Norma Jean – ‘All Hail’

By Dave Stewart

If you thought that Norma Jean couldn’t get any angrier, you’ll find how sorely mistaken you are on their brand new record ‘All Hail’. Forging themselves a legacy with a string of uniquely venomous records, they were vitally important in the development of heavy music, forever growing and evolving along the way. These unpredictable sculptors of chaotic noise have always trodden in dark territory, but ‘All Hail’ sees them disappear deeper into the void than they’ve ever dared before.

Every single that they released on the run up to the release shines a blindingly bright light on their new brand of anger. ‘[Mind Over Mind]’ is a groove-laden monster, hurtling riff after riff at your eardrums whilst front man Cory Brandan snarls and growls away his demons. The filthy guitars and unexpectedly catchy chorus of ‘Landslide Defeater’ take you by surprise, effortlessly blending unfiltered pandemonium with striking and memorable melodies. ‘Safety Last’ is a white knuckle ride too, bellowing its way through dissonance and filth with a blend of blast beats, frenzied guitars, and slamming breakdowns. The singles are all phenomenal but they only touch on the true power at the core of this album – and that core is emitting some serious heat.

For an adrenaline-fuelled trip through a fiery and often haunting landscape, check out the furious ‘Trace Levels Of Dystopia’. Armed to the nines with scorching riffs and evocative soundscapes, it’ll both sweep you off your feet and crash you right back down to the ground. Fancy a slower and steadier outing? ‘Translational’ will provide you with that, boasting expressive atmospherics and gigantic guitars mighty enough to slay the most evil of demons. There’s even groovy riff-heavy lurkers like ‘Full Circle In Under A Minute’, moodily drudging through shadowy territory before exploding into a blaze of ferocity. There’s some real gems on show here, but the most valuable can be found right at the end of the album.

First up is a track that shows just how far Norma Jean have come with their songwriting over the years, ‘Careen’. The way it builds through poignant and spacious ambience into earth-shattering forceful guitars is masterful, steadily building towards its finale in the most graceful yet raw way possible. The song that immediately follows it, the emotionally driven ‘Anna’, is a continuation of that prowess. Written about a fan-turned-friend who passed away at the beginning of the recording process, the track is a real heart-wrencher, as the band channel their inner turmoil through their pained performance, traversing through both serenity and unease. Both tracks contain that rawness and unshakeable sense of unpredictability that Norma Jean so effortlessly manage to translate, but it’s all delivered in the most sophisticated way.

The album revolves around perception and reflection, fighting demons both personal and public and weaving the intensity of those battles within the intricate threads of their aggression. Cory spent a lot of time studying reflection both emotionally and literally, and he often references this in the lyrics with clever lines like “I could never run as fast as the light finds black so leave me lightless” from ‘If [Loss] Then [Leader]’, or “the non dimensional spectrum, the non dimensional pull, the one dimensional eye” from ‘Translational’.

Not only have their thematic ideas developed on this record, but so has their sound, adopting an approach far heavier and dirtier than ever before. ‘All Hail’ shows Norma Jean acting as the same old beast but with a brand new shiny set of teeth, all expertly sharpened to deliver the most devastating bite. It’s everything you could’ve hoped for and more.

This record has an enormous pulsing heart – possibly more so than any of their incredible back catalogue – but it’s trapped in the eye of the storm, a dense and opaque fog swirling around it like a hurricane. When the emotional intensity of the vocals is married with their new low and menacing tones, the result borders on addictive, causing your stomach to grumble and create a hunger to experience its expansive palette over and over. This is an ominous and biting record, proving that Norma Jean are still, after all these years, leaders of the pack. All hail, indeed.

DAVE STEWART

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