Many were worried when "The Almighty" Norma Jean announced their departure from Solid State Records to Razor & Tie, and understandably, as their label mates now include The Irish Tenors, Michael McDonald and Kidz Bop. Fans can rest assured however, that the switch is only beneficial. Singer Cory Brandan stated, "I think for the first time in our career, upon presenting our ideas, we get to hear the word 'yes' more often." They seem to have taken quick to their new abode, and with producer Jeremy Griffith (Cool Hand Luke, Saosin, Forever Changed), they have released their fifth studio album, Meridional. While it may bring forth a more accessible Norma Jean, it is still the raw, chaos-injected anomoly that fans have grown to love.
The boys get right down to the nitty-gritty with "Leaderless and Self-Inflicted." It's a rough edge and a kick in the face. Cory Brandan is at the height of his game, belting out his usual barks that are corse but go down smooth. You don't get quite the helping of chaos that would be hoped for by long time fans, but similarities to The Anti-Mother are evident from the first track on. This drive continues into "The Anthem of the Angry Brides." The unreadable guitars twirling through the air are only subdued by even harder hitting choruses. The energy is thick, and there is variation at every corner. They hold no tie to any sound, but jump from riff to riff, scream to yell.
"Deathbed Atheist" mixes in the sludge, slowing the tempo and increasing the clarity of the music. There is a pounding atmosphere of ambience. It's a very full sound, very easy to take in, very tasty. Although as it goes on, it follows a stricter pattern, which is unlike the standard for Norma Jean. "Bastardizer" turns the heat back up again, resurfacing to distract at all aspects. The guitars swirl in a repetitive circle at most times, but monstrous vocals and odd timing and pendulum guitars keep it brutal. The catchy guitars wreak havoc in "A Media Friendly Turn For the Worst". This is a very different track for Norma Jean. As they said, Meridional would bring "something totally new." It's quite possible that older fans hoping for an O God, the Aftermath may dislike this dive into melody and clean singing. It is a very stabalized and beautiful sound when compared to previous albums, but amazingly it is still completely original.
The first of three interludes, "Septentrional," cleans the slate and opens up what can be considered a "Part II" of Meridional. As this short track is very ambient and experimental, an introduction to more new things can be anticipated. "Blood Burner" is screwed up enough, and the aggression is paramount to Norma Jean's sound, but near the end, the music thickens and turns dramatically and convincinly into full on sludge metal that may or may not go on a little too long. Ghostly guitar melodies surmount "High Noise Low Output." Rife with clean singing and creative melodic mixes, it really sounds nothing like Norma Jean. It is very well written and extremely catchy nevertheless.
A ballad is the most accurate thing to call "Falling From the Sky: Day Seven" on a Norma Jean album. It's very tame and takes its time playing through, but it is potent. There's some subdued nonsense to be heard in "Everlasting Tapeworm." The energy starts low and rises to bursting as separate guitar themes dance between Chris Day and Scotty Henry's fingers. You should put in the effort to listen especially to the guitars on this track, and take note of how many different places the melodies go. Interlude #2, "Occidental," is nothing more than sincerely creepy noises roped together, which honestly made me grimace at a few points. It's highly experimnetal, but something about it sets my stomach on its side. This moves towards the simplistic "The People That Surround You on A Regular Basis." The dark and morbid theme that lives and breathes inside of each song on Meridional can be culminated into this track. The sound is very convincing, almost physical, like it floats just before your reach - that eerie darkness it surrounds. I find that this album shares the consistency of syrup. It's dark and thick and smooth, but there is still a light that can shine through it. It's a beautiful monstrosity.
The end of this epic comes through "Innocent Bystanders United." It puts a strong end to the album by opening with basic drums and guitar, through ambience of feedback, and into one final swim through melodius passion. After the long wait for a hidden track, we hear one last interlude, "Oriental," to end this grand endevour.
The lyrics of the album are hard to interpret, and according to Brandan, are full of vague metaphors. Though the main theme is unclear, we can be sure where the band member's hearts lie, as they admit that "Our hands were on the same spear that drove into His side, and we're the ones that wound up paralyzed, paralyzed and loved." But the attitude of the speaker is openly bitter about most of the topics that they speak. And it sounds as if their beliefs are being attacked and they aren't sure what to think anymore. In "Innocent Bystanders United", Brandan cries "'cause I feel like Jesus don't come around much more these days." "What I know was divided and broken down by the ignorance of others. Sounds great but tastes like blood." These can easily be the words of someone struggling between the world and God. "Lies and mistakes know me by name." These could all be the confessions of a soldier of Jesus in a losing battle, or they could merely be the complaints of a failing world. It seems though, that Norma Jean doesn't want to be immediately understood. Lyrics like these admit their faith, but leave explanation open for a wide array of audiences.
Before the album was released, the band stated that they were going back to their roots, and many fans figured this to mean that they would be going back to the O God... sound again. More likely though, this meant that they would be returning to that particular frame of mind. Though it is much tamer and easier on the ear, it is in many ways written in a similar style to The Anti Mother. Meridional is a melting pot album, showing off all that they have accomplished throughout their career. It houses pieces from all their previous styles as well as some of the most creative songs they have ever written. It's got something for all different flavours of Norma Jean fans and is a great first album for newcomers to the group as well.- Review date: 7/13/10, written by Wayne Reimer of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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