Norma Jean – ‘Deathrattle Sing For Me’

By Dave Stewart

It feels like you can’t write a review nowadays without mentioning the impact that the last couple of years have had on the music industry, but it really did have quite a big impact on Norma Jean. With touring at a complete halt, removing both income and the ability to release inner demons on-stage, the band found themselves not just hungry but starving – so starving they might not survive.

In dire need of sustenance, they banded together and dug deep into their souls to save themselves and they didn’t just find more material, they found something new entirely – a little bit of light. They embraced it, learnt how to use it and weaved it into their songs, and their new album ‘Deathrattle Sing For Me’ showcases just how they’re shining the light they’ve found into the dark chasm that is their sound.

If you’re a long-term fan of the band, the first thing you’ll notice is the throwbacks to the Norma Jean of old, kicking off this album with a nostalgic look back at their past while they violently drag it into the present. Opening number ‘1994’ provides the first blatant example of that, with shrieking harmonics and roaring distortion colliding together while vocalist Cory Brandan exclaims, “I think I’m witnessing the end of the world, and I like it.” That’s nice, isn’t it? Those vibes crop up throughout in places like ‘Any%’, where it wildly thrashes with dissonance and unhinged energy as the low grumble of the guitars cracks the earth beneath you. If you’re into that kind of thing, there’s plenty more where that came from too.

This is one hell of a punishing album, just as one would expect a Norma Jean record to be. ‘Sleep Explosion’ is actually all explosion and no sleep, slowly building the suspense and dipping in and out of grunge before destroying everything in its immediate orbit with the heaviest breakdown of the album. ‘A Killing Word’ is a full throttle metalcore banger complete with a gigantic chorus, decorated with mandolins and an ethereal mid-section that makes the closing headbang riff that little bit heavier. Then there are ‘Spearmint Revolt’, ‘Call For The Blood’, ‘W W A V V E’ and the frantic ‘Aria Obscura’, but there’s a LOT more beneath the surface of this album.

In addition to the oh-so-lovely aggression, there’s more than just sonic extremity on offer here. There’s an emotional layer on display that expands its palette and though emotion isn’t exactly a new element on the NJ periodic table it’s reacted very differently with this collection of songs. For example, ’Spearmint Revolt’ swings like a sledgehammer sonically but its lyrics discuss the acceptance of grief and letting go of the weight. ‘Call For The Blood’ is a skulking menace, blending cryptic lyrics with sinister and a soundtrack that keeps you constantly on edge, never entirely sure of which direction it’s going to dart in next.

There are some experimental tracks here that venture outside of what you’d expect from the band too, such as the stunning and reassuring ‘Penny Margs’ and the haunting yet volatile ‘Memorial Hoard’, but it’s album closer ‘Heartache’ that steals the show – a groove-heavy, dense and riffy diamond that constantly ebbs and flows, occasionally toying with serenity before burning the veil and revealing the chaos behind it. Brandan’s closing cries of “this world was never meant for me, or I was never meant for it” really hits home and the expansive electronics that follow it allow his words to fester before the record fades into silence.

Where their last record ‘All Hail’ felt like a consuming dark void, black upon black with violent shapes and convulsions, this feels like there’s an explosion of every shade of blue imaginable that both wash and thrash over you in turn. It’s like they turned away from the void and noticed there’s a whole other world behind them but, despite their efforts to leave the void behind, it’s always lurking. There is an honesty and vulnerability on display that’s been glanced at but never visited quite like this, and it’s a layer that fits into their doomy, gloomy and raw sound like a glove.

This is easily their boldest and most explorative record to date, without a doubt. As a result, ’Deathrattle Sing For Me’ might not grab you right off the bat like some of their past material but it’s not supposed to. They haven’t written it to shock and frighten you from beginning to end, only when it’s necessary. It’s designed to be a journey that grows on you, guiding you on an escape to a destination that’s entirely up for you to choose. If you give it time to sweep you away, that destination may just be somewhere that you’ll let yourself get completely lost. That quality alone is worth waiting for and, trust me, you might not want to leave when you get there.

DAVE STEWART

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