’s still a deceptively simple approach they undertake, so when set under some interesting riff patterns, a few twisting rhythms, and chaotic instrumentals, Norma Jean’s music truly comes alive.
The alternate picking of ‘Anna,’ combined with Cory’s softer vocalizations and the busy drumming makes for a captivating number; one that pulls up and down dynamically across multiple sections. Even including a guest feature from Silent Planet’s Garrett Russel during the songs bonafide huge breakdown; a team-up between one of metalcore’s finest modern acts and one of the genre’s best new artists. And it’s a section that repeats with a nastier, slower tempo to better support one of Cory’s most vitriolic screams ever cut, as he screeches: “All hail!“. As a softly hummed epilogue then takes ‘Anna‘ out, the album concludes with ‘The Mirror And The Veil,’ a foreboding yet serene acoustic guitar piece from guitarist, Grayson Stewart, acting as a graceful calm following an apocalyptic storm.
The dark, swallowing atmosphere that’s pervaded Norma Jean’s records since ‘Meridional‘ is also felt in spades here. You can hear it lingering underneath the throttling nature of ‘Trace Levels Of Dystopia.’ You can feel it in all of the shadowy post-metal corners of the gripping slow-burner ‘Translational‘ before it erupts into heavy discordance. You can’t ignore it on the bizarre sample interlude, ‘Volunteer Tooth Filing‘. You’ll also notice it in the occasional squeal of amp feedback, the weird little electronics that litter the record, and the real human characteristics of Cory’s vocals.
And you definitely cannot hide from that awesome power during ‘Careen,’ the records emotional focal point and a song that honestly puts me at a loss for words sometimes. The thudding bass lines, the instrumental layers, the post-rock arpeggios and tremolo, Cory’s intimate vocals that flirt with his upper register and new vocal dynamics, how he roars “because I’m over it!“; ‘Careen‘ is a new classic for Norma Jean. (Huh, I guess it wasn’t too hard to put into words, after all.) It’s one of those songs that sees a band nearly two decades in that they aren’t out of ideas; that they don’t sound tired or jaded; that there’s still so much for them to create and share; that they’re still so far ahead of their peers. And that’s incredibly exciting, both for them as artists and us as listeners.
The conclusion for my ‘All Hail’ review isn’t so much a summary of my thoughts as it is a plea: support Norma Jean. Stream the shit out of this record when it drops on October 25th. See them live at any and every chance you get. Snap up a vinyl copy of this record ASAP or even a buy a CD version just for the hell of it. Make this record succeed in whatever way you can because god knows that the band who made it deserves it.
Norma Jean’s eighth LP is a culmination of what came before it; the wins, the losses, and the lessons learned. It’s got everything that you could ever want out of a Norma Jean release, and whilst very much in the same vein as their last two albums nor anything that new, Norma Jean are one of the few acts that can get away with that consistency as their records are just so compelling – they’ve built up so much goodwill in the last ten years alone. This really is a sprawling new release from one of metalcore’s greatest groups. Right now, Norma Jean are better than they’ve ever been. All hail indeed.
- Orphan Twin
- [Mind Over Mind]
- Safety Last
- Volunteer Tooth Filling
- Landslide Defeater
- Full Circle In Under A Minute
- Trace Levels Of Dystopia
- Extra Dimensional Palate Cleanser
- If [Loss] Then [Leader]
- The Mirror And The Second Veil
‘All Hail’ arrives on October 25th: